Chili to Share


Chili con carne is Spanish for chili with meat; it got started in Texas, and Texans think it's a crime to add beans to it. So says "The New Food Lover's Companion" (Barron's, 2001, $16.95).

This is a free country, so they're entitled to their own opinions over there in the Lone Star state. In my opinion, my Kansas-born husband LeRoy's chili, loaded with beef, beans, chilies and tomatoes, was the best I ever put in my mouth.

When cold weather comes, I crave that chili. It frustrates me that I haven't been able to recreate the recipe that he used 25 years ago. I've tried those packets and bags of spices, going all the way to the top alarm settings, but despite the heat being there, I never get it to taste right.

One November day, as I was thinking about chili and cruising the aisles at the Kroger on Siwell Road, a small can at the top of the shelves serendipitously caught my eye—Ro-Tel's Chili Fixin's: Seasoned Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies Ready for Your Chili Dishes. That pronoun called to me. Curious, I picked up the can and read the Ro-Tel Chili Recipe: a pound of ground beef, a can of Hunt's tomato sauce and this little can. Could this be the answer to my craving?

I wheeled across the aisle, searched for the 15-ounce tomato sauce, tossed it into the cart and backtracked to the meat section, wondering all the while about adding beans and catsup. I did remember that LeRoy always used Brooks Catsup, which I'd never seen in Jackson. Ground beef in the cart, I decided to just step off on faith and add those beans and forget the catsup, so I circled again to the canned vegetable aisle and picked up a can of Bush's Kidney Beans.

Back home, I cooked up that chili, sprinkled in some black pepper to liven it a bit, and enjoyed every bite. Mama did, too. She'd take a bite and mix in a bite of Nabisco Premium Saltine, finally saying in a surprised manner, "This chili is g-o-o-o-d, way better than that I put on hot dogs." I should hope so; that stuff is microwaveable hot dog chili sauce, all ugly orange and smelly. Yuck.

Still and all, while this first effort tasted OK, I had to have more heat. Over at Vowell's Market in Byram, where the Winn-Dixie on Terry Road used to be, I found the Ro-Tel, the Hunt's, a can of Bush's Chili Beans Mild Sauce and a can of Red Gold Petite Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies.

Mama herself worried that this next batch of chili would be too spicy for her. I explained that if that turned out to be the case, next time I'd make her own chili like the first time, then my own chili like the second time. If need be, we'd freeze some of both of them for later on, labeled accordingly.

In the hammered aluminum Dutch oven, I browned about a pound-and-a-third ground beef in olive oil, drained off the fat and added the contents of the four cans, stirring well and putting on the lid. I turned down the gas flame and let the mixture heat up real good, stirring occasionally. It smelled spicy, like chili ought to. Soon I scooped up a bowl of this second-effort chili, stirred Splenda into a glass of cold brew Lipton tea, got out a sleeve of saltines, and settled in at the table.

A few spicy hot bites later, I looked over at Mama. "This might be OK for you; it's not a lingering kind of hot." More enjoyment followed. "You know, this might just be too hot. When you try it, just try a little bit, in case you don't like it," I said.

Truth be told, I was wishing she'd leave that chili alone so I could have it all for myself over the next few days. It's not LeRoy's chili, but it'll do just fine. Oh, and I did share it with Mama. She raised me right.

Previous Comments


Chili con carne is Spanish for chili with meat; it got started in Texas, and Texans think it's a crime to add beans to it. I've got to have BEANS! Especially kidney beans. To me, chili with no beans is just Sloppy Joe.



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