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Chili: A Hot Topic

Chili con Carne is named after the peppers that season it.  Literally it means "Hot Peppers with Meat".  Originating in Central America, these hot pods were taken back to the Europe in the fifteenth century, the pods and the dish spreading around the world.  In  Diana Thayer's interesting history of chili peppers, she writes about its benefits:

"As if it wasn't enough that the Capsicum family conquered the world and made us love them for it, they are actually good for us.  They are low in calories, low in sodium and cholesterol-free. They are very high in vitamins A and C, a good source of potassium, folic acid, and vitamin E. They help speed up the metabolism as well as aiding digestion, and studies indicate they may help prevent heart disease. Other diverse conditions successfully treated by folk remedies include arthritis, bronchitis, epilepsy, malaria and toothaches. Capsicum is also a natural decongestant, and I know from experience that it helps clear the sinuses!

Here's more history of chili peppers.

Some who like it hot have web sites that feature all kinds of recipes using chili peppers, not just Chili con Carne, the best known dish.  See Fiery Food's Cookin' with Heat, and my favorite among the "hot" sites, the Red Hot Chili Papers.

In Texas, which prides itself on being the chili capital of the USA, beans are usually  left out, the main ingredient being large amounts of Texas beef.  Most have tomatoes, some do not.  During annual chili competitions some strange additions show up, such as peanut butter, cashews or beer.  This is frowned upon.  Some recipes call for artery-clogging suet.  Approved are chili peppers so hot that leftovers can be used for paint remover.    Mexican recipes, like vegetarian ones, sometimes have beans with no meat, but always loads of fiery peppers; a lethal mixture to be scooped up with tortillas.   Chili fanatics collect versions; see "20 Free Chili Recipes".  

Most Americans still enjoy the lunch counter style of chili.   My own favorite recipe adds a stalk of celery,  not a usual ingredient.   I used to pressure cook marrow bones when beef bones were cheap as dirt, then puree the cooked marrow with the broth to use in place of plain water.  Bones have gone up in price so much, and marrow is so high in fat, that I rarely indulge in that tasty version anymore.   I like to eat my chili with a small dollop of sour cream and nibbled saltines.

Chili is a healthy dish as well as warming and filling.   Beans are high in nutrients and fiber.  Tomato provides antioxidants and vitamins, as do the green pepper, garlic, onion and hot peppers.  The meat provides more protein and iron.  It's economical as well as easy.  A pot of it can simmer all day, ready to be dipped out by the cold, tired or just plain hungry.  It's even better the next day or freezes well, if there's any leftovers.  

Try this recipe for Chili con Carne during the next cold spell. You're sure to enjoy.

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