Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Whether they like it with beans or think that way’s full of beans, readers love this winter staple.
The 11th Annual Smith Mountain Lake Fall Chili and Craft Festival is Saturday at Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Remember that old Pace Picante sauce commercial where the cowboys discover the other brand is made in New York City?
“Get a rope,” one guy growled.
Well, I’m nervously rubbing my throat right now, because I’m about to declare what some might consider another hanging offense: I believe beans belong in chili.
Whoa, some of you are thinking. Rein up. That’s not real chili!
Actually, as I’ve discovered while talking about any contentious food subject (barbecue, pizza, Coke versus Pepsi), it all depends upon perspective.
From the perspective of native Texans, authentic chili is a bowl of beef stewed with chili peppers and/or chili powder, onions, garlic, cumin and other spices. It isn’t supposed to contain tomatoes and no beans of any variety should ever mar the mix.
Texas chili is otherwise known as a “bowl of red” or as “chili con carne,” which translates to “chili with meat.” The Texans’ argument is backed up by most serious chili competitions.
For example, the Chili Appreciation Society International, which sanctions hundreds of cook-offs every year, has a strict rule that reads “NO FILLERS IN CHILI — Beans, macaroni, rice, hominy, or other similar ingredients are not permitted.”
I’ve heard the rule was made because chili with beans is not authentic, but I’ve also read that it helps to even the playing field and prevent judges from being able to identify the cook by the appearance of the chili.
Since most of us are being judged only by our friends and family, the beans-or-no-beans argument comes back to personal preference.
It is always obvious when a food topic is highly debatable because my blog explodes into a food fight. When I posted an entry recently about beans in chili, it got 63 comments.
Seven of those folks said they prefer their chili without beans. A reader named Charlie even pulled out the old saying, “People who know beans about chili know that chili has no beans.”
That doesn’t mean the 55 other comments said chili ought to contain beans, because some of those comments delved into a delightful digression about such topics as the difference between chili in a bowl and chili on a hot dog (more on that later).
Still, the majority of my blog readers agreed with me when I said beans do not detract from a bowl of chili, but rather improve it.
Reader Vickie responded to Charlie: “I might not know beans about chili, but I know what I like and I like beans in chili, as long as it’s not on a hot dog. It doesn’t matter whether it’s kidney, black or pinto in red chili or cannellini or great Northern in white chili, as long as there are beans in the pot.”
As is the case with any food, we pick up our recipes from childhood experience.
My mother always made chili with ground beef or venison and at least two kinds of beans. When I dished up my bowl, I tried to score as many dark red kidney beans as possible. After dinner, when I was supposed to be helping with the dishes, I stood at the stove and picked out a few more kidney beans before Mom caught me and packed up the leftovers.
Mom also made something she called “cowboy chili,” which she always prepared in a cast-iron skillet. That dish contains ground beef, bacon, onions, a large can of baked beans, seasoned salt, pepper, brown sugar or molasses, and yellow mustard for tang.
I’ve always preferred savory chili to sweet chili, but children and folks who don’t like spicy food tend to really dig Mom’s cowboy chili. Never mind that a real Texas cowboy would probably never want his name associated with it.
The extended family
Red chili, whether it contains tomatoes and beans or not, is only one member of the larger chili family.
White chili with chicken and white beans is more popular now than ever, perhaps because people have tried to cut back on their beef consumption. I start my white chili with roasted chicken pulled off the bone, then add cannellini beans and lots of green chili peppers and cilantro.
Next up is chili verde, or green chili, a Mexican stew of pork with tomatillos, jalapenos, onions and garlic. A lot of chili verde recipes call for pork shoulder, and some people use a variety of chili peppers, as well as cilantro. Green chili can be eaten in a bowl or wrapped in a tortilla.
Cincinnati-style chili is usually beanless and sometimes includes flavors more commonly associated with sweet dishes, such as cinnamon, cloves and chocolate. But the most unusual aspect of Cincinnati chili is that it is served over spaghetti.
While more blog readers prefer chili with beans than not, virtually everybody who mentioned hot dog chili said they don’t want beans on their dogs. That’s in line with tradition, because hot dog chili is typically like a meat sauce. I’ve only seen beans in hot dog chili when they’re mashed into the mix, such as in Castleberry’s brand hot dog chili.
Finally, we come to the subject of chili beans. Nobody in my family ever made or talked about chili beans, so I could only assume they were beans cooked with chili seasoning. But my research indicates that chili beans are traditionally prepared with meat.
So what’s the difference between chili beans cooked with meat and chili con carne prepared with beans? I’m no expert, but it seems like little more than semantics. In one dish, the beans get top billing, which is more than alright with me.
I can feel that rope tightening already. To save my neck, I had better share a recipe for authentic Texas chili.
On the blog
How do you make your chili? Join the conversation at blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet.
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