The Big Chili

Serve it as an appetizer, a soup course or an entrée. Zhuzh it up, or dress it down. Chili is the little black dress of food.

Let’s get one thing straight: Chile is a country or a pepper. It is not something you make. That is chili, a concoction that goes way back in the annals of cooking. It predates Columbus’ sailing days. And long before the conquistadors suited up, the Incas, the Aztecs and the Mayans were mixing beans, meat, peppers and herbs to make the basis for what we now call chili.

Its uses are broad and versatile: It can serve as an appetizer, a soup course, or as an entrée. I keep a zip-top bag in the freezer for hungry people who turn up on short notice or as backup when an entrée flops. Whatever the prompting, it’s one of those foods that puts you in a good mood, and I’m not speaking figuratively. The capsicum in peppers releases endorphins that are scientifically proven to put a smile on your face.

Chili crosses seasons as much as it does courses and cultures. “In the winter, that bowl of chili is warm and comforting,” says Fred Parker, founder of Hard Times Café in Old Town Alexandria and creator of Hard Times Chili Spice Mix. Summertime chilis bring their own relief. “The peppers make those little beads of sweat break out on your forehead, and that lowers your body temperature.” Think of it as natural evaporative cooling.

Much like fried chicken, everyone claims theirs is the quintessential recipe. Those who ride the chili competition circuit (and almost every state has at least a few show-downs) create exotic, multi-layered compositions to distinguish themselves from the pack. “Competition chili quite often can have 20 or more ingredients and a complicated cooking procedure,” says Parker, who cites the purist’s credo: the fewer ingredients the better. When friends and family are the only judges, amping up a recipe isn’t necessary; just play to personal tastes, and be creative. But don’t go too far. As Parker says, “Damn good chili can be made with just chili powder, cumin, salt and garlic.”

Roast Brisket Chili

2 cups dried kidney beans  

2 pounds roast brisket, cubed

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large red onion, diced

3 large garlic cloves, minced

2 ½ tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 ½ tablespoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne

salt and fresh ground pepper

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

½ can of beer

Soak beans overnight. Drain, cover in fresh water and add half the onion and two cloves minced garlic. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer 30-45 minutes or until tender. Add salt, drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add remaining onion and sauté for 10 minutes. Add spices and remaining garlic, then cook 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes, beer, brisket and beans; simmer 20-30 minutes. Season to taste.

Serves 6

Vegetarian White Bean Chili

1 pound Great Northern beans, dried

½ pound chick peas, dried

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 each red, yellow and green peppers, diced

1 24-ounce can of tomatoes, chopped or diced

5 cups vegetable stock

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon oregano

2 bay leaves



cilantro to garnish

Soak beans together overnight. Drain, then add water (covering to 2 inches), ½ chopped onion and two garlic cloves and cook 15-20 minutes, or until almost tender. Heat a large pot on medium high. Add oil and sauté garlic, onion, carrot and peppers 5-6 minutes. Add all spices. Mix well, then add beans, tomatoes and stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until beans are done, approximately 15-20 minutes. Season to taste and garnish with cilantro.

Serves 6

Chicken Black Bean Chili

1 pound ground chicken

1 large onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

½ jalapeno, seeded

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2 cans black beans

1 cup frozen corn

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Brown chicken well and drain in a colander. Reheat pan, adding remaining oil, and sauté the onion, green pepper, jalapeno and garlic 5-6 minutes. Add spices and mix well. Add black beans and corn. Stir well. Add chicken and stock and simmer 20-30 minutes.

Serves 6

Chili Verde

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder

2 medium onions, diced

1 poblano pepper, diced*  

1 12-ounce can tomatillos

4 cloves garlic, minced  

4 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup cilantro  

4 cups chicken stock

*may substitute 2 hatch chilis, roasted and peeled

Cut pork into 1 ½-inch cubes. Season well with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven at medium-high heat, add 3 tablespoons oil, and brown the pork in batches. Remove pork from pan. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and sauté the onions, peppers or chilis, and garlic. In a blender, purée the tomatillos with the sautéed onion mixture and cilantro in ½ cup chicken stock. Return pork to pan and pour puréed mixture over top. Add remaining chicken stock, ½ teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook in a 375-degree oven 1 ½ hours.

Serves 6

This article originally appeared in our February 2015 issue.

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum