Tag Archives: chili


This is my sixth post about chili, although three of those have been about chili competitions. Why, you are probably asking. am I writing another?

First, it is the beginning of chili season. Around our house, the groves of aspen are beginning to color the mountainsides with great patches of golden-yellow. Closer to home, the chamisas (aka rabbit brush) are a matching golden-yellow, and the shrubs fill the country side. Unfortunately, they also elicit a characteristic allergy season. Purple asters fill in the bare spots between the chamisas while spikes of purple gay feather brag in clumps around the yard and the trailsides. Purple and gold are a beautiful combination of color that makes autumn around here so spectacular, never mind the reds and bronzes of the sumacs and the deciduous trees.

Second, the Terlingua chili competitions are only a month or so away. I’m sure my friend, Reggie, has been cooking in contests all summer long so that he has enough points to enter the competition. I hope that he plans to go because he has so many friends and fellow chili cooks who go to the big celebration

Third, there must be an infinite number of chili recipes, and I believe that the home cook can never have too many chili recipes. This, of course, excludes the entire mystique of Cincinnati two-way, three-way, four-way and the ultimate five-way chili. This recipe is particularly simple. Except for the meat and the onions, it is simply a matter of opening cans and dumping them all together. I admit that I made things a little more complicated by buying the best grade of stew meat I could find and cutting it into ¼ inch pieces. That’s what competition cooks did many years ago until someone using ground beef won the Terlingua contest. Since that tectonic event they have almost all switched to ground beef. You can do that, too, and then the recipe becomes even easier. I have used three different beans (definitely NOT a component of competition chili) to make the visual effect of the finished product more interesting. The seasonings are only a guide. In particular, use as much chili powder – 2 or even 5 tablespoons – to suit your taste and your tongue.


Open-a-Can Style Three-Bean Chili


  • 1 pound beef stew meat
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (15 ounces) beef stock + more if needed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) white chili beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder (not ground chiles)
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cut the stew neat into ¼ inch cubes. Sauté in the oil in a large, heavy bottomed soup pot over high heat, cooking until released water is boiled off and the meat is browned. Remove the meat to a plate and return the pot to the stove over medium heat.
  2. Sweat the onions in the heated oil, covered, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Return the browned meat to the pot.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
  3. Stir in the tomato sauce, beef stock, beans, chili powder, oregano, and cumin.  Bring the mixture to the boil and then reduce heat to the simmer. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add more beef stock if the chili becomes too dry.
  4. Simmer for 1 hour. Serve while still hot.




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Nearly every cuisine I’m aware of has a deep-fried fritter that is puffy and flaky. The Northern New Mexico version is the sopaipilla. I first had them during a visit with my aunt and uncle in Los Alamos when I was ten yers old. I liked the treat so much that I brought the recipe back home with me and tried to make them – probably with not much success. Since then I’ve had countless sopaipillas, some delicious, some not very good, some light and fluffy, some greasy.

The most memorable sopaipillas I never had were at the Cactus Taqueria in Dumas, Texas. On a long road trip, our family had stopped for lunch. After we had placed our order, one of the kids went to the restroom only to report on return that there was a dead cow in the kitchen. When I checked it out for myself, sure enough there was a black and white spotted cow lying in the kitchen with its four legs stuck straight up. That should have been our first clue to leave, but we decided to wait for our food.

While we were eating we noticed three cowboys at a nearby table. The waitress brought them their traditional complimentary basket of sopaipillas for dessert. The men ate the puffs with honey and then stuck the squeeze bottle of honey in their mouths, sucking out the last few drops. We left before we got our dessert.

Sopaipillas make great containers for both sweet and savory foods. Traditionally, they are served with honey (although traditionally it is expected that you put the honey container back on the table instead of your mouth) but they are also delicious when filled with stew or chili.

The real thing should be made with lard, but you can substitute vegetable shortening.

If you are trying to make them for the first time, you may have difficulty in getting them to puff. The two secrets are that you need to make sure the deep-frying oil is hot enough, and you can hasten the process by holding the frying sopiapilla under the surface of the frying oil for a few seconds using a spatula.

The frying oil should be hotter (400° F) than the usual 350° F recommended for deep frying. I have suggested using peanut oil because it has a smoke point above that temperature even though sopaipillas are traditionally fried in hot lard with a smoke point below 400° F. I used my new infra-red thermometer to measure the surface temperature of the oil. That was amazingly similar to the temperature that I got with an instant-read probe. Use whatever thermometer you want as long as it will register the temperature of deep-frying oil.

If the sopaipillas don’t puff up right away in the hot oil, they won’t puff, but you can still eat them, covered with honey, with a fork.




  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lard
  • ¼ cup water
  • powdered sugar (optional)


  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Cut in the lard with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
  2. Add the water and knead gently until the dough comes together. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour. If it is too dry add a little more water a few drops at a time. The dough should form a a firm, smooth, ball.
  3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Flatten it out with the palm of your hand. Then fold it in half. Repeat this process 10 or so times. Then form the dough into a ball, cover it with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.
  4. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into squares, rectangles, or triangles about 6 inches on a side.
  5. Cover the cut pieces with a cloth to keep them from drying out before you fry them.
  6. Heat at least 3 inches of peanut oil in a heavy skillet or deep-frying pot to 400°F. When the oil is hot, drop one or two pieces of dough into the oil and hold them under the surface of the oil with a spatula for a few seconds until they begin to puff.  Fry the sopaipillas on both sides until they are golden brown.
  7. Remove the fried fritters to drain on several thicknesses of paper toweling. Then transfer to an oven heated to 200°F to keep them warm until you have finished frying the remaining dough pieces.
  8. Serve immediately while still hot. If you wish, you can sprinkle them generously with powdered sugar or a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.  Serve with honey for a dessert or serve them plain if you want to fill them with stew or chili. They are also delicious just plain with butter.

