Here we sit at 1840 Farm. It is almost the end of November. The garden has been put to bed for the winter. The leaves have been corralled into their leaf compost bins. Well, at least most of them. Summer is over and fall is holding on by a very thin thread. True, we haven’t seen a snowflake yet, but we know it’s coming. We are hovering on the edge of winter. Dusk comes far too early and the sky is as deep and dark as midnight by the time supper hits the table. It’s official. Chili season is here.
During the fall and winter, chili becomes a regular fixture on our dinner table. It’s a favorite at 1840 Farm. I cannot tell a lie: it’s also the cook’s favorite. The ingredients are easy to keep on hand, the prep is simple, and it feeds my family for at least two nights. Yes, that’s right. I take the second night off from cooking dinner. It’s no wonder I love chili season so much.
I grew up eating the ground beef variety of chili. What can I say? It was the eighties. It was the Midwest. It was all we knew. Later, the ground beef evolved into ground turkey. We felt really proud of ourselves for reducing the fat and joining the masses who were substituting ground turkey everyplace that ground beef used to be. Either way, I always enjoyed it. No matter what form it took, I looked forward to the earthiness of the beans with the bright acidity of the tomatoes. The spicy seasoning was just a bonus.
Then we moved to New England and entered our chili-free years. We no longer needed chili. We had chowda. It was a nice change. Each year when late summer became fall, we would turn to chowder to ease us into the reality that winter would soon hold us captive. As far as coping mechanisms go, it seemed like a pretty good one.
It was fitting that we had traded in chili for chowder now that we had traded in the wheat fields of Kansas for the lighthouses of New England. We felt like locals for throwing our chili bowls aside in favor of the locally harvested clams and the creamy chowder. All was well on the Eastern front. At least, until a shellfish allergy reared its ugly hives. Goodbye lobster, crab, shrimp, and even clams. Goodbye clam chowder.
It was time to reinvent our winter’s edge meal. Enter the chili. But when I said reinvent, I really meant it. By the time I went back to the stove to make chili, our food landscape had changed dramatically. We had given up ground beef. We had given up turkey. We were, for the most part, vegetarians. All bets were off. We were officially back to the drawing board.
What did we do? Amazingly, I think we ended up with a chili recipe that is delicious, perhaps even more so than any of the former varieties. No, ours doesn’t involve meat, but you could easily brown the meat of your choice with the onions and garlic and have a wonderfully hearty version of your own.
This chili packs a spicy punch which can sometimes be a little much for the kids at my dinner table. I tried serving it with the standard chili toppings: shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream. They worked to reduce the spice, but didn’t really add much to the dish. Then we decided to try our sweet corn masa as a topping. Eureka-we had found the perfect pairing. The sweet corn masa perfectly subdues the heat of the chili without diluting it or covering it up. It is a match made in chili heaven.
We gathered at our table tonight and ate this chili topped with sweet corn masa. It was cold and damp outside, but we didn’t mind. Tomorrow night, we’ll enjoy the leftovers knowing that they will be equally delicious. I’ll take the day off from making dinner. What will I do with all that free time? Maybe I’ll make that Pear Clafouti I’ve been meaning to try. I said I’d take the day off from making dinner, but I never promised to stay out of the kitchen.
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons milk
1/4 cup water
8 ounces frozen sweet corn kernels
1 Tablespoon honey
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In medium bowl, combine melted butter with cornmeal, sugar, sea salt, and baking powder. Stir to combine. Add milk and water, stirring until evenly moist. Add frozen corn and stir until just combined. Pour into ungreased baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil.
Place covered baking dish in larger baking pan. Pour water into larger pan until it is approximately one-third full. Bake in preheated oven until batter is set, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove and allow to stand at room temperature at least 10 minutes. Drizzle honey on top of the warm masa before serving.
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 whole carrots, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 whole canned chipotle chili in adobo, minced
20 ounces water
56 ounces canned whole tomatoes
15 ounces canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned black beans, drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 whole bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Heat large pot over medium-high heat. Add oil, onion, garlic, and carrots, and cook until softened, approximately 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add oregano, cumin, chili powder, and adobo chili. Cook, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes. Keep yourself at arm’s distance from the pot-the vapors released from the chili once it warms up are pretty intense.
Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Discard bay leaf and taste for seasoning. Serve with sweet corn masa.