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A Tale of Two Chilis: Texas Chili Vs. Pantry Chili

7 Feb

Pantry chili

I have never lived in Texas or Cincinnati or anywhere even remotely connected to the various seething hot beds of chili controversy across our fine country. In general, I’m a gal who enjoys going to extremes — if there’s an issue on the table, I will be able to offer a violent pro or con opinion and will welcome the prospect of verbally tussling over the subject until the boundaries of polite social discourse have been thoroughly breached, trampled upon and mashed into the ground.

I feel totally left out of the chili wars: cheated out of a visceral opinion by the capricious gods of geography, I’m left at loose ends. Which chili do I truly believe is top dog? I have no idea — I love them all. Whenever I make a pot of the stuff, I generally just fiddle around on Google until I find a recipe that doesn’t look too complicated, time-consuming or require an afternoon of shopping for esoteric ingredients hither and thither around Westchester County. Not surprisingly, my lazy, unengaged quest for a decent pot of chili has not yielded fantastic results.

As Superbowl Sunday approached, and the cold winter continued to bear down on me like a noisy, hectoring, relentlessly nosy and unavoidable office mate, Stephen and I were itching for a crock of stick-to-your-ribs chili. Our friend Benedick has made us the best Cincinnati Chili I’ve ever encountered, so I decided to leave well-enough alone and have him do the cookin’ the next time I craved the kidney bean, hot dog and cheese-studded dish. Which left Texas Chili and what I think of as Pantry Chili — a gathering of good dry beans, peppers, spices, veggies and whatever else is hanging around the fridge and pantry.

The two chilies would embody the issues highlighted by the eternal, ever-waging chili war: the meaty, simple Texas chili vs. the more whimsical, loosey-goosey and flexible Pantry Chili. Yin/yang; red state/blue state; id/superego; brawn/brains.

One chili seems designed to sucker-punch you in the gut with a cholesterol, saturated fat and artery-clogging karate chip. A chili that’ll tackle you like a fat linebacker on steroids.

The other chili is designed to cradle you heart in a warm embrace of fibrous, antioxidant and vitamin-infused vitality. It comforts you like a care-worn grandmother brimming with tea and sympathy, when the howling February winds put your soul on ice.

But which one would be more fun to eat with Superbowl snacks? (Let’s just all agree that one serving of Superbowl snacks should always contain about a day’s worth of sodium and calories; it should brim with preservatives, unpronounceable chemicals and partially hydrogenated oils. A deep fryer should be involved in the cooking process). Stephen and I would be the judge and jury in this chili cook-off. Like all good wars, this one led to a draw — and (hopefully) many juicy battles in the winters ahead of us.

I spent a great deal of time researching traditional Texas chili recipes, in addition to recipes that seemed to just through a bunch of stuff in one pot, simmer the mess for a while and serve with plenty of tasty accouterments. Through a bit of trial and error, I developed two solid recipes. The Pantry Chili takes a few days to make (the beans and tomato base must sit overnight to absorb flavors) but both recipes are boldly flavored and as distinctive  … Click on for the recipes, verdict and more photos!

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