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Winter and the upcoming Super Bowl have Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst thinking about chili. She tells Jeremy Hobson that she’s a fan of the food because “it is a very adaptable fun dish to make.”
But what constitutes a chili is a subject for debate.
“There are no hard facts — every time I thought ‘Oh, okay this is where it originated,’ nope, 10 sources told me something different,” she said. “It can be made a thousand different ways: beans, no beans, pork, beef, just vegetables, killer spicy, mild and smoky.”
Gunst shares two of her chili recipes: one made with marinated pork shoulder and a vegetarian chili made with butternut squash. She also shares her take on the popular chili side dish, cornbread.
Kathy’s Note: Although there are several steps involved with making this chili it can all be made a day or two (or even three) ahead of time. You can use canned beans, but if you can find the time it’s much better to soak dry beans overnight, drain and cook in simmering water until almost tender.
Serve this hearty, smoky chili with slices of avocado, lime wedges, sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro and chopped scallions, and a variety of hot pepper sauces. The chili is delicious with taco chips or warm corn or flour tortilla to dunk in and sop up the juices.
The Pork and Marinade:
1 teaspoon cumin seed* or ½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 pounds shoulder of pork, excess fat removed, and cubed into 1 to 1 ½ inch pieces
1/2 cup dry red wine
6 dried de Arbol chiles or New Mexican chiles, whole
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo sauce (available in cans)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
One 28-ounce can tomatoes
1/2 cup water
3 cups cooked white beans, drained, rinsed, and drained again if canned, see note above
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
About 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chile powder depending on how spicy you like your chili
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
One bottle beer, preferably dark
Garnishes: Lime wedges, avocado slices or chunks, chopped fresh cilantro and scallions, sour cream, hot pepper sauces and taco chips or warm flour or corn tortillas
*Place the cumin seeds in an ungreased skillet over low heat. Toast for about 6 minutes, or until you smell the spice. Remove from heat and grind in a spice grinder or coffee grinder that you use just for spices.
Marinate the pork: place the pork in a large bowl and add the wine on top.
Soak the chiles: place the chiles in a bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Let soak 15 minutes.
In a blender, add the cumin, garlic, onion, chiles and 1 cup of the water they soaked in, the chipotle, oregano, salt and pepper and whirl until thick and mostly blended.
Pour the marinade over the pork and using your (clean) hands make sure all the meat is coated in the mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
To make the chili: Remove the pork from the marinade using a slotted spoon and making sure to reserve the marinade.
Heat a large casserole over high heat. Add the oil and let it get hot. Working in small batches, brown the pork for about 2 minutes on each side, or until brown. Remove to a thick paper towel and let drain. Repeat with the remaining pork; you shouldn’t need additional oil since the pork will lose some fat.
Add the tomatoes to the hot casserole, using a spoon to break them up into smaller pieces. Add ½ cup water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and add the beans, cilantro, chile powder, the reserved marinade, beer, and salt and pepper. Cover and let simmer for about 1 hour. Partially remove the lid and simmer over very low heat for an additional 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced somewhat and is flavorful. Add salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce to taste.
Serves 4 to 6.
Kathy’s Note: This chili has a sweet and smoky and slightly spicy flavor. It can be made a day or two ahead of time. Serve with the Spider Cornbread, and top with sour cream and chopped scallions.
1 pound black beans, soaked overnight in a large bowl of cold water or 6 cups cooked canned black beans, drained, rinsed, and drained again
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, dark greens discarded, cut lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, chopped
3 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons chile powder
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 pound butternut squash or any winter squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 ribs celery, chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 2 cups canned tomatoes with their juice
4 cups vegetable stock
One 4-ounce can whole green chiles, drained and thinly sliced
Hot pepper sauce to taste
Accompaniments: Cornbread (recipe below), sour cream, and 3 thinly sliced scallions
Soak the beans in cold water overnight. Drain and place in a large pot with fresh cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and partially cover; cook for about 45 minutes, or until just tender. Drain the beans. Alternately you can use canned beans that are drained, rinsed, and drained again.
