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.
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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
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:
- Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F. Place 8-inch cast-iron skillet in oven as it heats.
- Mix all ingredients (until “just mixed”-- don’t get crazy) in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.
- Remove pan from oven and grease with oil or butter.
- Scrape batter into pan and bake at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes (or until done... mine takes exactly 20 minutes in my oven).
- Cool in pan for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.