Monday, June 22, 2009

Joe Gracey’s Texas Chili Non Carne

If you were a Native Texan 400 years ago and you had a mess of peppers and onions and beans and garlic and corn and handful of herbs like oregano and comino, well, your first idea would be to throw them all in a pot and stew them together. All of these things grow wild in Texas and Mexico so the cooks of the bunch developed this soup/stew ten thousand years ago.

When Cattle Culture became paramount in Texas and Northern Mexico, this stew came to be called “chilis con carne” since beef was easier to come by and meat was less of a delicacy.

Texas kids in the 50’s grew up eating Chili Con Carne and Beans & Cornbread once a week or so, and every cook in Texas has her own unique interpretation of the dishes. Little of the “chili” made north, west, or east of Texas is what a Texan would recognize as a Bowl of Red.  Additions such as pasta, kidney beans, tomatoes, turkey (!!!) etc. have caused considerable confusion and panic amongst the people, but here I attempt to set the record straight.

With the modern-day interest in non-carnivorous eating, it is but a short step back to the aboriginal intent of this dish and so I present my version to you here. The only bean that has the correct flavor for this stew is the Texas Pinto Bean. It cannot be a white bean, or a kidney bean, or a black bean. They all have their place in the pantheon of bean dishes, but only the Pinto will do. Nothing else has the earthy but delicate assertiveness required. If you are desperate, try what Americans call “red” beans, or try the Italian “borlotti” bean. The flavor of this dish depends on the presence of the “poblano” pepper, which is called the “ancho” chili in its dried state, or the dried powder of this pepper which makes up most of the “chili powder” sold in Texas. You can get this online from Penzey’s. Please note that there are no tomatoes of any kind in this dish. The characteristic deep red-brown color and flavor of Chili does not rest in any way upon tomatoes; it derives from ancho chilis.

 And so, with those caveats, I give you this dish:

1 pound Pinto Beans, soaked overnight, water discarded

2 yellow onions, peeled, chopped and lightly sauteed in oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped

6 ancho chilis (simmered and processed or chopped, or 6 tablespoons of Texas chili powder)

Kernels from 3 ears of corn

1 tablespoon of cumin (or more, to taste- careful, there is a delayed reaction with each addition)

1 teaspoon of Mexican Oregano, dried

salt and pepper

vegetable stock to cover

fine cornmeal

Drain the beans. Cover with stock, add the vegetables (except the corn) and the herbs and salt and pepper. Use the chili pepper simmering water as part of the stock. Simmer until the beans are done. Add the corn and simmer for another half hour or so. Add cornmeal as needed to thicken.

Adjust salt and pepper, and serve it forth!

Serve with ice-cold beer, Iced Tea, corn and flour tortillas, and garnish with chopped white onions and grated Monterrey Jack or Queso Chihuahua cheese.