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Terlingua International Chili Cook Off.  It was an interesting event with lots of cooks who live and breathe competition chili. I decided right away that I would never be in a chili cook off much less as champion. Still, the excitement got me to thinking about making chili. This is the perfect time of year to make a pot. Nearly everyone has his or her own recipe, and probably everybody believes that his or hers is the best. No doubt that’s how the Terlingua cook off got its start in the first place.

Frito pie with blue corn-green chile corn bread

To me, a bowl of chili is not complete without a handful of Fritos sprinkled on the top, along with chopped onion, grated cheddar cheese and maybe some sour cream and jalapeño slices on top of the Fritos. Hey – I’ve just described one version of Frito pie.

No one knows for sure when Frito pie was invented, but one story traces its start in the 1960s  to the F. W. Woolworth store on the Plaza in Santa Fe. For many years, the Woolworth store was an iconic tourist Mecca because of the pie. Unfortunately, the store is long gone, but Frito pie continues as one of the quintessential dishes of Santa Fe. Many restaurants offer their own version, and people love most of them.  Many charity fund-raisers sell Frito pies with great success.

Frito pie has spread across America, and each region has its claim as to the best and most traditional version. You can put the Fritos on the top; you can put them on the bottom. You can bake a casserole. You can dump some chili in a bag of Fritos. Every version has its proponents. Sadly, you can even use canned chili. But for me the quality of the dish is totally dependent upon the chili you put in it. So I am sharing my recipe for chili. Didn’t I already say that everybody thinks his or her is best?

Frito pie can be eaten by itself, but a warm tortilla or a piece of cornbread put the finishing touch on the meal. So I am also providing a recipe for cornbread made with another New Mexico tradition, blue corn meal. Green chiles, onion, cheese, and piñon nuts combine to make a unique Santa Fe cornbread. The recipe also contains powdered gluten. These days it should be easy to find in the baking section of a large grocery store. Gluten is not necessary, but it gives the cornbread a better rise and lighter texture. Corn contains no gluten, and blue corn meal is very fine so that those two characteristics sometimes make a cornbread that is flat and very crumbly. Gluten gives a crusty loaf with a light, well-textured inside.




2 Cups dried pinto beans

6 Cups water

1 Tablespoon cooking oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pound ground beef, 15% fat

4 Cups beef stock

1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes

2 cloves, garlic, minced

1 packet (5 grams) Sazón Goya

½ teaspoon ground cumin

2 Tablespoons whole dried Mexican oregano

1-3 Tablespoons chili powder (or more according to taste)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 Tablespoons corn meal

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Soak the dry beans overnight in the water.
  2. In the morning, heat the oil over medium heat  in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the chopped onions, and cook, covered, until translucent. Do not let them brown.
  3. Add the ground beef, breaking it up as you stir, and brown it completely.
  4. Add the beans with their soaking liquid and stir in the beef stock. Bring to the boil.
  5. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, Sazón Goya, and cumin. Add the oregano by crushing finely with your hands over the pot. Stir in the desired amount of chili powder and return to the boil, immediately reducing the heat to a simmer.
  6. Simmer, covered,  for two hours or until the beans are soft. Stir frequently, and add water if needed.
  7. About a half hour before you are ready to serve, add the sugar, lemon juice, and corn meal. Simmer uncovered until the corn meal has thickened the gravy.  Adjust the seasonings with salt, pepper, and more cumin and chili powder if desired.
  8. Serve in bowls and pass Frito chips, grated Cheddar cheese, chopped onions, and sour cream for toppings.

Blue Corn Meal Cornbread with Green Chiles, Cheese, and Piñon Nuts


½ Cup piñon nuts

1 Cup all-purpose flour

1 Cup blue corn meal (Do not use atole. It is too finely ground.)

1 Tablespoon gluten powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

4 oz canned chopped green chiles (choose your heat – mild to hot)

½  Cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

½ Cup chopped green onions including the tops

1½ Cups buttermilk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

4 Tablespoons butter, melted

  1. Grease a heavy 8 inch cast iron skillet generously and place it in the middle of the oven as you preheat the oven to 425°. Meanwhile prepare the batter.
  2. In a dry skillet over high heat, toast the piñon nuts until the oils are released and the nuts have begun to brown slightly. Be careful not to burn them. Allow them to cool and then chop them coarsely. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the corn meal, flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.  Add the chopped, toasted nuts, green chiles, grated Cheddar cheese, and green onion. Mix well.
  4. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, beaten eggs, and melted butter.
  5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry mixture and stir together until they are well blended. Do not overbeat.
  6. Remove the preheated skillet from the oven and pour in the batter, working quickly. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Cut into wedges and serve immediately with plenty of butter and honey on the side.

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