Monday, October 26, 2009

My Very Own Homesick Texan Chili

Chili, our Chili, God Bless the mighty stew!

We're back from Malta! And posts on the delightful Maltese culture and food (or lack thereof in the latter case) are forthcoming. But for now, a post I was inspired to write shortly before leaving for our little autumnal vacation on a subject near and dear to my little Texan heart: chili.

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One of the first food blogs that inspired me to start writing my own is a wonderful site written by a fellow Texan who is also homesick. Having once been a "Homesick Texan living in NYC" myself, I
immediately identified with Lisa. Her recipes are authentic, interesting and generally pretty darn delicious.

The dreary fall weather in London has been getting me down, and so I figured it was high time I finally got around to trying one of the many recipes I'd bookmarked on Homesick Texan:
Seven-Chile Chili.

chiles de arbol - my stash

Rather a purists' Texan, the above recipe involves a huge variety of spices and chiles - stuff that probably most people would not have regularly in their pantries. A lot of it, despite being familiar to me through my own Mexican heritage, was not typical chili fair for me. I grew up with a fairly clear sense of what chili is and what it's not, and after perusing many recipes, I realized I had a rather boring and somewhat tame recipe.

So it was tough for me, at first, to alter that holy-chili-image in any way, but I made some tweaks and came up with my own recipe based on my own tastes and my own pantry or "bodega" as I like to call it. The moment I tasted my very own Homesick Texan chili recipe I realized that for once, and in the famous words of country-pop-whatever singer Sheryl Crow, some change had done me good.

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What Chili is and is not.
In my humble opinion, as usual.

4. It is the Texas state food.
Among the many indoctrinating facts and songs I was taught as a young child living in the Lone S
tar State is this gem. I can also tell you that the Texas state tree is the Pecan tree, the bird is the mocking bird, the flower the bluebonnet (which is illegal to pick), that we have the right to fly our flag at the same height as that of the US, and I can sing entirely from memory the "Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Texas our Texas." (Yes, I am proud of all of this. :) )

Chili is in every Texan's veins. Everyone has their two cents on what should be in it or not and how hot or tomato-ey or not it should be. The variety and individual character of every family's chili is part of the charm of having it as the official state food. It reflects the diverse nature of a state so big and full of good food. :)

3. It is NOT Mexican.

But it is Mexican-inspired. Whether you make it with actual chiles or you just use good old Gebhardt's Chili Powder, the reason you're making chili at all has a lot more to do with authentic Mexican and Native American food than the cliched name might imply. This guy can tell you a whole lot more than that about Chili's Mexican (and otherwise) origins right here.

2. It is a labor of food love.

Chili is not something that can be whipped up in a few minutes. It is a stew, which by nature, takes time to, well, stew (no matter what Rachael Ray and her "stoups" have to say about it). A short-version chili will take you a good 45 minutes to an hour to make. Anything less zips right past the conditional and into the present affirmative case: it IS uncivilized. Chili is evocative of years of people on the range melding flavors, combining comforting, hearty ingredients to make a fulfilling meal for family and friends. It is worth choosing right and letting it simmer.

1. It is NOT one clear-cut thing.
Chili is as varied as the cowboys who first cooked it.
I bet you didn't know that there are actually "technical" definitions for chili out there - well, there are. How can you really define chili?

The Brits like to call it "chili con carne" (and yes, they do nauseatingly pronounce it "carn-EE" as if it had small hands and smelled like cabbage), but actually it's anything but "chile con carne" which is a Mexican dish and very different.

There's white chili, vegetarian chili, chili made with every kind of chili pepper, tomato and type of bean out there. People in Cincinatti eat their chili served over spaghetti (won't even get into the Italian-sacrilege that is), and the guys at Sonic (America's Drive-in!) serve their chili over a giant American hot dog, put cheese on it and call it a "coney dog."

Who is right? What is authentic and real? Tomatoes or no tomatoes? Kidney beans or pinto? The intricacies of the chili purity are many and complex, but in my book I think it's worth overlooking these differences in the name of chilian unity. After all, I did just take the liberty to make up a brand new (for me) chili recipe today after years of eating my mom's chili, and if that's not sacrilege and yet exciting in one way or another, then I don't know what is.

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My Very Own "Homesick Texan" Chili
Serves 4

Chiles Mexicanos
left to right: guajillo, morita, ancho, arbol

I'd never made chili with real chiles before, but having just returned from our trip to Mexico with bags (literally) of delicious, smokey Mexican chiles fresh from the mercadito, I just couldn't resist the mouth-watering temptation.

Rehydrating chiles and making a simple salsa from them is a typically Mexican way to start a guizado (roughly translated: stew) which usually involves a tomato base. In this recipe, the deliciously unadulaterated salsa is combined with other Mexican flavors (coffee, cinnamon, chocolate) to create a Tex-Mex delish. The addition of crushed coriander seeds
evokes the Mexican predeliction for cilantro. The tomato paste gives the chili more substance and the flour thickens what would otherwise be a complex but runny beef soup.


- 2 anchos
- 4 chiles de arbol
- 2 chiles morita
- 2 guajillo
- 2 pasilla
- 2 chipotles en adobo

1 lb ground chuck (lean meat will not do!)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
1 can kidney beans, drained
3 or 4 tbsps tomato paste
1 cup brewed coffee
1 bottle or can of beer (preferably darker)
2 cups water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsps flour, mixed into 1/4 cup water

Spices (more or less to taste):
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper / chili powder
- 2 tbsp ground Mexican chocolate
- salt & pepper to taste

1. Bring water to boil in a small pot (approx. 3-4 cups) then turn off the heat and add the dried chiles. Cover and allow to sit for 20 minutes. When chiles are rehydrated, put into the blender with approximately 1/2 to 1 cup of the chile-water and blend until smooth. Set salsa aside.

2. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Brown meat and then add the garlic and onion and sweat until translucent. Add the tomato paste and salsa and mix for 1 minute.

3. Add the coffee, beer, water, spices and beans then cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.

4. After one hour, correct seasoning and add the flour-water mixture. Mix thoroughly, cover and allow to simmer for another hour.

5. Serve sprinkled with grated cheddar cheese and tortilla chips.
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  1. Oh yum, I love chili and confess to never using a recipe, but having just stocked up on my dried chili supply, I am more than ready to tackle your homesick version. It sounds delicious and just the thing to chase away the foggy cold.

  2. This sounds like a great chili recipe. I am always looking for new versions as I tire of my own. Bring on the cheese and tortilla chips!