National Chili Day is always the fourth Thursday in February. This year, that is Feb. 28.
A simmering pot of chili will warm up any occasion. I think that’s the reason this dish is celebrated during one of the coldest months of the year.
Lots of places in town have really great chili.
Some of my favorites include Elwood’s Shack, Huey’s, Houston’s and The Majestic Grille. Each of these options is rich and meaty, flavored just right with chili spices.
You can enjoy most of these year-round, but The Majestic Grille only serves their chili on Wednesdays, and only in the winter months.
“Before we stop making it each spring, we have some customers order quarts of it to keep in their freezer,” said Deni Reilly, who owns The Majestic Grille with her husband Patrick.
Whereas a meaty chili con carne is probably the most traditional version of this hearty soup, chili can take many forms. The key ingredients that binds them all together are the chili spices.
I asked two Memphis cookbook authors to share their recipes for “not-your-ordinary” chilis.
Perre Coleman Magness has penned three cookbooks: “Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook,” “The Southern Sympathy Cookbook” and “Southern Snacks: 77 Recipes for Small Bites with Big Flavors.” She also has a blog, The Runaway Spoon, where she posts her unique spin on Southern classics — including chili.
“It’s always nice to have a little twist on a classic, and mine is a creamy chicken chili with the added touch of black beans along with the white — that’s why I call it Tuxedo Chili,” Magness said.
She suggests serving chili when you have guests over.
“I love a meal like this with family or friends – everyone will love it, and putting out bowls of cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro or any other toppings you’d like for everyone to tailor their own bowl is always fun,” she said.
Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence are the couple behind The Chubby Vegetarian blog. The duo have written two cookbooks, “The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook” and “The Chubby Vegetarian Cookbook.”
Noting the name of their works, it is no surprise that Burks and Lawrence make a vegetarian version of chili — Meaty Portobello Chili.
Burks explained that “the meaty texture and flavor of mushrooms make them a perfect plant-based substitution.”
“We were experimenting with vegetarian versions of paleo diet dishes,” he said explaining of the origins of this chili recipe. “We couldn’t use beans, so tried browning pieces of portobello mushrooms and found they gave a super meaty texture. Then we just added the chili spices to make it into a chili.”
Burks likes to serve his hearty chili over sweet potato fries with diced tomatoes and avocado on top.
If you have a favorite chili in town or a recipe, please let me know! I’d love to try it.
1 medium white onion
2 garlic cloves
1 Tablespoon oil
2 pounds ground chicken (if you prefer, you can use ground turkey)
2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups water
3 (15 ounce) cans cannellini or great northern beans
2 cups chicken broth
1 (16 ounce) can black beans
1 (16 ounce) package frozen white shoepeg corn
1 (4.5 ounce) can chopped green chiles
Chop the onion and garlic finely. Add to the oil in a large Dutch oven. Saute over medium high heat until soft and translucent. Do not brown. Remove the onions and garlic to a bowl and set aside. (If the onions brown and overcook, the final color of the chili will be muddy. It will still taste delicious, but won’t look as nice. You can always top it with lots of cheese). Add the ground chicken to the pan and cook until browning slightly, breaking up into small pieces. Mix the oregano, cumin, chili powder, pepper and cinnamon in a small bowl, then sprinkle over the chicken. Add the onions and garlic. Pour in three cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until the water has reduced by half and the chicken is cooked through.
Meanwhile, drain and rinse two cans of white beans. Place in a blender with the chicken broth and puree until smooth. Drain and rinse the remaining white beans and the black beans. Pour the pureed beans into the chicken mixture and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium, add the drained beans, corn, and green chiles and simmer until cooked through and thickened, about 30 minutes.
Serve in big bowls topped with grated cheese, sour cream and chopped cilantro.
This will hold, cooled and covered, overnight and reheated before serving. It will also freeze beautifully.
Printed with permission from “The Runaway Spoon” by Perre Coleman Magness.
Meaty Portobello Chili with Cold-Oven Sweet Potato Fries
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 cups onion (about 2 medium)
2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
1 teaspoons cumin
1 ½ cups diced bell peppers (about 2 medium)
8 cups cubed portobello (about 6 medium)
1 large can fire-roasted crushed tomato
1 tablespoon dried, crumbled porcini
½ cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Cold Oven Sweet Potato Fries (recipe follows)
Sliced avocado to garnish
In a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat, melt the coconut oil and add the onion. Take your time with this step. You want to cook the onion for 15 minutes or so stirring occasionally until they are nice and brown. This is where much of the flavor comes from. Add the ancho, paprika, garlic, salt, pepper, and cumin and cook for another 5 minutes or until a nice fond, the brown layer stuck to the bottom of the pot, has formed.
Add in the peppers, portobellos, tomatoes, crumbled porcini, broth, and vinegar. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the fond from the bottom of the pot and stir it in. Bring pot to a low boil and then reduce to the lowest heat. Cover and cook for one hour.
Serve over Cold-Oven Sweet Potato Fries and garnish with sliced avocado and anything else you’d like.
Serves 6 to 8 as a main course.
Cold-Oven Sweet Potato Fries
2 large sweet potatoes (peeled and cut into ¼-inch batons)
2 teaspoons olive oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the potatoes out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place into a cold oven and set the temperature to 415 degrees. Check them in 15 minutes or so. They should be golden and ready in 20-25 minutes. (Makes 2 servings, so you’ll have to make several batches if you’re serving lots of people.)