Chili: A Texas Tradition

Written by Kay Boothe

February 6, 2022

“Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing.”

Even though it is eaten all over the United States, and maybe the world, at its heart chili is all Texan. Here are some of the known facts about chili: In 1598 Don Juan de Onate entered what is now New Mexico, bringing the green chile pepper with him. Now, over 400 years later the chile is still widely grown in the region. Just 20 years later it is said a mysterious “Lady in Blue” visited the Indians of the Southwest, from this tale, Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain visited these Indians in a series of visions, and in her lucid moments back in Spain wrote down the recipe for chili, which was made up of venison or antelope meat, onions, tomatoes and chile peppers. By the 1800s, Spanish priests were calling chili the “Soup of the Devil,” and warned people to stay away from it, but nobody listened and it continued to gain in popularity around the Southwest. Other notable chili events include in 1850, when the first chili mix was packaged to take with traveling cowboys and others on the long journeys. This early mix was made up of dried beef, fat, pepper, salt and chile peppers pounded together into a brick, known as a brick chili, which when boiled and reconstituted along the trail provided a familiar meal. When the 1880s arrived San Antonio was full of chili stands, known as “chili queens.” For just a dime patrons could get a plate of chili with a side of beans and a tortilla. The queens proved to be a popular draw in San Antonio. Eventually they were moved to the market part of the city, where the modern incarnation of them can still be found today. In 1977 the Texas Legislature officially proclaimed chili “the official state food… in recognition of the fact that the only real ‘bowl of red’ is that prepared by Texans.” The 36th president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, noted his own love affair with Texas chili. “Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing,” Johnson said. “One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of red. There is simply nothing better.” Texas, undoubtedly, has the best chili, but there are a few rules for Texas chili, most of which says keep the beans out, as no self-respecting Texan puts beans in their chili. Let other states and Yankees do that, but in Texas, the chili stands alone.

In this edition of Texas Farm & Home, we bring to you an authentic Texas chili, unmolested by heretical ingredients — add to it or subtract from it as you like. We also included a few things that go well with a nice hot bowl of chili, such as a unique Mexican cornbread, a blackbean and corn quesadilla, and a no-mix cake for dessert. With cooler weather finally making its occasional presence felt, it’s a good time to fire up the burners and get some Texas red simmering.

Here are a few other ideas on what to do with a nice hot bowl of chili: Pour it over a baked potato and throw on a dollop of sour cream with ample cheese; pour it over some Fritos for a Frito pie; try it over a fresh batch of fries, all covered with melted cheese, the same can also be done with tortilla chips to make chili nachos. The uses for chili can be endless, but for the purist, just a nice hot bowl of chili will do. We also stepped out on a limb and served our chili in a bread bowl, just to make things a little more interesting. Hopefully the old chili queens of San Antonio are not rolling over in their graves.

Texas Sirloin Chili

2   pounds sirloin steak, cut into small pieces

1   medium onion, finely chopped

4   dried ancho chiles

2   tablespoons cooking oil

2   teaspoons cumin

1   teaspoon black pepper

4   cloves garlic (crushed)

1   quart beef broth

1   15-ounce can diced tomatoes, or tomato sauce

1   teaspoon Kosher salt

Remove stems and seeds from chile pods, place in small pot and cover with water, bring to a boil then simmer pods about 10 minutes. Remove pods and puree in food processor, set aside, along with gravy from boiled pods.

Meanwhile, place oil in skillet and brown steak along with onion and garlic. After meat has browned completely, add pureed pepper, tomatoes and rest of spices, add beef broth and pepper gravy (liquid leftover from boiling peppers pods.) Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

To thicken the chili, make a roux of 5 tablespoons of cooking oil and 4 tablespoons of flour. Heat oil in skillet and add flour, stir constantly for about 5 minutes, or until flour has browned. Mix roux into chili and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chili always is better the next day.

Bread Bowl

2        packages active dry yeast

1        tablespoon white sugar

1 3/4  cups warm water (110-120 degrees)

2        cups whole wheat flour

2        cups bread flour

2        teaspoons salt

1        egg white

2        tablespoons water

In a small mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast mixture with whole wheat flour, salt and a cup of bread flour; stir well and combine. Add the remaining flour a 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.

When the dough sticks together, place it on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Lightly oil a bowl, and roll dough in bowl to coat surface. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes. Punch dough and let rest 10 minutes. Divide dough into four balls. Place on cookie sheet and flatten into disks. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat over to 375 degrees.

Mix egg white and two tablespoons water together and brush over risen loaves before placing in the oven. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes. Bread will sound hollow when done. Remove form oven and let cool.

To turn into a bowl, cut the top quarter off of each loaf. Remove the soft bread from inside the curst, leaving about a 1/4 inch ring around the bowl.

Place chili in the bowl, or any other soup or stew. Guests will love it.

Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas

2   teaspoons olive oil

3   tablespoons finely chopped onion

1  15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

1   20-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained

1/2-pound cooked shredded chicken breasts

1        tablespoon brown sugar

1/4     cup salsa

1/4     teaspoon red pepper flakes

2        tablespoons butter, divided

8-inch flour tortillas

1 1/2  cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook until softened. Stir in beans, corn, chicken, sugar, salsa and pepper flakes. Mix well and cook until heated through, about five minutes.

In a large skillet, melt part of butter, place tortilla in skillet, add part of cheese and top with bean and corn mixture, sprinkle again with cheese, topping with another tortilla. Flip when tortillas are golden and remove. Cut in half to serve. Repeat with remaining tortillas and corn and bean mixture.

Top with fresh, homemade chili if desired along with some sour cream and your favorite guacamole.

No Mix Cake

1     yellow cake mix

1     can cherry pie filling

1     small can crushed pineapple

1/2  cup (1 stick) butter

1     cup pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 cooking dish. In bottom of dish spread cherry pie filling, and then top with pineapple. Place cake mix over top of fruit and then sprinkle with pecans. Cut butter into thin pats and place over top of cake mix and pecans. Bake in oven about 30 minutes, or until cake mix starts to brown.

The fruity flavor and toasted pecans makes for a delicious early fall treat.

Fried Apples

3    Granny Smith Apples

2    tablespoons butter

1/4   cup brown sugar

1      teaspoon cinnamon

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add apples, top with sugar and cinnamon. Stir apples to coat with sugar and cinnamon and butter. Cook until apples are tender, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Mexican Cornbread

1    cup butter, melted

1    cup sugar

4    eggs

1    15-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained

1    4-ounce can green chile peppers, drained

1/4 to 1/2 cup milk (or buttermilk)

1    cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1    cup all purpose flour

1    cup yellow cornmeal

4    teaspoons baking powder

1/4  teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees, grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, or preheat a cast iron skillet if desired (our way.)

In a large bowl beat together butter and sugar,, beat in eggs one at a time, blen in corn, chiles and cheese. In a separate bowl mix together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Slowly add flour mixture into corn mixture, mix until mixture is smooth, slowly add milk if needed to moisten. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in oven for an hour, or until inserted toothpick comes back clean.

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