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Chili, The Bowl of Red

Chili, or “bowl of red” as some Texans call it, is one of those comfort foods that comes to mind especially when you want to bring a main dish to a potluck or the weather is cool.

  • It could have been part of the wagon train mainstay as Texans headed to the San Francisco gold rush in the 1840’s, using dried beef, chili peppers and salt.
  • It could have been trail food when Texas cowboys were driving cattle herds during the 1800’s, using beef, oregano, chilies and onions. The chili peppers used at the time were called chilipiquins and grew wild in Texas.
  • It could have been a type of hash created by poor people in San Antonio in the 1820’s using small amounts of meat and chili peppers.

Other notable history trivia involving Texans are that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair included a San Antonio Chili Stand and in 1896, chili powder was created by William Gebhardt, a Texan.

How do you like your chili? There is a wide variety of chili styles to choose from based on regional nuances:

  • Texans like their chili with cubes of beef, tomatoes, and chili peppers, but no beans. Sometimes beans are served on the side. Those who live in Southeast Texas prefer to serve chili over white rice, an influence from the neighboring state of Louisiana.
  • Cincinnati chili (pictured above) has the influence of Middle Eastern spices such as cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and oregano added to the ground beef and tomatoes. It can be prepared two-way (chili over spaghetti), three-way (with cheese), four-way (with onions, or five-way (with kidney beans).
  • It is common to add a small amount of pickle juice to a bowl of chili in Missouri and a little bit of vinegar in Tennessee.
  • In Indiana, the chili might be topped with coleslaw.

Many people have their own recipe for chili, ranging from tomato-based variations to white chili. There is a wide range of ingredients that might be added to chili, including cumin, peanut butter, tomatillos, beer, Coca Cola, vegetables and more. The toppings and sides vary as well, including crushed saltine crackers, corn chips, cheese, green onions, sour cream, tortillas and cornbread. I recently made a large amount of chili for a dinner meeting where my husband was providing food for 12 people. He asked me to send along the recipe, as he knew some of the ladies might ask. I told him I couldn’t as I really don’t have one. When I make chili, I start by browning ground beef with onions and add tomatoes, a variety of beans, seasonings, etc., tasting as it cooks until it has the flavor I want. I sent him on to his meeting with two slow cookers filled with chili, shredded cheddar cheese, a variety of crackers and sliced ciabatta bread. That is how my family likes it and the people at the dinner meeting must have as well, since the two slow cookers came home empty! Oh, yes, I sent brownies, too, and they didn’t return home either!

Supermarkets today offer a wide variety of fresh and dried chilies, herbs, canned beans and chili or chipotle powders. You can find recipes using chicken, ground turkey, pork, seafood or vegetarian versions. Spice up your dinner table by finding a chili recipe you like; don’t be afraid to add a new spice or ingredient to customize for flavors your family like.


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