January in the kitchen – A Tale of Three Chilies

January in the kitchen – A Tale of Three Chilies

Chili Time – A Bowl of Red

I have a confession; I don’t like New Year’s Eve. My idea of a great New Year’s Eve is snuggling in bed at 10 pm with my hubby and a good book. But, New Year’s Day is an entirely different story. It’s the beginning of a new year and I can’t think of anything better than taking a long hike in the redwoods with the dogs, and being surrounded by good friends. That’s how our annual New Year’s Day hike and chili party got started. The first year there were only two of us hiking, but it was magical. Shrouded in fog and a light drizzle, we walked through an empty forest while the moisture dripped from the trees while the dogs ran joyfully up and down the ravines. We repeat that same 6-mile hike every year with a changing cast of characters. Who would believe this beautiful park is just minutes from downtown Oakland!

But, hike or not, everyone is invited back to the house for the annual chili feast.

There will be a chili for every dietary need, gluten free, vegetarian, and paleo. My chili recipe research starts the day after Christmas; each year they are different.  I make a lot to satisfy appetites sharpened by the walk, but still have leftovers to stock in the freezer for busy winter evenings. Chili is the perfect cold night meal. In Tex-Mex cooking it originally was eaten over hot dogs or hamburgers at a BBQ, and it’s good that way. My favorite is over baked potatoes.

Did you know that the inspiration for chili came from the Canary Islands? Real Texas chili has its roots in North Africa. I had never thought about this until I read a fascinating history of chili and Tex-Mex cooking in a book called “The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos”.

How did this come about? The Canary Islands were a Spanish possession, as was Texas originally. In 1731 Islanders were encouraged to relocate to San Antonio (Texas) because settlers were in short supply and few Spaniards were interested in living in such a wilderness.

It turns out that the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands were the Guanche, believed to be related to the Berber people from Morocco. According to the American Spice Trade Association, the “lavish use of spices” characterizes Berber foods. The cuisine’s “flavor imprint” is made up of “cumin, coriander, saffron, chili, ginger, cinnamon, and paprika.” The Canary Islanders brought a taste for cumin to Texas in amounts that Spaniards would have found overwhelming.

Outdoor socializing was also part of the Canary Island tradition; the Islanders started the San Antonio chili stand, an informal outdoor restaurant. Their original location was around Military Square. The chili stands were popular tourist and late night destinations until closed in the 1930’s for sanitary reasons. But chili had already become an essential part of the Tex-Mex food scene.

Our family’s traditional New Year’s Day hike and chili feast has its roots in Texas (where my father was born and I still have family) and California, where the weather is perfect for a New Year’s Day hike through the redwood forest.

I spend the week between Christmas and New Years making at least three kinds of chili, perfect party food. It is much improved by sitting in the refrigerator for a couple of days, and freezes well.

Let’s start with authentic. Real Texas chili does not contain tomatoes or beans. This “Bowl of Red” is true to tradition. The recipe is adapted from “The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos”.

A Bowl of Red

A Bowl of Red

Texas Red Chili AKA Chili Con Carne

Serves 6-8

  • 3 ½ pounds of beef stew meat cubed into ½ inch pieces and dried (chuck preferred)
  • 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil, more if needed
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic minced
  • 3 tablespoons ground Ancho chili powder (or other mild chili powder)
  • 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1-2 tablespoons medium to hot paprika (depending on your desire for heat)
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 4-6 cups of beef broth
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of corn flour (masa harina)


Beef Chili

Chili Con Carne

  1. Toast the whole cumin seeds in a dry skillet until golden, remove to a small plate to cool. Once cool, grind to a powder in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
  2. In the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat.
  3. Add the beef (you will need to do this in several batches) and brown on all sides. Once browned, remove the meat to a bowl. Add more oil if needed for the next batch.
  4. Once all the meat has been browned, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan, add the chopped onion and cook on medium for 10 minutes until soft.
  5. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute.
  6. Return the beef to the pan, include any juices in the bottom of the bowl.
  7. Add the ground cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, and black pepper. Mix to combine and coat the meat with the spices.
  8. Add the beef broth and bring to a gentle simmer.
  9. Cook on low heat, covered, for 2 hours until the meat is tender.
  10. Combine the masa harina with ¼ cup of cold water and stir until a thin paste forms.
  11. Add the cornmeal mixture to the simmering chili and stir until it dissolves.
  12. Cook on simmer for an additional 10 minutes to blend flavors and thicken the chili.
  13. Taste for salt.

Traditional garnishes are sour cream (to cool it down), chopped red onion, cilantro, pickled jalapenos (if you want more heat), and shredded cheese.

The other chilies on the menu are chicken with sweet potatoes, and a vegetarian chili with butternut squash. Look for more posts and pictures of the hiking group on New Year’s Day.

Beef Chili from Texas

Chili Con Carne – A Bowl of Red

I’ll be taking this to share on Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen’s, and Fiesta Friday at the Novice Gardener.


I wish you the happiest of New Year’s, and a 2015 filled with joy and love. Thank you for visiting. Y’all come back.