Recipe: Texas Head Start Chili

by Gloria Feldt on December 25th, 2010
in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , ,

Hatch long red chiles

I wouldn’t ordinarily post a recipe here–other than a recipe for using the 9 Ways power tools :-)–but I wanted to post this on Facebook and my fanpage has no place for posting word documents any more. So here you are. Something to warm your heart and tummy on a cold day.

Texas Head Start Chili Con Carne

Back story: I learned this recipe from the moms of children in my Head Start class in Odessa Texas, sometime around 1969 or 1970. It’s the real deal—no fancy stuff and minimal ingredients. We made vats of it for fundraising dinners. Head Start was new then and the name of our nonprofit organization, Greater Opportunities of the Permian Basin, reflected the Great Society’s ambitious intention. Head Start has proven its worth over the years and is one of the few Great Society programs still around; this recipe is equally durable.

There’s an easy way to make it and an authentic way. I find the easy way close enough to authentic in taste and texture that after you wrestle with the dried chilis once just to say you can, it’s not worth going to the trouble and mess again.

When I pulled the recipe out of my file on Christmas, 2010 to prepare it for friends, I noticed that the crumbling, yellowed, grease-spotted hand written recipe I’d used for years was on the back of the Planned Parenthood (formerly known as) National Executive Directors Council 1980-81 budget. So I thought I should digitize it for all eternity because life would be hell without great chili once in a while. And great chili is the one thing you can’t call and order for delivery in Manhattan—or at least I haven’t found any this good in the city yet.

Over the years, I’ve often made this chili for PP staff and volunteers. Once in AZ, it was central to brokering cooperation between the persistently competitive Phoenix and Tucson affiliates. In New York, every year I’d make it for the PPFA management team. And many times, I’ve shared the recipe in staff newsletters upon request.

The recipe is so simple that you’d think I’d have it memorized. In recent years, however, I’ve made green chile stew more often than this bowl of red. Thus I’m out of practice and thought it would be a good idea to look back at the recipe.

I start by cooking two pounds of dry pinto beans in a separate pot or crockpot slowly, with water and salt (and if you wish, throw in some garlic cloves), for several hours or until they turn very brown and the bean liquor tastes rich. You won’t need all of them for the chili, but as long as I’m cooking them I make extra for future purposes.

If using the authentic version, buy two pounds of dry red New Mexico chiles. I’d go with medium hot unless you like pain. You can always increase the heat level but you can’t easily tone it down. Wash the chiles and simmer them in enough water just to cover them till they are soft and the water has boiled down considerably. Remove stems, seeds, and skin to the extent possible. You have to scrape the skin to get all the meat of the chile out and you’ll end up with some skin still in the mash. Whirl this mash in a blender with enough of the cooking water to make a thin paste. You’ll use this to taste in the chili. If you have any left over, you can freeze it in cubes to use later. This can also be used as the base for enchilada sauce by adding salt and a little oil.

After reading the previous paragraph it becomes obvious why I use chili powder now. Gebhardts or some other brand that has a deep red color is preferred, and buy a fresh jar if yours has been open for more than a couple of weeks because it loses its flavor edge. The rest is easy.

Brown in heavy lightly oiled skillet or Dutch oven: 5 lb beef or pork cut in 1” cubes (you can mix the two meats if you wish also), 2 lb beef chili grind (or hamburger grind if you can’t get chili style), and 12 chopped garlic cloves. It’s almost impossible to put in too much garlic.

Sprinkle ¼ c flour over the browned meat. Stir till mixed. Add 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 2 teaspoons or so of salt—all seasonings will be adjusted to taste later. Add chili paste or powder. If powder, start with ½ of a 2oz jar and add more to taste later on. I always need more. Stir it all up.

If the skillet isn’t large enough for the next steps, transfer the meat to a large soup pot.

Add 4 cups water or a little more so that the meat is fully covered., bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 3-4 hours or until meat is tender and all the flavors are blended together. It should cook down to stew consistency and be a beautiful red color.

If you like beans in your chili, now is the time to put drained beans into the pot with the meat, in whatever ratio you prefer and depending on how many people you need to feed. Some people like to serve the beans separately; I like mine in the chili.

Correct seasonings to kick it up as many notches as desired, and simmer for another half hour or longer.

Serves 8—12 depending on how hungry people are and how many beans you put into the chili. You could probably make a half recipe but it might not turn out as well, and anyway the chili tastes better as the days go on. It freezes well too.

Favorite accompaniments are fresh homemade flour tortillas, cornbread, or tortilla chips. I also serve bowls of chopped onions, shredded Mexican cheese, jalapeno peppers, and salsa fresca so people who aren’t chili purists can mess up the chili to their satisfaction.

If I entered this recipe in the Terlingua chili cook-off, I’m pretty sure it would win.

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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