Chili for a Crowd

October 7th, 2009 / Comments 0

Autumn. The air is brisk. The leaves have changed from green to a rainbow of warm reds and oranges

Oak leaf c egbert Chili for a Crowd

and the surprising smell of cumin floats across the village green. Yes, cumin, for autumn is the season when town greens are transformed into arenas for annual chili cook-offs.

I never thought of cooking as a competitive sport, but I do enjoy a good bowl of chili, so I ignored the rain and went to the 20th Annual Chili Cook-Off on the green in Woodstock, Vermont.

For five dollars I received a scorecard, a small cup and a plastic spoon. I set out to sample eleven different bowls of chili and then cast votes for my two favorites. With rain bucketing down, this was not an easy task. Huddled under canopies, my fellow judges and I tasted, discussed and rated the offerings. It was impossible to make notes on the sodden ballots.

The spices overwhelmed my tastes buds. A cook-off neophyte, I had reached my limit after sampling the eighth cup of chili. Determined to do my part, I pushed through my culinary confusion and voted. My stomach was filled with chili and my head filled with a hodgepodge of chili facts.

cowboy boot 01 c egbert Chili for a Crowd

Was the first pot of chili created in a chuck wagon on a cattle drive somewhere west of Laramie, Texas, in the 1800’s or four centuries earlier in an undisclosed location in Mexico where legend has it enraged Aztecs seasoned Spanish conquistadors with chili peppers and served them for dinner?

Although the history is a mystery, certain facts cannot be disputed. The Incas, Aztecs, and Mayan Indians ate stews of meat, beans, peppers, and herbs, long before Columbus and the conquistadors came calling. Nearly five centuries later, in 1967, the first documented chili cook-off was held in the remote Texas ghost town of Terlingua.

There are three basic types of chili – chili con carne, chili with beans, and vegetarian chili – but there are endless variations. The carne part may be beef, pork, chicken, turkey, buffalo, venison, moose, bear, rabbit, etc.

Chili 01avatar Chili for a Crowd

The list of vegetables is limited only by one’s imagination. Beans may be black, purple, red, pink or white. Chili toppers include corn chips, sour cream, guacamole, grated cheese, chopped onions, and fresh chili peppers.

The chili cook-off reminded me of a non-competitive chili dinner I served to a group of friends after a play reading last spring. A vegetarian in the group was pleased to hear that that the ‘meat’ in the chili was bulgur wheat. Here’s how I made it:

Vegetarian Chili

I began by chopping two cups of onions, three quarters of a cup of celery, one green pepper, one red pepper, one seeded jalapeno pepper, one cup of carrots, two cups of mushrooms, and three garlic cloves.

I added a big pinch of red pepper flakes, a tablespoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon of dried basil, two tablespoons of chili powder, a teaspoon of dried oregano, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of ground black pepper to the vegetables.

I heated one third of a cup of olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot, added the vegetables and spices, and cooked the mixture on medium heat for three minutes. Then I added three quarters of a cup of bulgur wheat, one 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes including the juice, one can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained, one can of black beans, rinsed and drained.

To enhance the flavor, I added a teaspoon of hot sauce, two tablespoons of lemon juice, three tablespoons of tomato paste, one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and finally, a half a cup of wine. I stirred the chili until it came to a boil and then reduced the heat and simmered it uncovered for twenty minutes.

I added a cup of chopped cilantro, ladled the chili into bowls and topped each serving with sour cream, diced scallions, diced avocado, and corn chips.

This recipe makes about two quarts of chili. The wine can be red or white or replaced with water, you can add or subtract vegetables depending on your palate and the contents of your pantry. If the chili is too thick, thin it with tomato juice.

Buen appetito!

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Vegetarian Chili List

  • 2 c onions
  • 3/4 c of celery
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 1 c carrots
  • 2 c mushrooms
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1 t dried basil
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 t hot sauce
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 3 T tomato paste
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 c wine
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