In a large pot heat the oil over low heat. Add the leek and onion and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes. Add the scallions, salt and pepper and cook another 2 minutes. Add the cinnamon, cumin, chile powder, and cilantro and stir well; cook 1 minute. Add the squash and stir well to coat all the squash pieces with the spices and onions; cook 4 minutes. Add the celery, tomatoes, beans, vegetable broth, and chiles, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook about 1 hour or until the squash is tender. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce to taste. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of scallions.
Serves 6 to 8.
Kathy’s Note: This is an unusually delicious version of cornbread, with a creamy, herb-flecked layer. Originally this cornbread was made in a spider pan, a black cast iron skillet with “legs” that gave it a spider-like appearance. You can use a regular cast iron skillet or any thick, ovenproof skillet.
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
Coarse freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chives, minced
2 scallions, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over low heat.
In a large bowl mix the cornmeal, sugar, flour, salt, and baking soda. Add the buttermilk and stir until smooth. Add the eggs, 1 cup of the regular milk, and the melted butter, leaving a touch of butter to grease the skillet. Add the pepper, chives, scallions, parsley, and rosemary and mix until smooth.
Pour the batter into the greased skillet and bake for 12 minutes. Pour the remaining cup of milk on top and continue baking until the cornbread is firm, about 45 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Serve hot or at room temperature cut into wedges.
Serves about 8.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
And if you still haven't figured out what to make for your Super Bowl party, how about chili? Our resident chef Kathy Gunst is here with some chili and some recipes. Kathy, welcome back.
KATHY GUNST, BYLINE: Hello, Jeremy.
HOBSON: And this platter in front of me looks absolutely amazing.
GUNST: Unbelievable. What did it just say to you? Don't look at the platter yet.
HOBSON: OK, fine. Well, now, chili...
GUNST: A child in a candy store.
HOBSON: Are you a fan of chili?
GUNST: I am a fan of chili and even more so this week, having spent a week testing recipes for you.
HOBSON: All right.
GUNST: It is a very adaptable, fun dish to make.
HOBSON: Well, what is it about chili that - because I am a big fan of chili as well.
GUNST: Yeah. You've mentioned your penchant for chili peppers also. That's the first place to start, OK?
GUNST: Chile peppers - we're going to have a spelling bee - is C-H-I-L-E.
GUNST: The dish, chili?
GUNST: Or C-H-I-L-L-I, depending on who, what, when, and where.
GUNST: Here's the thing I learned about chili: There are no hard facts. Every time I thought, oh, OK, this is where it originated, nope, 10 sources said something different. So what do we know about it? We know that it can be made a thousand different ways. Beans, no beans, pork, beef, just vegetables, killer spicy, mild and smoky.
Texans claim to have invented this dish. It's certainly a regional specialty. But you'll see it from New Mexico to Cincinnati. The one thing I think I can say for sure is the Mexicans did not invent it, which is what most people think. The Aztecs were known to cook with chili peppers and beans. But for most people in this country, it really began as a poor man's stew. It was a way of stretching meat and often freshly killed meat, meat that wasn't of the highest quality, with spices and, in some cases, beans. And it was a way of masking the flavor of what was not considered the best meat.
HOBSON: See, that's so unfair because I think of chili as a great dish in its own right, not some, you know, second-tier, leftover stuff.
GUNST: Completely agree. But its origin seemed to be based more in - but like so many great dishes, more of a peasant dish, more of a dish that was a way to stretch dollars. You know, beans cost nothing and if you had a cheaper kind of meat.
HOBSON: Well, you say it could be beans or no beans. Where do you come down on that?
