One of the great traditions I grew up with was Papa’s chili. Every year that we visited for New Years we’d go across the street to the family friends’ for their New Years Eve party. As I grew older I was more able to appreciate the games the adults played like Pass The Scissors and Sweep The Corn. It was a special time as I realized it wasn’t just a party, it was a gathering of friends and family to bring in the new year.
The next day was even more special. Papa would fix a huge stockpot full of chili. By huge I mean, his stockpot was twice maybe three times the size of mine. As an adult, I had to get on my toes just to be able to peer in to the pot and I”m 5’2″. The day passed with us asking many times over, “Is it ready yet?” The anticipation wore at our patience, as did the smell. This was love. Papa didn’t have many dishes he cooked for all of us. At the stove at least. He’d happily grill a steak for us. But this was a day long affair of browning the meat, stirring the chili, and letting it slowly simmer for hours. Papa wasn’t the most patient of people when it came to food. I heard from him more than once, “Where’s my dinner, Marie?” And yes, sometimes he was sitting at the table fork in hand. This is what made the chili even better.
Papa always had a sleeve of saltine crackers next to his bowl. He’d crush a handful up in the chili and mix it in. Good stuff I’m tellin’ yea. Granny always made sure to make some rice for us, too. It was a rough decision. Do I eat it with crackers or rice? I once tried it with both and it just wasn’t the same. The last time I had Papa’s chili made by him with help from my husband and Uncle was in 2000. We were all visiting for Christmas and he went ahead and made the chili before New Years. It was a special occasion after all. By this time, he was legally blind and suffering from Parkinson’s, as well as a suspected minor stroke (the latter Granny confessed to me later when she and I were playing chess away from prying ears) which is why he received help. He never let anyone help and protected his treasured recipe for many years.
One time in college, my grandparents either called me or I called them, I can’t remember which. Chili came up in the conversation and Papa gave me the beloved and much coveted recipe. I felt special being the first one to whom he imparted the recipe. My mother and aunties weren’t so happy about it. My mother tried to repeatedly convince me to give her the recipe. I promised Papa I wouldn’t give it to anyone and I kept that promise. Years later, he eventually gave them the recipe, too.
As I have done with so many recipes, I eventually made his recipe my own. Instead of just using kidney beans, I use a mix of kidney, pinto, and cannelini beans. I also use more spices than he did. He used a mix of ground meat and I use just ground beef. I always alternated between using flour to thicken the chili like he did and using cornstarch. My husband likes when I use flour because it is thicker. The picture above was from our New Years Day party this year. I used cornstarch this year because I was expecting a friend with Celiac to be there (I made a flourless chocolate cake that he loves, too). This was 2 months before I went gluten-free. However I make the chili, it’s one that always gets compliments. My last New Years in Hawai`i before moving to Kentucky I made the traditional pot of chili and had friends over. One friend showed up hungover and looking like he slept on the street. After eating he declared it a hangover cure. I once told that story to a friend who came to our New Years parties in Louisville and she dubbed it “Hangover Chili.” She even asked if we were having Hangover Chili the day after Derby. No such luck for her.
Recent years have seen me use dried beans instead of canned. Not only are they cheaper, they have more flavor. At least for me. Last week I decided I wanted some chili even though it was in the 70s. I didn’t realize it was going to get that warm when I planned the menu. I had to do a quick soak of the beans because I forgot to soak them the night before. It struck me before I had them covered in hot water that I chose a mix that looked red, white, and blue (sort of) on Veteran’s Day of all days. Semper fi, Papa!
I also decided to experiment with a veggie chili after enjoying Carrie’s Black Bean and Butternut Squash Chili. I enjoyed the heartiness the addition of the veggies made to the chili making it a real comfort food and giving it more substance to take the chill off on cold days as well as keep you full. I used kabocha squash in this one. Squash in chili is still weird for my husband. As he said when I asked how it was, “It’s not bad. I’m just not used to it.” I’m not either, but I’m thinking kabocha is pretty awesome in chili now.
Debi’s Gluten-Free Veggie Chili
1 cup dried beans, soaked & drained
1 cup – 1 1/2 cups ketchup
4 cups + 2 cups water
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 small onion, diced
3 tomatoes, rough chopped
1 medium zucchini quartered and sliced about 1/2″
2 yellow peppers, large dice
1 small or 1/2 large kabocha squash (skin left on), large dice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
salt to taste
Combine beans, ketchup, 4 cups water, cumin, chili powder, & cayenne in a large pot. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add onions & tomatoes and simmer another hour, at least. Add remaining veggies. Make a slurry with the cornstarch and 2 cups water and add to the chili. Stir well and simmer another hour. Salt to taste before serving.
While I haven’t really looked for a gluten-free cracker to eat in my chili I served it over brown rice. I enjoy Mary’s Gone Crackers, but I don’t have an inclination to find something more processed like the saltines or soda crackers I used to eat. I still make every attempt to make my meals whole food and gluten-free friendly.