Hot Chili for a Cold Month aka Crock Pot Crowd Pleasers

Sunday February 2, 2014

Super Bowl has its traditions deep in guy-sensitive dishes—guacamole and hummus, salsa, burritos, chili, brats and Italian meatball sliders, ribs and chicken wings, potato salad, chips of all colors and a wide range of vegetables, and baked beans. The American institution of being a couch potato with friends and lots of food that people can graze on at their leisure, or a half-time meal, on a winter Sunday is now a particular form of entertainment. Game day is not fancy. Its not spiritual. Its about competition and glory. Its also considered a national holiday. In our modern era it has become a high security event. Remember the blimps that used to cruise the sky on game day? A thing of the past due to national security. Its easier to stay at home and watch it on TV along with over 100 million other Americans.

Of course I remember BEFORE the Super Bowl since numero uno was in 1967. In the 1970s we got take-out pizza and tossed a salad, sitting on the couch and floor in front of a 27-inch TV set. In this era of HCTV oversized flatscreens that are like being in your own home theatre, game watching can be pretty darn exciting. You are almost close enough to hear the gasps, grunts, and groans of the players on the field smashing into each other.

And what of the football widows? Mall cruising, grocery shopping, a day with the girls, taking in a chick flick, all fall on Super Bowl Sunday for the non-believers after they have cooked up a storm making one or two pots of chili on Saturday.

All chilis are not made equal, at least not in my kitchen. I like a lot of variety in my chili–some days white-style with white beans and chicken, another day smoky-hot with ground beef and black beans, and even another day, no meat at all and just hominy and fresh vegetables. Some days I like it spicy-hot, other days, just mild enough to hint at the combination of spices.

It is also one of the premier reasons to own a slow cooker.  Most cooks make chili first in their new cookers and while it is great party food for a crowd, it is just as easy to make a small pot of chili for two. With leftovers or not. All chilis can be made a day or two ahead; they just get better as they sit. They freeze perfectly.

Chili, spelled with an “i” at the end not an “e” (tipping off the reader that it is about chili the dish not a chile pepper), is a wildly popular and addictive stew prepared now all over the country.  A traditional peasant stew dish displaying the qualities of creativity and originality of its cooks along the borderland desert states of the U.S. and northern Mexico, chili may look Mexican but is not. We can say chili is now a real American dish.

The humble chili of the 19th century cattle drives and outdoor rancho kitchens now makes a showing on diverse restaurant menus, but it stays a fiery, sloppy looking, very humble homemade dish. Chili is characterized by a flavor and color combination of red chile powder and southwest herbs like oregano and cumin, even accents of cinnamon and cloves.  For a mild chili, there are pinches of this and that.  For the chili heads, there is plenty of everything plus hot sauce, jalapeños or habaneros, and cayenne.  While chili has a reputation for inducing uncontrollable perspiration, lip burning, runny noses, and tears, you can most certainly make a mild chili where all the individual subtle flavors are discernable. And then there is the powerhouse of condiments that end up as toppings that I adore piling on.

Chili stews appear with or without beans, with meat or without, tomatoes or not, and with a variety of different types of delicious beans. Purists wouldn’t even consider a chili with beans, but I don’t limit myself. While all sorts of beans show up today, the traditional bean for chili is the pinto, also called the frijol bean or Mexican red bean. Todays chili makers do not limit themselves; there are chilis made with black turtle beans (an incredible popular bean for vegetarian chilis due to its sweet flavor), Great Northerns and garbanzos (favorites in white chilis), rattlesnake beans (relatives of the pinto), cannellini white kidneys, cranberry beans, and the mottled  brown and cream Jacob’s cattle.  You can substitute any one of these small crop American-grown varieties for the pinto or red kidney bean.  Also mixing two or three different varieties is also popular, especially in vegetarian versions. I am surprised how much I like canned chili beans, which are already spiced; they are great in bean chilis.

Beef and/or pork are the standard meats in most recipes, but sometimes different types of sausages appear.  Today chicken and turkey, making so called “white chili,” are really popular for modern palates enjoying lighter chilis. Beef can be substituted with buffalo, which is gaining in popularity as an alternate low fat meat.

I have kept my chilis relatively simple, utilizing dried chile powders (replace every 6 to 9 months for the freshest flavor), canned roasted green chiles, fresh jalapeños, and canned chipotles, all easy to obtain and use. The most popular hot dried chili today is the complex flavored chipotle, the smoked-dried jalapeño, which is easily available canned in adobo sauce.  Fresh green chiles, often conveniently roasted and canned and jalapeño peppers en escabeche, or pickled, are good in your chili (and you dont have to handle the fresh ones). When handling fresh chiles, if you think you might be sensitive to them as they are in varying degrees irritating to the skin, wear surgical gloves and by all means, never rub your eyes or pop some into your mouth unthinkingly.

While most chilis are served with warm fresh corn or flour tortillas, there are versions that are served with biscuits, sopapillas (little fried bread triangles), and of course, all manner of cornbreads, cornsticks, and cornmeal muffins, a natural pairing.  A hunk of homemade whole wheat bread, crusty French baguette, or a fluffy Shepherder’s bread certainly goes good as well.

Let the game begin.


Oscar’s Chili Colorado Mole

House Bean and Beef Chili

Beth Recommends: Specific Beans for Chili

The White Varieties, all very different in appearance, include garbanzos (also called chickpeas or cecis), navy beans, baby white beans (known as haricots), Great Northerns, black-eyed peas, yellow-eyed peas, cannellini (white kidneys).

The Rose-Pink to Red-Black Varieties include black beans (frijoles negros or turtle beans), pintos (nicknamed the Mexican strawberry because of its mottled coloring) and its hybrids like rattlesnake and appaloosa beans, red kidneys, small pink (pinquito-a small kidney), anasazi, red beans, Jacob’s cattle, and cranberry beans (borlotti or brown beans).

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

Your Comments

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  1. Beth 09/02/2010 at 4:27 am

    The precooking of the ground turkey is for increased flavor and color. As long as you are cooking the entire chili the full 8 hours and are not adding other cold ingredients, you can use the raw turkey since it cooks so quickly. I would start the cooker on HIGH for an hour or two if possible. Be sure to check the meat so that it is not pink in the center to show it has cooked thoroughly. In my Turkey Taco Salad recipe, all the raw ingredients are tossed into the slow cooker and it cooks perfectly and is delicious. Happy Slow Cookin’!

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