GUNST: To me, if there's no beans, then it's just a stew. But they definitely - the thing that all chilies have in common is a great, eclectic combination of spices, almost always with the inclusion of one, two, or three different types of chilies. So let's just jump in because I know you're chomping at the bit here.
HOBSON: All right. Yes. Good. Yes. Which one is the first one for me to...
GUNST: White bowl. OK. So what is before you, Jeremy, there is a white bowl. That is pork shoulder, a very inexpensive, delicious, somewhat fatty cut of meat. Want to hear what I did for you?
GUNST: I chopped it up, and I made a fantastic paste using three different types of chili peppers, and I marinated it overnight. And then I slowly stewed it with homemade white cannellini beans.
GUNST: I know you like super spice. I got my fingers crossed here. I mean, I'm not going to - but also in front of you is sour cream, lime, avocado, scallions, cilantro, and more hot sauces in case we haven't quite hit it.
HOBSON: Oh, yeah.
GUNST: We're good?
HOBSON: That's got a nice spice to it.
GUNST: I feel so good.
HOBSON: And by the way, for all of our vegetarian listeners out there who are going to get angry at me for eating pork chili, just leave me alone for one day, all right?
GUNST: OK. But guess what. The next one is vegetarian, which I thought was going to be a disappointment.
HOBSON: OK. Fine. And I like that. That's good. That's delicious.
GUNST: That's good? OK. Good.
HOBSON: Oh, you want to keep going with this one?
GUNST: Hey, you do whatever you want. The other really good spice in what you're eating is - I took cumin seeds and I toasted them and then ground them. You could use cumin powder. And there's quite a bit of cinnamon in there.
HOBSON: Kathy, this is probably I'd say at least a four alarm, maybe five alarm.
GUNST: OK. I...
HOBSON: Or there's some nice spice to that.
GUNST: I can take the rest of the day off.
GUNST: I feel really good about myself right now.
GUNST: And you could temper it with a dollop of sour cream or fresh lime juice. But, OK, vegetarians. Glad you brought them up. I soaked black beans that were grown in Maine - in my hometown, actually - overnight, and then I simmered them very slowly with a bay leaf and a little bit of salt because I do put salt in my beans.
HOBSON: Should I put any of these things, avocado or whatever on here? The one...
GUNST: Anything that appeals to you. I would suggest scallions, cilantro, avocado.
GUNST: I go with all of it. To me, it's like a savory ice cream sundae. And then I took a butternut squash, and I simmered squash and leeks and onion and the black beans and a lot of cilantro. And it has a vegetable stalk in there. And again, really nice combination of spices. It's a little bit smoky. There are some chipotle in there, but it's not as spicy. I thought it's not going to have the meat and the fat and the juices, and I was totally wowed by that.
HOBSON: Yeah. This is delicious. This is fantastic.
GUNST: Good. OK. Let's talk about a little bit more different types of chili. The other big one you hear about a lot is chili con carne.
GUNST: That just simply means chili peppers with meat. It doesn't mean that it contains beans. That's a big thing you'll find in Texas. I know we're going to hear from people from all over the country.
HOBSON: Well, yeah, in - the best chili con carne I've ever had is - was in California.
HOBSON: Yeah. Absolutely.
GUNST: What I have very fond memories of is spending time in Taos, New Mexico, and having all those green chilies.
GUNST: Those are so delicious.
HOBSON: I brought a green chili plant back with me when I drove across the country from L.A. to New York. I brought a green chili plant from New Mexico, and it's given me at least a couple of years of green chilies.
GUNST: Still going?
HOBSON: And they are delicious. Yes. I know it's supposed to only last for one year, but it has - I've tricked it, and it still gives me green chilies.
HOBSON: By the way, there is one other thing on this tray in front of me that we haven't tried yet.
GUNST: Oh, I'm so glad...
HOBSON: And that is - it's like a cornbread.
