By Henry Schliff
On a ‘chilly’ night there is nothing better than some homemade chili con carne to warm you up.
Off season, when potluck gatherings are popular, islanders will often feature a big pot of chili as the main course.
Where did chili come from? It is an American creation and its roots lie deep in the heart of Texas and Mexico.
It was originally food of the poor people of San Antonio who had little meat and would extend it with copious amounts of chilies and spicy seasonings.
Cowboys took a mixture of dried beef and chili peppers on cattle drives to rehydrate in boiling water along the trail and in the 1880s small vendors (“chili queens”) set up stalls in one of the markets in San Antonio where a bowl of chili, beans and a tortilla cost 10 cents.
When a San Antonio chili stand was featured at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, its popularity blossomed and soon chili parlors were opened throughout the south and southwest.
Now, across our country there are endless recipes for chili that combine meat, beans and vegetables for you to choose from.
The following recipe is a variation of a recipe written by my talented father-in-law Fred Beck in his family heritage cookbook.
If you like a fresh taste, with mild flavorful spice and a touch of sweetness, you will find that the extra time it takes to cook your own beans and to allow the tomatoes time to simmer slowly will pay off.
For Texas-style chili lovers, just skip the beans in the recipe or keep them on the side.
1 C dried pinto beans, soaked in 3 cups filtered water overnight
2 Cs canned Roma tomatoes plus juice (best quality available)
1 ¼ lbs. freshly-ground chuck (80-85% lean)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 Tbs. peeled and finely chopped garlic
1 rounded Tbs. pure red chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sugar
1 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 4 oz. can diced green chilies
¼ tsp. pepper
1 Tbs. beef base (better than bouillon) dissolved in 1 C filtered water or ½ C canned beef bouillon plus ½ C water
1 Tbs. liquid from a jar of pickled jalapenos (opt.)
Drain the pinto beans in a sieve and rinse. Add the beans to a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Pour in enough filtered water to cover the beans by 1 to 2 inches.
Bring the beans to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer slowly, partially covered, until the beans are tender (adding more water from time to time, if necessary) about 1½ to 2 hours.
While the beans are cooking, place the tomatoes and their juice into another heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer very slowly, partially covered, for about 1½ hours, or until the tomatoes fall apart and sweeten.
Using a potato masher, crush the tomatoes and their juice into a thick consistency. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
Form the ground chuck into four or five patties. Place a large skillet over high heat and add 1 Tbs. olive oil. When the oil is hot, place the patties into the skillet, leaving some space in between each one.
Brown the patties well on the underside over medium-high heat. Turn and brown again on the second side. Break the patties up into small pieces using a metal spatula or potato masher. Using a slotted spoon, remove the browned beef, place in a bowl, and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet.
Over high heat, warm the oil and add the onion. When the onions start to sizzle, lower the heat, partially cover and cook slowly over low heat until they soften and become lightly browned.
Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano and sugar. Continue cooking and stirring the mixture for a few minutes. Stir in the reserved beef, reserved tomatoes, and all the remaining ingredients except the beans.
Bring everything to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain the beans in a sieve and stir 2 cups into the chili. Continue cooking, partially covered, for 15 minutes.
Serve with freshly made corn bread, coleslaw, rice and the following accompaniments: grated cheddar cheese, chopped sweet onion (rinsed well in a sieve under cold water to reduce acidity), sour cream or plain yogurt, chopped lettuce, pickled sliced jalapenos, Texas Pete or favorite hot sauce. Serves 6.
Henry Schliff’s kitchen experience is long and varied over the past 30 years. He has been the chef of a French, Italian and Mexican restaurant, and most recently the chef-owner of the Orange Blossom Bakery in Buxton, Dare County. He is the author of two cookbooks and now shares his love of cooking from his Ocracoke home kitchen.