“Next to music there is nothing that lifts the spirits and strengthens the soul more than a good bowl of chili.”
Harry James (1916-1983) band leader and trumpeter
Ah, yes: Chili. Next to chocolate, chili is definitely my favorite comfort food. Every spoonful summons up warm memories of good times past and holds the promise of many more to come.
As a child, I remember being hypnotized by the aroma steaming from that big kettle on Nani’s stove. Regardless of how much snow was falling or how fiercely the wind whistled outside, that whiff of simmering deliciousness was welcoming, warm and wonderful in the big brick house on twenty-Fifth Avenue.
Recently, while chopping veggies to begin our chili dinner and wiping the inevitable onion tears from my eyes with the back of my hand, an overwhelming rush of memories brought on a different set of tears. For a moment I was five years old, waiting for Papo (my grandfather and best friend in the whole world) to come home from work, sweep me up into his loving arms and set me down in the chair next to him at the kitchen table…
“Chili is not so much food as a state of mind. Addictions to it are formed early in life and the victims never recover. On blue days in October, I get this passionate yearning for a bowl of chili, and I nearly lose my mind.”
Margaret Cousins, novelist
The vision vanished as quickly as it had appeared. My kettle of chili was simmering on the stove. Just as it had been all those years ago in my reverie, it was snowing and blowing outside, but the warm, “everything is well with the world” feeling remained. New memories were ready to be created.
“The aroma of good chili should generate rapture akin to a lover’s kiss.”
Motto of the Chili Appreciation Society International
Nani was a wizard in the kitchen and she never needed a recipe to create her magic, she just knew! I learned how to make chili and many other family favorite meals by spending many hours “apprenticing” in that little kitchen on twenty-Fifth Avenue. Over the years, several people have asked me for my chili recipe but I’ve been reluctant to share it. Not because it has to be kept secret but, like Nani, I don’t use any recipe! But, if I did use a recipe – well – it would look like the one below.
A word to the wise, just as memories can seem to become even sweeter over time, chili seems to taste better after resting for a day or two. So make it a day or two before you serve it because as John Steele Gordon told us: “Chili is much improved by having had a day to contemplate its fate.”
Nani’s Chili Recipe
1 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 pound of ground chicken
Four or five cloves of garlic sliced very thin
Four cups chopped onion
Four cups chopped celery
Four cups green or red bell pepper, cut into small pieces
Two or three hot peppers, if desired
One 15 ounce can of seasoning diced tomato sauce for chili
Two cans of chili ready diced tomatoes
Two 15 ounce cans of hot or mild chili beans with gravy
Seven or eight 15 ounce cans of beans any variety, drained and rinsed
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper, chili powder (hot or mild) to taste
Sauté garlic, onions, peppers, and celery in olive oil,
then put them into large kettle
In the same pan that was used for the vegetables, brown the ground meat.
Add spices to taste. Drain the meat and add to the kettle with the vegetables.
Add all of the canned ingredients to the kettle, stir, add more spices to taste.
Simmer for several hours, stirring occasionally.
Makes approximately enough to feed a small army!
(about 18 cups)
“Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.”
Alleged dying words of Kit Carson (1809-1868), Frontiers Man and Mountain Man
for more Chili tips and recipes check out: www.patlawrence.net/today-s-blog