I’m excited for this Sunday’s game. Well, not really for the game itself, but for the menu. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy football. I just don’t feel any particular allegiance to either of the teams playing in this year’s big game, so while I know I’ll appreciate watching the skill of the players, I won’t have that much interest in the final outcome, which kind of makes for somewhat dull watching. Therefore, my plan is to focus primarily on the commercials and the food.
We’re having a few friends over, and I’ll be serving chili and cornbread, along with various other munchies. Chili is a huge hit in my house – my husband and boys get really excited when they see that I’m purchasing ingredients for it. And they specifically really love my chili, which totally does good things for my ego.
I don’t think I had ever made chili until I had a super-yummy version at a friend’s house. There was cinnamon in it. I had never thought to put that type of spice into a tomato-based dish. I was intrigued, and it prompted me to experiment boldly with the flavors and spices that simmered in the pot when I made it myself.
I cook a lot. My whole family cooks. We love food. We love how it tastes, how it smells, the textures, the colors, the thrill of experimenting and creating, how it makes us feel to feed people, pretty much everything about it. And (surprise, surprise) I personally get a great deal of satisfaction out of making yummy stuff that’s healthy. I really love being able to feed people without guilt.
Which brings me back to my chili. First of all, it’s very low fat. I either make it with super-lean beef, ground turkey breast, or no meat at all. I always use tons of beans (mainly kidney beans, some black beans, and when going vegetarian I will sometimes add lentils), so it’s super high in fiber and protein. I use several cartons of chopped tomatoes, and a lot of onions and garlic, so it’s got plenty of vegetables. The next part is where I don’t want you to roll your eyes and walk away: I don’t add any salt, and I use low sodium broth.
Americans in general consume way too much sodium. We’re used to the taste of salt in certain things, and chili is one of them. But in the years since I’ve developed my chili recipe, I’ve never had anyone complain, ask for a salt shaker, or not have seconds (or thirds). Here’s the trick: Give the taste buds so much to think about that they don’t even remember to look for salt.
The original recipe that I got from my friend called for a bunch of cumin. I like cumin, but it’s one of those spices that asks to be accompanied by salt. And I don’t like an overpowering cumin flavor. So I cut that down a bit. I went much bigger on the cinnamon, and ran with the theme of spices you would normally think of when baking Thanksgiving desserts. I upped the chili powder, played with the oregano proportions, and generously added some other goodies from my baking/spice cabinet that brought an exquisite depth and complexity to the dish. Some of my culinary creations are decidedly mediocre, but I put all modesty aside when talking about my chili. It rocks.
I have very few secrets, but at this point in time I still don’t share my recipe. I think the main reason is that by keeping it to myself, if someone is in the mood for it they have to see me and spend time with me – it keeps me needed (but don’t worry – my family knows where it’s written down, so if I die the chili will live on). So if you’re feeding people this Sunday, try making a pot of “liquid gold,” as my husband and kids call it. Open your spice jars, hold different jars next to one another, smell the combinations, see what speaks to you, and go for it. Don’t be timid when you add the flavors – chili is not a subtle dish. And next post, I’ll give you my cornbread recipe – it goes great with the chili.