I love a meal that keeps well for leftovers, and a good chili hits the spot on cold days (with La Nina this year, Seattle has been even rainier and gloomier than usual).
Chili is the state dish of Texas, and I have fond childhood memories eating it growing up in San Antonio. However, I knew very little about its history until now!
One story is the chili was written in 17th century by a Spanish nun, Sister Mary of Agreda. Although she was located in Spain, she reportedly went into “trances” where she would preach Christianity to Native Americans in the the Southwest. Apparently her spirit wrote the recipe for chili made with chili peppers, venison, onions, and tomatoes.
Some say chili became popular campfire fare among cowboys on the cattle trail and gold-seekers on their way to California. Meat, chile peppers, and seasoning were combined into blocks stored in saddlebags; adding chili blocks to a pot of boiling water resulted in a convenient, filling meal. Others say immigrants from the Canary Islands came to San Antonio, bringing their Canarian cooking to make a spicy stew. (source, source)
Chili became popular as a San Antonio staple. Mexican women known as the Chili Queens cooked and sold chili at San Antonio’s Military Plaza from the 1860s. Soldiers, travelers, cattlemen, and others would come to the plaza for the dish. This became a popular tourist attraction.
A San Antonio chili stand at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair introduced many to Texas chili and soon, chili started appearing all over the Midwest and the rest of the United States. (source)
Interestingly, chili became a staple in Texas prisons in the late 1800s. Leftover beef scraps plus plentiful, cheap chilis and spices made a hearty meal while in jail. Chili became so prevalent at prisons that inmates would rank prisons according to how good the chili was. Apparently some prisons made such delicious chili that former inmates would say chilis were what they missed most from their time in prison (source).
There’s a lot of chili variations – beans vs no beans, the type of meat, whether to add pasta are hotly contested debates. Texans use red chilis, while New Mexico has a green chili version (chili verde). If you use chicken or turkey and white beans, there’s also a white chili. But my personal favorite is the classic red chili with beans topped with cheese.
Recipe adapted from Allrecipes
Easy Classic Chili
1 pound ground beef chuck
1/2 pound bulk Italian sausage
2 (15 ounce) cans chili beans, drained (one spicy, one regular)
1 (28 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 jalepeno, seeded and chopped
3 tablesspoonds chili powder
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
shredded cheese, to garnish
Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Cook ground chuck and sausage into the hot pan until meat is evenly browned, and drain off any excess grease.
Add chili beans, spicy chili beans, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, celery, onion, chile peppers, chili powder, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and all the spices.