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The Great Chili Debate

After the kids went to bed, Andy and I curled up on the couch together and watched an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.” In this particular episode, Priya made chili and offered some to Sheldon. Sheldon is originally from East Texas and after living in Texas myself for six years, I can attest that many Texans feel very strongly about whether a bowl of “chili” is real chili.

“Are there beans in it?” Sheldon asked.

“Yes,” Priya replied.

“Then it’s not chili. Real chili does not have beans,” he declared. He still took a bowl and ate it while saying that Priya’s “chili” was delicious, but it’s still not real chili.

In the Forisha house, chili is one of our regular meals. When I think of chili, I imagine a bowl with ground meat (either beef or turkey), tomatoes, an assortment of peppers, spices, and definitely kidney beans. I turn to Andy and say, “So, is he telling me that the chili I’ve been making all these years is not actually chili?”

Andy, being a native-born Texan, said, “Baby, what you make is delicious... but it’s not chili. Real chili does not have beans or tomatoes.”

After this episode, I was determined to attempt real, authentic Texas chili. What I learned from reading through the blogs and websites of chili enthusiasts is the following consensus: 1. Real chili does not have beans; 2. Real chili is pepper-based, not tomato-based. It does not have tomatoes at all; 3. Real chili uses chunks of meat, not ground meat. I found a recipe and decided to give it a go. I wanted to try real, authentic Texas chili. This recipe I used is in this link, which includes detailed descriptions of every step and accompanying photos.

I used the leftover dried peppers from when Andy made menudo (a traditional Mexican breakfast soup using dried peppers and tripe) last Christmas. Dried peppers last for a long while in the pantry and during the initial steps, toasting the peppers and letting them soak in hot water, my kitchen began to smell like menudo. I used beef chuck roast, coating cubes in salt, pepper, and cumin, and searing it in my Dutch oven. The soaked peppers (which were de-seeded before soaking to control the spice level), were puréed in the food processor before being added to the beef, along with onions. The only change I made was not including fresh peppers. Besides, I thought it would be spicy enough without additions like jalapeños. I poured in beef stock and the remaining ingredients and allowed time to take over. Beef used for any sort of stew (and a chili is certainly a form of stew) is best cooked low and slow so the meat can gently tenderize. This process takes a few hours, depending on the size and cut of the meat. I let mine simmer for about four hours.

When I took my first bite, I had three simultaneous thoughts: 1. This is delicious... but it’s not chili; 2. It tastes like beef stew menudo; 3. Holy moly! I can’t feed this to the kids! It’s too spicy for them (and borderline too spicy for me). I looked up different suggestions to tone down the spice while still keeping it authentic. A tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa helped, along with shredded cheddar and sour cream added to individual bowls.

Served with cast-iron cornbread and a glass of milk, Andy took a bite and said, “This is Texas chili.” He took a bite of the cornbread. “Mmmm... this is good. Is there any flour in it?” he asked.

“Yes, gluten-free flour,” I replied.

He took another bite of chili spooned with cornbread. “It’s not real cornbread. Real cornbread does not have flour,” he added with a wink.


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