At this time of year, this hearty, easy to prepare meal seems to fit in nicely. Here in northern Alberta, Canada we are still in the midst of those cold winter temperatures.
Since the first recorded recipe, chili has been reinvented to include different spices and ingredients changing basic things like beef to chicken, chili peppers to jalapeno peppers and tomato sauce to chicken broth. The fact remains, it’s a great meal no matter what recipe you use or what the weather conditions are.
Chili con carne, which is Spanish for ‘chili with meat’, is a spicy ‘stew’ containing meat (usually beef) chili peppers or spice, tomatoes, garlic, onions and beans. Geographic and personal tastes involve different types of meat and ingredients. There has been much discussion and dispute that the word ‘chili’ applies only to the basic dish, without beans and tomatoes.
When Brion and I spent three months in Ecuador, we had rented a furnished apartment. The kitchen was very basic, but I could still enjoy preparing our meals. Being in Ecuador, one would have thought something as common place as ‘chili powder’ would be no problem to buy. After much searching, we finally gave up and I concocted my own version using black pepper, garlic powder, cayenne powder, onion powder, dried oregano and cumin. It actually tasted quite good. Cooking in Ecuador was a real learning curve. Due to the fact that even though you could buy similar ingredients to home, they tasted somewhat different.
Thinking back to my mother’s cooking, I don’t recall much about her chili but the cornbread she served with it was ‘to die for’. Once again, I’m sure so much of it was time and place.
Cornbread is a generic name for any number of quick breads containing cornmeal and are leavened with baking powder. The quintessential late 20th to early 21st century recipe contains baking powder for convenience, sugar for sweetness and flour and eggs for lightness. Cornbread is an interesting recipe to track through the past few centuries. It is such a prolific crop, grown in America, that it was consumed across class, race and regional lines. Corn lends itself to change very easily, giving way to variations of cornbread recipes. Although traditional cornbread was not sweet at all, regional preferences for sweetness in the recipe have developed.
In order to bake some cornbread in Ecuador, we purchased a package of yellow corn meal. Although it seemed to be very finely ground, I was able to make it work and we really enjoyed it. One day, while we were out walking we came upon a street vendor selling something called ‘Humitas’. We purchased a couple to take back to the apartment to try. Humitas are made of ground young corn, seasoned with egg, butter and possibly cheese wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. These had a bit of anise flavor which gave them a real unique flavor. Humitas are one of the most traditional of Ecuadorian recipes. The ingredients can vary by region, town or even in family recipes and can be sweet or salty. They differ from corn tamales in that they are steamed rather then boiled or baked. The corn used in making them is called ‘choclo’, also known as Peruvian or Cusco corn (named for the capital city of the Incas). This Andean corn has extra large, bulbous kernels almost five times larger than North American corn with a creamy texture. Every so often during our stay in Ecuador, we made a point of treating ourselves to some.
My story has got a little ‘long winded’ today, but I hope you have enjoyed it. I am posting my ‘tried and true’ recipes for Chili & Cornbread. Hope you give them a try and enjoy!