Although various regions in Southwest and Central America claim to be the birthplace of the chili pepper — San Antonio, New Mexico, northern Mexico — the food is as diverse as the population of North America, according to Robb Walsh , author of “The Chili Cookbook.”
The Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures made spicy chili stews with turkey, lobster and frogs, he noted, while chili peppers have been cultivated in New Mexico since the 1600s.
Texas has a number of competing stories about the origin of the chili pepper, including soldiers in the Mexican-American War who adapted the field dish known as chili con carne and the San Antonio Chili Queens, who sold chili at outdoor stalls in the late 1800s, long before food trucks hit the scene. William Gebhardt, a German immigrant from New Braunfels, brought chili spices to a wider audience when he patented the first canned chili powder mix in 1899.
It’s this adaptability that makes chili so well suited to any palate, whether you’re an omnivore or a vegan, want to sweat through your scalp or feel a slow burn, or want to make your own with ground beef. , pieces of lamb , five kinds of beans or even tofu.
As for the dispute over the place of beans in a bowl of chili, that’s not a recent phenomenon — they’ve been in the mix for at least a century. “Adding beans and other vegetables to the chili was a response to the meat rationing of the World Wars,” Walsh said. Frugal home cooks used produce from their victory gardens to get creative with their chili recipes, and the new traditions stuck.
No matter your eating habits, there’s a chili for you. Find your favorite chili from the suggestions below, or try a new variation and spice things up this month.
Texas style chilli con carne
As any Texan will probably tell you, there are no beans in traditional chili con carne – the emphasis is on chilies and meat. “Texans don’t put beans in chili for the same reason Italian Americans don’t toss spaghetti in red sauce,” Walsh said. “Cincinnati chili and Texas chili are basically sauces served with other foods, often with beans on the side.”
Make it with chunks of chuck roast or try Lady Bird Johnson’s famous recipe that calls for ground beef, then feel free to top it with as many toppings as you like. It’s also great as a burrito or enchilada topping, ladled over fries or tater tots, or as a top off Frito Pie.
Chilli chicken breast
The “white” chili gets its name from a few substitutions: instead of red meat and tomatoes, chicken and broth is used, and instead of red chilies, green chilies are the star of the show here. Many recipes also include white beans, such as cannellini or Great Northern.
Prepare this Chicken White Chili on the stovetop or in an Instant Pot with hot or mild canned New Mexican Hatch chiles, depending on how much spice you prefer. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also roast some Anaheim or poblano peppers and add them to the chili for extra flavor.
Chili a la Cincinatti
Cinnamon might seem like a strange ingredient for a chili recipe, but for Macedonian immigrants in the Midwest, it made sense. The Greek pasta dish with meat sauce known as makaronia me kima resembled the Southwestern chili pepper, so the name was Americanized. “But they left out the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves that give it such a unique taste. And they still served it over pasta,” Walsh said.
Cincinnati chili is always served over spaghetti, but the toppings can add up. Eat it “at three” with shredded cheddar cheese, “at four” with diced white onions and cheese, or go for it with “at five” chili topped with beans, onions and cheese.
Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
“As long as it has chilies, I don’t have beef with vegetarian chili,” Walsh said, and this vegan chili is loaded with chilies. Here, sweet potatoes replace the traditional stewed beef, simmered in a sauce that includes fresh chopped poblanos and ancho chili powder, plus smoked paprika.
If you have cubes of butternut squash or other hard winter squash left over, feel free to substitute some or all of the sweet potatoes in the recipe.
Vegetarian bean chili
Want beans in your chili? How about three different types of beans? This spicy vegetarian chili is loaded with red, pinto and black beans. The classic chili spices are also complemented with a secret ingredient – red curry paste – to add extra heat and depth of flavor.
Or for another twist on beans, this recipe uses refried pinto beans in place of canned whole beans to thicken the chili.
Smoked Sausage Chilli
There’s a long (and confusingly named) tradition of topping hot dogs and sausages with chili, whether it’s Coney Island dogs from Detroit, Texas sausages from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, or Rhode Island hot sausages, also known as New York system sausages.
Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, DC, is famous for serving its chili over half-smoked sausages, but you can take the idea of chili over sausages and make it an all-in-one meal. For an international-inspired melty chili, use kielbasa or andouille sausage.
Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer. the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the Good site. Food. Stories.