There's a whole universe of chili outside Texas
What I want to know is, who died and put Texans in charge of chili?
Oh, sure, they say they invented the stuff. But does that give them the right to go around harassing creative, innocent people? People, I might add, whose only fault is that they tend to get a might overzealous in the presence of coarse-ground sirloin and pinto beans.
Actually, it's my contention that chili's popularity and use is so widespread now that the Lone Star State's right to protect and control the hallowed Chili Recipe lies only in the collective imagination of its citizenry. In other words, all of us mortal non-Texans can do what we gol-darn please when it comes to concocting a zesty bowl of red in the privacy of our own homes.
Just don't try to take your "marches to a different drummer" chili to a chili cook-off. You'll be up against that Texas thing again. I know because I've judged a fair number of these events over the years. If your chili has beans in it, or if the color can't be likened to a pair of Rio Grande mud wrestlers, you'll never make it past round one. Instant elimination will also occur if the meat isn't a tidy little 1/4-inch dice — or at least a coarse grind. And if you've left visible chunks of green pepper or onion? Well, brace yourself for a barrage of horse laughs and smug comments among the judges — "Holy cow! Look at the islands of produce floating in this one."
But at some point during the stirring, sniffing and slurping, the judges will inevitably come across a sample that doesn't fit the mold. Yet they like it. They like it a lot.
Such entries always spark discussion after we've handed in our ballots. In one particularly memorable chili philosophizing session, my fellow judge was Leif Eric Benson, who at the time was executive chef for Timberline Lodge. Once again, we had come across a creation that was really tasty, with nice tender chunks of meat. But the chunks were too big (by cook-off standards), and there was an herb flavor that was just too predominant to give the sample a perfect score.
"Actually," said Benson, "the kind of chili we make up at Timberline wouldn't do well at a cook-off. Yes, it does have beans in it, but it's very popular among the guests. And in the winter, we go through gallons and gallons of it."
"In fact," he added, "most people wouldn't even like the kinds of chili that we judge in these cook-offs. They're too rich."
In more ways than one. When you don't have beans for filler, a batch of chili can be very expensive to make. So the recipes you're about to peruse DO have beans. You'll also find that between the lines, there's plenty of room for experimentation. So don't be shy. If islands of produce — make that continents of produce — work for you, then don't let yourself be intimidated by any little ol' Texan.
Unless he's packing a six shooter.
Timberline Mountain-Style Chili
This is the chili Chef Benson was talking about.
4 cups dry red beans
8 cups rich, strong beef stock, additional as needed
1 1/2 pounds ground beef, coarse grind
1/2 cup diced onion
3 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano, crumbled
1 to 2 tablespoons ground cumin
5 tablespoons chili powder
1 pound canned tomatillos, crushed
1 pound canned red tomatoes, diced
Garnish suggestions: grated cheddar cheese, cooked bacon strips, chopped raw onions
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Wash beans, then place in a large pot with the beef stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let them sit for 1 hour. After one hour, cover and simmer in the broth until tender (about 1 hour).
Meanwhile, saute the ground beef and onions together in the oil. Add the salt, garlic, cumin, chilli powder, tomatillos, tomatoes, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the cooked beans with the stock to the meat mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. You may need to add more stock if the chili becomes too thick.
Remove 3 cups of chili and puree in a food processor or blender. Return the puree to the pot to provide a richer textured chili. Adjust seasonings. Serve hot, topped with garnishes
— Adapted from: "Timberline Lodge Cookbook" by Chef Leif Eric Benson.
Jan’s Basic Chili With Beans
1 cup dry pinto beans
5 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
6 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup minced parsley
1 (4 ounce) can diced jalapeno peppers
1/2 cup butter
2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, coarsely ground
1 pound ground lean pork
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pepper
4 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons ground cumin
2 to 3 teaspoons green pepper sauce (I use Tabasco)
Wash beans, then place in a pot with enough water to cover them by about 2 inches. Bring them to a boil in a large pot of water and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let them sit for 1 hour.
After one hour, cover and simmer in same water until tender. Add the tomato and simmer 5 more minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, over medium-high heat. Saute the onions, green pepper, and garlic until tender, stirring often. Add parsley and the jalapenos and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large skillet; saute the meat in two or three batches, browning each batch well. As it is browned, remove with a slotted spoon to the pan containing the onion and green pepper mixture. After all of the meat has been added to the pot, stir in chili powder, cumin, and green pepper sauce, along with the bean and tomato mixture.
Simmer covered for 1 hour. Uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes. Skim fat from top. Serve with diced onions, shredded cheese and crackers.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Contact her at email@example.com or see her blog at www.janrd.com.