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Location: Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Chile vs. chili

A New Mexico semantic distinction

In New Mexico, we make a careful distinction of terms that isn’t followed in most other places.

Chile, when capitalized, is the name of a South American country. But when chile, with an e at the end, is not capitalized, it refers to the fruit of the capsicum plant, the peppers that come in red and green colors, in varying degrees of hotness. In most of the rest of the world, such fruit is referred to as chili peppers, or just chilis, but in New Mexico, they are chiles.

In New Mexico, the term chili, with an i at the end, refers to a hearty stew, usually based on ground or finely diced beef or pork, made using chiles, usually in dried flaked or powdered form, as a primary seasoning. Other ingredients are up for debate, especially beans. Some chili fans will say that real chili doesn’t have beans, while others say beans are a necessity, and among the bean supporters, there’s debate about what sort of beans are acceptable.

I had a dream. The early part of the dream was hazy – it was about getting backward Americans to understand the concept of the British roundabout, a traffic circle that, in the original British concept, allows traffic to flow smoothly without the need for traffic lights. In many American cities, roundabouts have been installed to have the opposite effect, to slow traffic down in neighborhoods where the powers-that-be want to discourage reckless driving and drive-by shootings.

After the seminar, there was a meal. There was a lot of good food. But the climax of the meal was some really, really good chili. When I woke up, I was drooling. And I was HUNGRY, for the first time in days, maybe even weeks. I knew I needed to have chili for supper.

It’s a simple recipe, and since it only uses one pot, the cleanup is easy. First, I chop up one medium sized onion and mince two or three cloves of garlic. Then, I brown about a pound (more if it has a lot of fat) of ground beef or pork in a big pot with the onion and garlic. My favorite is the coarse-ground pork, but this time, I just had basic ground beef. While the meat is browning, I open a can of tomatoes (coarse-diced, or if they’re halves or whole tomatoes, I swish a knife through the can a few times to cut them down to size) and a can of beans (I like kidneys, although chili purists cringe at the thought of anything other than pintos). I dump the beans into another container.

Next, I use a turkey baster to suck as much of the fat as I can out of the pot and into the can that originally held the beans. I set the fat aside to cool – I’ll dump it in the trash once it isn’t so hot that it will melt the trash bag in the kitchen trash can.

Now, I put the remaining ingredients into the pot: the beans, the tomatoes, a half-can or half-bottle of hearty beer (light beer WILL NOT do), a major slug (wild guess, about 2 tablespoons) of chile powder (avoid store brands or national brands; my favorite is Chimayo medium, which is primarily available in New Mexico; Gebhart’s from Texas is pretty good and more widely available), a half slug of comino (also known as cumin), a half slug of celery seed, a quarter slug of mustard powder, and twenty or thirty cranks of fresh-ground pepper (if you don’t have a pepper grinder, maybe a quarter teaspoon or so).

Stir everything together, then bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat as low as your stove will go, and simmer for at least an hour. The longer you simmer, the richer the flavor gets. This is a great recipe for when you don’t know exactly when everybody is going to arrive for supper, because you can keep it simmering for 6 hours and it will still be good, especially if your stove has an extra-low heat setting, or you have a heat dissipater you can put between the pot and the stove burner, to keep the beans at the bottom of the pot from burning. (I have an electric Chef Pot that has a low setting, and that saves me from having to heat up the kitchen by firing up the stove in the first place.)

I serve the chili in bowls, with grated cheese to sprinkle on top – Longhorn Colby and Monterey Jack are both good. Flour tortillas and/or saltine crackers complete the meal.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Lydia Manx said...

Bummer on the opals. I was always taught opals weren't to be bought for yourself - that brought the bad luck.

As for you delicious recipe, very close to mine. I leave out the cumin cause not a thing my family can take and I have been known to chop up some bell and chili peppers from yard and cook them in with the veggies.

Wed Aug 22, 06:32:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Bell peppers! Oh dear, don't mention those; we don't consider them quite the real thing here. But then, residents of the Land of Enchantment are known for their love of the more fiery foods.

Thu Aug 23, 03:53:00 PM MDT  

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