In our house there’s two kind of chili. The Texas sized spicy kind we used to make when the men went deer hunting and came back with a buck. And then there’s the kind for little girls.
Chili in Texas can get kind of personal. Reputations have been won and lost over who delivers the meanest kettleful. But just about everyone agrees on one thing: No Beans. It’s just cut up steak, some tomato sauce and a pocketful of secrets we keep next to our guns.
Actually, you won’t catch me dead with a gun. Which is why my relatives carry them, I guess. But let’s not get into that. It’s a marital hot button and we’re here to make chili. Besides, I live in New York now. My mother’s Johnson City kitchen is miles away and I haven’t cooked up the hunters’ quarry since the day Uncle Bill brought that armadillo into the kitchen.
Truth be told, I’ve not only citified, but sissified. Don’t tell my kinfolk, but not only does my chili have beans in it, it doesn’t even contain meat. And if that sounds like cooking for a bunch ‘o girls, that’s exactly what I am doing. It’s all hearts and flowers around here and we couldn’t be cuter.
Each year in the last week of January, hundreds of well-loved stuffed animals are gathered together and refurbished during a day long event we call “The Valentine’s Project”. My daughter Caroline started the tradition with her friends Isabelle and Nora when they were first graders. Now the girls are college graduates, but a new generation of little sisters—and some little brothers—are still busy sewing on buttons, tying fresh ribbons and putting the stuffing back into a menagerie of toys. They collect books too. At the end of the day, everything is packed into boxes and brought to our local Women’s Shelter to be given to homeless children on Valentine’s Day.
Where does the chili fit in? These gals need to be fed. And because I made a big pot of chili on that first day 17 years ago, it too, has become part of the tradition.
The recipe has come a long way from the little ranch kitchen back in Hill Country and instead of mounted buck heads on the living room wall, we have a couch piled high with kapok-stuffed kitties and teddy bears with names like Mittens and Miss Tickles.
Let’s give it a name and call it Texas Big Heart Chili. That’s a nod to "Uncle Bill" Watson, a family friend who was a great hunter, but also a good man with a big heart. And another nod to a bunch of sweet kids with equally big hearts who are out to save the world one bear at a time.
TEXAS BIG HEART CHILI
2 cans pinto beans
2 cans kidney beans
2 cans black beans
2 cans garbanzo beans
Note: Cooking dried beans is tastier and I recommend making them if you have time.
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 onions chopped or grated
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoons salt
Cayenne pepper to taste (You can omit this, but now that the kids are older I use 1 teaspoon.)
Tabasco to taste (Again, go easy if you are feeding small fry. Up the ante for big folks. )
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 cup chili powder
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 Tablespoons masa harina
• Saute onion in olive oil until translucent.
• Add beans, tomatoes and one cup of water.
• Toss in the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about ½ hour to an hour.
• Add water whenever you need to adjust the consistency. It should be pretty soupy, kind of like chowder.
• Take a little chili liquid in a bowl and whisk in masa harina til it is a smooth paste. Use this to thicken the chili.
• Taste before serving and fiddle with it if you want more salt or a little more fire.
Garnish with cilantro and lime. Serve with bowls of sour cream, grated Monterey Jack cheese, chopped scallions, pickled jalapenos and salsa. Cornbread is a wonderful accompaniment.
If you are still missing the meat, omit the beans next time. Cube up a steak into 1-inch pieces. Brown in a dutch oven. Add all the other ingredients in this recipe and increase the fire. You’ll have yourself a damn good bowl of chili that’ll compete with the best of ‘em.
Photos and text ©Lisa Barlow 2011