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A New Look at Chili

Smoky Pork Chili with Black-Eyed Peas

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by Raquel Pelzel
from Fine Cooking #113, p.80-85

Think you know chili? Sure, it’s everyone’s favorite cold-weather comfort food, perfect for game day or for taking the chill off a crisp autumn night. But depending on where you’re from, chili can mean many different things.

For Texans, chili con carne (also known just as chili, or a bowl of red) is a thick stew of meat and chile peppers. Beans are forbidden in the chili, although they’re often served on the side. In other parts of the country, beans are practically a must. Other common ingredients include onions, garlic, oregano, cumin, and tomatoes. But really, the variations are endless: There are vegetarian, chicken, and seafood chilis, and chilis with beer, chocolate, and any number of vegetables, herbs, and spices. Truly, the only ingredient common to all chilis is chile peppers, whether they’re fresh or dried, whole or ground.

So, with chili’s boundless potential in mind, I went to four brilliant chefs from across the country for their inspired takes on this fall favorite. The results blew me away. I’m talking about a roasted chicken chili from a chef known for her elegant Mediterranean cuisine, a smoky black-eyed pea chili from a New Orleans chef who’s famous for his way with pork, a hearty vegetarian chili with chickpeas and almonds from a New York City chef who specializes in sophisticated comfort food, and a beef and green chile chili from a born-and-bred-in-Texas cowboy chef.

These chilis are going to surprise you, satisfy you, and count among the most delicious you’ve ever tasted.

“Beans belong in chili. And since black-eyed peas are one of my favorite foods, I add them to the mix. I also choose moderately spicy chiles like ancho and New Mexico for their flavor, not their heat.”

—Chef Donald Link

  Smoky Pork Chili with Black-Eyed Pea
Smoky Pork Chili with Black-Eyed Peas
     

“A chili’s character comes from the chiles in it. I opt for lots of green chiles because they’re fresher and provide greater depth than red ones do. And since I’m a Texan, no beans allowed!”

—Chef Tim Love

  Beef and Green Chile Chili
Beef and Green Chile Chili
 

“This chili marries the complex flavors of roasted chicken, cranberry beans, and baharat, a fragrant spice blend. Please use freshly cooked dried beans instead of canned— their flavor and texture make all the difference.”

—Chef Ana Sortun

 

  Spiced Roasted Chicken and Cranberry Bean Chili
Spiced Roasted Chicken and Cranberry Bean Chili
   

“Why does chili always have to be so meat-driven? I skip the meat and use chickpeas and fresh vegetables instead. Then to really change things up, I top my chili with crunchy fried almonds.”

—Chef Alex Guarnaschelli

  Vegetable-Chickpea Chili with Fried Almonds
Vegetable-Chickpea Chili with Fried Almonds

Photos: Scott Phillips

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