Chili is the jelly to football’s peanut butter. Why does football conjure up images of heaping bowls of chili? Perhaps it’s the ease of feeding a party crowd. Maybe it’s the fact that chili can be topped with so many different ingredients that it’s sure to please the kids as well as the adults. It may also be that chili can actually be the topping to so many other delicious crowd pleasing foods – baked potatoes or nachos anyone?
It’s more likely that chili is synonymous with football because it warms us from the inside out during the winter sport season. The dull gray days make us yearn for warmth. The savory spices cooking all day bring joy to our senses. Sharing heaping bowls of our “secret recipe” while cheering for our favorite team is often just what’s needed to chase away the winter blues.
Did you know that although we share a love for all things chili and football – tailgates, Super Bowl parties and chili competitions – our definition of what constitutes chili is very different? From green chili in Colorado, Cincinnati chili or Texas style, passions flare to be hailed as the best.
Texas chili is likely the original chili con carne, or chili with meat. It did not originate in Mexico, as many other Texas dishes have. Rather, the “chili queens” of San Antonio were working-class women who served their inexpensive chili flavored beef stew in casual eateries. The original Texas chili is not tomato based and really is more like a stew. Beef is seasoned with cumin, chile peppers, onion and garlic. No tomatoes and no beans. Texans like it thick and hearty for those cowboy appetites. To each his own, as grandma would say.
As a native Midwesterner, it is difficult to understand why anyone would want to eat Colorado’s green chili. Don’t get me wrong – greens are great. Broccoli, spinach and romaine are household staples. We’re happy with green beans, green onions, green peppers, and green grapes. Green chili does not fit that mold. It’s a bit like my disinterest in split pea soup. Owning a food company, we often tell clients that consumers taste with their eyes. This could NOT be more true! It may be delightful, but I need a blindfold to eat it. I hope you understand, Denver friends.
I remember the first time a Texas friend came to Cincinnati. “Cinnamon and chocolate in chili”, he asked. “And ya’ll put it on spaghetti and hot dogs?” Yes, we do. And, yes, Cincinnati chili has all of my favorite flavors of fall – cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. YUM! Traditional Cincinnati chili is minced beef perfectly seasoned served atop a mound of spaghetti with a mound of finely shredded cheddar cheese on top. Or, there’s the cheese coney – perfectly seasoned Cincinnati chili ladled over a hot dog in a bun, topped with a mound of shredded cheddar. We all know cheese makes everything better!
Let’s not forget the non-traditional take on this very traditional food. White chicken chili, black bean chili, vegetarian chili, and turkey chili have taken over menus from east to west and north to south. Toppings vary as much as the ingredients. Everything from sour cream to jalapenos top steaming bowls of chili. Then there are accouterments from cornbread to corn chips.
Chili. Palates delight or detest. One thing is for certain, it remains the consummate football food. Regardless of the recipe, it brings friends together to warm away the chill of winter.