Friday, July 21, 2017  

Chili: Warming the Soul


The bitterly cold days of winter have us all yearning for something warm and comforting. What says comfort better than a big bowl of warm and hearty chili? Every chili lover probably has their own tried and true recipe or has tweaked someone else’s recipe to make it their own. A few simple ingredients can change something 
ordinary into extraordinary.
Did you know that chili used to be called bowl of red? Back in the 1880s, a market in San Antonio started setting up chili stands from which bowls of red were sold. A bowl cost diners about ten cents and included bread and a glass of water. These were the food trucks of the 1800s. Eventually, the name changed from bowl of red to being named chili. Its popularity grew and chili was featured at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 at the San Antonio Chili Stand. Chili joints had made their debut by the 20th century in Texas and became familiar all over the west by the roaring ‘20s. Chili started turning up all across the Midwest—on top of spaghetti in Ohio, and on hot dogs, omelets, and casseroles in Michigan. Since chili was so cheap and crackers were free, during the Great Depression chili joints often meant the difference between starvation and staying alive.
Most of the original chili did not have beans due to the time required to soak and cook them. Cowboys and ranchers were not able to sit around a campfire to watch beans cook all day. Even tomatoes were a rare ingredient to have in those days. Now modern conveniences of pantry staples like canned beans, tomato sauce, and spices make it easy for any cook. Due to its popularity and convenience, you will find many areas that host a chili cook-off every year. Many perfecting their recipe and boasting that their chili is the best around. The first chili cook-off took place in Texas in 1967. They have continued on in almost every state since then.
What ingredients make the best chili? Some cooks insist it is all about the spices, others insist it is the addition of coffee. Others say beef broth is a must but some say it is their favorite beer. Popular items for this hearty stew are ground beef, pork, venison and chili peppers. Variations can include onions, peppers, tomatoes, and of course, beans. A great chili can be made with pinto, black, kidney or a combination of beans. A number of variations have become popular over the years. Texas-style chili does not contain any beans while a vegetarian chili typically replaces meat with corn and other vegetables. A chili Verde uses pork, tomatillos and green chili peppers in lieu of beef and tomatoes and white chili uses white beans and chicken or turkey. An unusual ingredient, popular in the Midwest, is to add some cooked noodles in with the chili.
It is all about the toppings that make a bowl of chili unique. Cornbread tops the list as a favorite accompaniment and is often crumbled on as a topping. Some prefer saltine crackers either crushed on top or to scoop up all the goodness in the bowl. Grated cheese is very popular, with cheddar topping the list. Other topping offerings include some sour cream, green onions, avocado, corn chips and almost always a little hot sauce for the ones that like it just a little spicier. It can easily transform a baked potato, hot dog, rice or leftover pasta into something a little different.
Whether you are serving your small family or hosting a huge crowd for the next big game, it can be personalized for any taste. A hearty bowl of chili may just be the thing to 
warm you from the inside and help make this winter just a little less dreadful.