GUNST: It's a cornbread, and that's sort of a classic accompaniment. This is my cornbread, which is a bit unusual because I use buttermilk, and I add fresh rosemary, scallions, and parsley. I bake it for about 12, 15 minutes, and then I add another cup of milk. So you're going to taste kind of a layer of custard in there.
HOBSON: It tastes almost like a Thanksgiving stuffing in a way.
GUNST: Oh, interesting. Because it's fresh ground cornmeal and buttermilk and then that creamy - it's not a traditional cornbread, for sure.
HOBSON: We could certainly say looking at this tray that beans and cornbread had a fight.
GUNST: Yeah. And who won?
HOBSON: I would say the beans. I like the chili better, but they're both delicious. Kathy, what about heat? How spicy should people go with their chili?
GUNST: You don't want so much heat that you can't taste the other ingredients. That's where I draw the line. If you take a bite and all you taste is heat, what's the point of going all the trouble of marinating the meat or simmering the butternut squash? It's machismo, man. I mean, chili is so much - nobody agrees on anything when it comes to chili.
HOBSON: That's true. Now, my chili, just so you know, is a - I like to make a turkey chili with beans, with red kidney beans. And I like to throw in, like, a habanero pepper, a serrano pepper, a jalapeno pepper.
GUNST: I believe there's a machismo in front of me.
HOBSON: Lots of chili powder.
HOBSON: It's delicious.
GUNST: Ground turkey or turkey pieces?
HOBSON: Ground turkey.
GUNST: Love it. I love to do that with chicken and white beans. And I like some heat. I mean, it's chili. It should be...
HOBSON: That's what the sour cream is for.
GUNST: That's right.
HOBSON: Cool it down a little bit.
GUNST: You can also use yogurt. You also have some hot pepper sauces, so you can spice it up for other people. But better to go moderate and let people add, and then they can calm it down if they want because you can't take it away once you put too much in there.
HOBSON: You can't. Nope.
GUNST: But those other spices - the cinnamon, the cumin - those are just as important.
HOBSON: What about cheese? Do you put cheese on your chili?
GUNST: I feel like the introduction of melted cheese turns it into something else. But I know kids love that.
HOBSON: It is tasty, but I agree with you on that.
GUNST: It's classic.
HOBSON: It does change it into something totally different.
GUNST: It turns it - takes it - yeah.
HOBSON: You don't - certainly don't need it for this pork shoulder one, which is delicious.
GUNST: Pork now. Probably be nice to have like a really sharp cheddar on that butternut squash and black bean. But the lime on it with the scallion and the avocado, terrific. The other thing that I love about chili is you can make these two days ahead of time, so you don't have to be spending Super Bowl Sunday...
HOBSON: Yeah. And sometimes they taste better later, the longer they've been sitting in the fridge.
GUNST: Absolutely. The flavors develop. You reheat it. It gets really juicy. And that pork is so tender now, and this is a two-day-old stew. So chilies - good news.
HOBSON: Well, if you are getting hungry, we've got all these recipes at our website, hereandnow.org. Kathy Gunst, our resident chef, enjoy your chili this Super Bowl Sunday. Are you going to be having some?
GUNST: Oh, definitely. I'm hooked on this stuff now.
HOBSON: Kathy, thanks as always.
GUNST: Thanks, Jeremy.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN SINGER: (Singing) Well, chili, chili, chili, my father's name is Willy. Chili, chili, chili, my father's name is Willy, but that's not silly, oh, no.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
And, Jeremy, we mentioned there's another event Sunday night: the Animal Planet channel's Puppy Bowl.
YOUNG: Puppies playing, color commentary by Lil Bub the cat. And they're looking for puppy selfies on Instagram at #puppybowl. Very excited. Last year's cheerleaders were hedgehogs. They really weren't into it. This year, penguins.
HOBSON: So you're going to be watching the Puppy Bowl. At least someone.
YOUNG: Go back and forth.
HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Here & Now resident chef and cookbook author Kathy Gunst shares her list of the best cookbooks of the year.