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The Best Chili
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Q. I am told that the best chili made is one without meat and with a mild, medium-hot taste from Tabasco sauce. What do you think?

A. The only hard-and-fast rule we have here is that we never provide health-related answers. The only other hard-and-fast rule we have here is that we never provide answers about the best chili made. It is a question without an answer, a problem without a solution. There are as many chili variations as there are stars in the sky (OK, poetic, but probably not accurate). But it is a source of endless debate.

Find a chili that you can fall in love with and stick to it or play the field without shame and without guilt. Try one of these books for a look at the many varieties of chili available: A Bowl of Red (Canada, UK), by Frank X. Tolbert, Chili Nation (Canada, UK), by Jane and Michael Stern, and the All-American Chili Book (Canada, UK), by Jenny Kellner and Richard Rosenblatt. Here are two entirely different recipes that we like:

Texas Red

The Texas Red is as close to original chili as it gets. Not surprisingly, it is the most basic of all chili, relying chiefly on chiles, cumin, chili powder, Mexican oregano, and garlic. It is a scorcher! To lessen the heat, you can lower the amount of ancho chiles or jalepeno powder.

Ingredients:

1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds beef round, cubed
6 dried ancho chiles or 1-1/2 tsp red jalepeno powder
5 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp dried mexican oregano
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup tomato sauce
1 Tbsp masa harina.

Instructions:

If you use dried anchos, rehydrate them by soaking them with boiling water for a half-hour. Wearing gloves, remove the stems and seeds, then puree them (add a little water if necessary.)

In a large pan, add the beef and cook until evenly browned. Set aside. In a large skillet, saute the onions and garlic in the oil until transluscent. Add chiles/jalepeno powder, chili powder, salt, black pepper, cumin, oregano, sugar, tomato sauce, and browned beef with 1-1/2 to 2 cups water. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for an 1-1/2 hours.

Mix the masa harina in 1/2 cup of water. Add the masa harina water off the heat. Cook for a few minutes to allow masa harina to mix and thicken.

Yield: Serves 4

Cincinnati Chile

This chili variation was created by Greek immigrants in Cincinnati in the 1920's.

Ingredients:

2 lbs ground beef
1 qt water
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 bay leaves
4 drops Tabasco-brand pepper sauce
1 8-oz. cans pureed tomatoes (optional)
1-1/2 lbs spaghetti, cooked al dente
2 medium onions, diced (optional)
16 oz. can red kidney beans (optional)
1 lb shredded cheddar
oyster crackers

Instructions:

Crumble the meat into the water in a deep pan. Add garlic, chocolate, chili powder, black pepper, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, salt, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, and Tabasco, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for two hours or more, giving the chili an occasional stir. Cincinnati chili is not thick by chili standards; if it doesn't ladle up easily, add some of the pureed tomatoes as needed.

Proper Cincinnati chili is served over spaghetti and topped with cheddar cheese (and is called a three-way.) A four-way adds chopped onions between the cheese and chili; a five way includes kidney beans in the same place. Oyster crackers on the side finish it off.

Yield: Serves 6

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