Everyone has a chili opinion.
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By Melissa Clark
If you’re fond of chili, you probably have strong opinions. Are you a Texas chili purist, stewing big chunks of beef without any beans? Or do you lean vegetarian, preferring your chili sin carne, all tender beans and vegetables? My husband thinks that the only chili is the classic American style, with both beef and beans, and tomatoes to boot. There are die-hard proponents of turkey chili, vegan chili, harissa bean chili and lamb chili. And do you make your chili in a pot, or in a skillet?
To each their own chili, I say. But they all have one thing in common: peppers. I have yet to meet a chili sin chile.
Ali Slagle has added another brilliant chili to this protean pantheon: farro and bean chili, above. The grains in this vegan recipe have a nubby texture that recalls ground meat, and the starchiness helps thicken the sauce. It could be just the thing to make as winter slogs on. You could serve it over Priya Krishna’s genius microwave rice, which will save you time and a pot to wash.
While my husband was growing up eating chili in Colorado, I was being raised on brisket in Brooklyn. Susan Spungen’s pomegranate-juice-spiked braised brisket is chili-adjacent, in that she uses beef with a bevy of spices: smoked paprika (which is, after all, a type of chile), coriander and cinnamon, along with ground coffee for an earthy depth. Though it is not quite a chili, her brisket is a fragrant and nourishing wonder.
Moving on from the chili multiverse, how about a lovely and very simple recipe from Ali for roasted fish with herby, sesame-speckled breadcrumbs? Or a pot of vibrant pickle soup loaded with root vegetables and sour cream from our own Kasia Pilat? I’ve made this one several times, and it’s just perfect — not too tart and full of verve. Serve it with Yewande Komolafe’s cornbread, ideally warm from the oven and slathered with butter.
Then for dessert, whip up some lemon curd, which you can also make in the microwave. Spoon some over a bowl of orange segments and their sweet-tart juices. A little wedge of pecan shortbread on the side wouldn’t be out of place.
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All chiles may be closely related, but the ways in which their spectrum of flavors and heat is used varies thrillingly across cultures. For example, Twilight Greenaway reported in 2013 in Smithsonian Magazine that scientists analyzed how chile heat in the Tex-Mex cooking traditions (“flat, sustained heat that feels almost like it’s been painted on with a brush”) differs from that preferred in Asian cuisines (“sharp heat that feels like pinpricks but dissipates quickly”).
Jonathan Gold, the great Los Angeles restaurant critic, once described the experience of eating an extravagantly hot Thai curry: “It was glowing, practically incandescent,” he said in a profile in The New Yorker by Dana Goodyear. But, he continued, that sensory overload can accentuate other ingredients. “It’s not that the hotness overwhelms the dish, which is what people who don’t understand Thai cooking always say,” he said, “but that the dish is revealed for the first time — its flavor — as you taste details of fruit and turmeric and spices that you didn’t taste when it was merely extremely hot. It’s like a hallucination.”
Something to consider next time you add chiles to your chili pot. See you on Wednesday.
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