_ Back in the Northeast, where I’m from, I had a transplanted Texan friend who’d regale me with tales of cut-throat chili competitions every time she had a drink or two in her; I was always an eager audience, having never ventured farther south myself than Washington D.C. I’d attempt to interpret her descriptions of Tex-Mex cuisine based only on my limited exposure, via New England’s “Mexican” restaurants, to hard-shelled tacos stuffed with ground beef, shredded iceberg lettuce and watery tomatoes. I made mental notes to never again refer to grilling as “barbeque.” And when it came to the chili, it was clear my friend could recall-- with vivid accuracy-- the variations in tastes and textures that her fellow Texans take such pride in, but I was as confused as I was entranced by her descriptions. She rattled off the names of peppers, hotter by the second, and I wondered what kind of chili could possibly exclude beans.

Aaron and I first visited Austin not too long after we first started dating. Tasting the food here was my number one priority during that trip. He’d accompanied me on a snowboarding vacation in New Hampshire the previous winter (and had been really quite offended by the food in a Mexican restaurant there), so now it was my turn to get a look at-- and taste of—his hometown. My Texan friend’s passion for the food from cowboy country had kept my curiosity piqued for several years, so when Aaron and I planned our first voyage here together I told him point-blank that I intended to eat Tex-Mex, barbeque, or real Texan chili at least once during every day of our vacation. We did eat some incredible food (one’s first real Texan tacos awaken the palate to worlds of possibility as yet unimagined), but I soon realized that the Lonestar State's hearty, heavy, lard-laden cuisine is not for the faint of heart. I needed a break by day four, wanting only salad and a chance for my arteries to recover.

Now that I live here, I’ve continued to embrace all of those staple Texan dishes my homesick friend dreamed of, but I’m also relieved and excited by the culinary diversity that Austin, at least, offers. I can get my Greek kicks, satisfy a Cajun craving or enjoy a romantic dinner done just right in French Bistro fashion. And while I do like Texan chili-- all ground beef and spices-- I still prefer to make bean chilis at home.

This one’s mild-- I made a double batch today, and gave half to friends who recently welcomed a new baby (and thus are too tired to cook)-- but robust. It’s perfect for an overcast, cool Texan January day. Good for the soul. Served with my maple-laced cornbread, crumbled in (Aaron’s style) or on the side (mine), perhaps with a simple green salad, it lets you know-- wherever you’re from, and wherever you are-- that you’re home.

Click "Read More" below for the recipes!

_ Black Bean Chili

What You’ll Need:
  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 2 medium carrots, chopped

  • 1 stalk celery, chopped

  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped

  • 2 Tbsp. Olive oil

  • 3 cups cooked (or canned) black beans

  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste

  • 1 cup corn kernels (frozen is fine)

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1/4-1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth (or water)

  • 1 Tblsp. Braggs liquid aminos

  • 1 Tblsp. Red wine vinegar

  • 1 tsp. Brown sugar

  • 1-2 tsp. Chili powder (to taste)

  • salt and black pepper, to taste
What You'll Do:

Sauté onions, carrots, celery and bell pepper in oil, over medium-high heat and in a medium pot, until the onions are translucent. Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for at least 15 minutes (you can simmer up to half an hour, but don’t forget to stir), stirring occasionally. Serve and enjoy.

Note: This chili will taste even better the next day (though you’ll want to refrigerate over night), and also freezes well.

Maple-Laced Cornbread  (because I'm from New Hampshire, and that's how we roll.)

What You’ll Need:
  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour

  • 2/3 cup stone-ground cornmeal

  • 2 tsp. Baking powder

  • ½ tsp. Salt

  • 1 cup plain, full-fat yogurt

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup

  • ¼ cup melted butter OR olive oil

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork

  • (Oil or butter for pan)

What You’ll Do:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F. Place 8-inch cast-iron skillet in oven as it heats.

  2. Mix all ingredients (until “just mixed”-- don’t get crazy) in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.

  3. Remove pan from oven and grease with oil or butter.

  4. Scrape batter into pan and bake at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes (or until done... mine takes exactly 20 minutes in my oven).

  5. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.

Vanessa Lo
01/31/2012 17:34

I made the cornbread today and my boyfriend and I loved it. I was thinking the amount of whole-wheat flour might make it overly heavy but the yogurt gave it a cakelike texture. Yum! The maple is subtle but good! I am going to cook the chili tomorrow. I love the photographs on your website, and all of your posts are different and interesting! Great job.

02/02/2012 21:18

Thanks for the site props Vanessa! And I'm so glad to hear my recipes are getting taken for a spin, and to positive reviews. I love the cakey-ness of the cornbread, too. Mmmm... You can also add sliced jalapenos or cheese before baking, if you're into that kind of thing. :-)

02/01/2012 19:14

This looks perfect! I love black bean chili- I usually add some molasses to ours but I think I will try some red wine vinegar next time- it sounds like such a good compliment!

Also, we have that mustache mug. It's my four-year-old's favorite.

02/02/2012 21:23

Molasses-- that's a great idea! I'll replace the brown sugar in my recipe next time. Always up for an excuse to boost a meal's iron content, haha. Too funny about the mug; Kaspar loves it, too. He has a book full of photographs of famous mustaches, too. Guess I should brace myself for some real peach-fuzz pride when he hits puberty! So glad that's still far away... Thanks for commenting!


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