Once a year, the parishioners of a small New England church transform from a group of friendly, mild-mannered Presbyterians into a fiercely competitive series of opponents. Once a year, lines of division cut deep across the congregation: deacon confronts deacon, the Sunday School Teacher is pitted against the pastor’s wife, even members of the same family may turn on one another.
The occasion? Not an argument over the doctrine of predestination. Not a dilemma over where to send the youth group on their mission trip. Not even a debate over the church budget. No: the cause of so much strife is the annual Chili Cook-off.
There seem to be several distinct schools of thought among the chili-makers. There is a sizable contingent, mostly of Southern extract, which believes that beans in chili are an abomination unto the Lord. Meat only, please, with perhaps a few vegetables. There are those who take the opposite view: chili, in their eyes, is a tasty budget meal, and the meat should be stretched with a lot of beans. Some put in no meat at all. Some believe chili should be knock-your-socks-off spicy, others that it should serve as a backdrop for interesting combinations of spices and flavours.
This chili has, I must admit, never won the Chili Cook-Off—the judges seem decidedly prejudiced against recipes with a large proportion of beans. But it is the chili my family has made for years, a tasty, warming comfort food, and therefore the best in my books. Enjoy it with rice, tortillas, baked potatoes, or a pan of freshly baked cornbread (a recipe for which will be appearing on Friday!).
Chili (For a Small Crowd)
A remote descendant of the Chili for a Crowd recipe in Sheila Lukins’ Silver Palate Cookbook. (The original recipe makes 40 servings!)
- 1/2 C each red kidney beans, pinto beans, and black turtle beans
- 1 T lemon juice
- 1 piece of kombu
- 1 whole chili
- 2 whole cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- olive oil
- 2 medium onions, roughly diced
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 6 T tomato paste
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ancho chili powder
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 1/2 tsp dried dill
- 1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes
- 1/4 C red wine
- 2 T lemon juice
- 1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 C Kalamata olives, sliced in quarters
The night before you want to make chili, put the beans in a bowl and cover them with a generous amount of water. Add the lemon juice and leave them to soak overnight.
The next day, bring a pot of water to the boil. Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the boiling water along with the kombu, chili, garlic, and bay leaf. (The kombu especially helps to make the beans very digestible.) Boil for about an hour, or until the beans are cooked through, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Drain the beans and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and sauté until they turn translucent, about 8 minutes. Crumble in the ground beef and cook, stirring, until the meat is thoroughly browned. Add the pepper, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and mustard. Stir and cook for another two minutes, then add the remaining ingredients except for the beans and the olives. Stir well, bring to a simmer, and allow to cook for half an hour or longer, stirring occasionally. Gently mix in the beans and simmer for another 15 minutes before adding the olives. Cook for another 3 minutes to heat them through, then season to taste and serve.