Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wild Mushroom Chili

Will Rogers called chili “ a bowl of blessedness”.  Lyndon Johnson was so fond of the stuff, he confessed: “ One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of red”.  Diana Kennedy (goddess of Mexican cuisine) remarked: “The chili, it seems to me, is one of the few foods that has it’s own god.”

When the weather turns cold and rainy in the fall, I think of chili… something to warm and comfort.  I wanted to learn more about its history and went to What’s Cooking in America  to find out what’s what.

There I discovered that even though chilies may come from Mexico, chili did not.  A writer from San Antonio, Charles Ramsdell, wrote: “If chili did come from Mexico it would still be there. For Mexicans, especially those of Indian ancestry, do not change their culinary customs from generation, or even from one century, to another. It cannot be found in Mexico today except in a few spots that cater to tourists”.  From everything I read… Chili is from Texas( or rather, from what would become Texas)!

According to local Indian legend, the first recipe for chili came from the venerable Sister        Mary Agreda of Spain in 17th century who wrote the controversial book, The Mystical City of God and who is credited with the evangelization of Southwest America … although she never left Spain and appeared to the native American Indians only as a spirit called the ‘Lady in Blue’ (supposedly making 500 ‘bilocations’ in the new world in 1624) encouraging them to find a missionary and join the church.

On a more earthly plane, in the 18th century 56 immigrants (forced to emigrate by King Phillip of Spain to block the incursion of France into the territory) came from the Canary Islands to San Fernando de Béxar (San Antonio today).  Robb Walsh discovered “the Canary Island women made a tangia-like stew with meat, cumin, garlic, chile peppers, and wild onions that they cooked outdoors in copper kettles in their settlement, La Villita. Their peculiar, chile and cumin-heavy spice blend resembled the Berber seasoning style of Morocco.

By the 19th century chili was firmly entrenched in the Texas psyche.  Ministers were preaching about ‘soup of the devil’ and warning their parishioners about indulging in such wickedness but the delicious chili was already on the trail in chuck wagons (supposedly ranch cooks “planted chilies, oregano and onions in mesquite patches” along the trail so the cows wouldn’t get them but they could pick them as needed) and a staple in Texas prisons.

The biggest controversies in chili seem to be whether to add tomatoes or not and whether to have beans or not and chili lovers can be extremely opinionated about these issues.  I like all the styles, and since I'm not from Texas I have no stake in the argument!

I did love Robb Walsh's story about “Chili Queens”  in the Houston Press.  They served their chili in San Antonio’s Military Plaza as early as the 1860s. A 1927 issue of Frontier Times revealed that: “a big plate of chili and beans, with a tortilla on the side, cost a dime. A Mexican bootblack and a silk-hatted tourist would line up and eat side by side, [each] unconscious or oblivious of the other." The tradition continued for nearly 100 years until the health department came down on the “Chili Queens” for their sanitary standards and they were forced out of the square.

I got an incentive to make chili because of a challenge from MarxFoods and a little box of goodies containing dried mushrooms and dried chilies that they sent me.    Chili powder, invented in 1890 by DeWitt Clinton Pendery (or in 1894 by William Gebhardt), made chili easier to throw together and all of us have been known to use it with abandon. Being contrary, I wanted to make my own blend and MarxFoods has gorgeous, dried chilies. I liked the idea of a mushroom chili… vegetarian and meaty good -- without necessarily having meat (you can throw chorizo into the mix if you are so inclined).  Dr. Lostpast liked it best as a dip (so he could eat all the homemade tortilla chips that were supposed to be a garnish), but I thought of it as a stew.  Either way, the avocado-tomatillo crema is great with the hot chili and those mushrooms are super and you can get nearly everything to make it from MarxFoods!

Wild Mushroom Chili

1 oz dry lobster mushrooms 
1 oz dry masutake mushrooms 
1 T Scotch (I used Lagavulin--- the peatiness is great)
2 cups Fresh or 1 c dry cranberry beans (also known as borlotti beans)
2 T butter
Smoked Salt to taste
4 small turnips or Navets, optional
2 T olive oil
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 c chopped chorizo (optional) 
1 t cumin
1 T Aleppo pepper
2 t fresh oregano, chopped

Chili Sauce*

2 T raisins
½ banana, sliced
1 t cinnamon
s & p to taste

Avocado/Tomatillo Crema **

10 tomatillos
½ avocado
juice of 1 lime
1 t honey (if needed)

Put lobster and matsutake mushrooms in water with a few Tablespoons of a Peaty Scotch and microwave or heat for 2 minutes.  Remove, and soak for a few hours then drain and chop, reserving liquid.

If using fresh cranberry beans, shell and cook in salted water for ½ hour or till tender.  If using dry cranberry beans, soak them for a few hours then cook ½ hour to an hour  -- they can take  longer depending on freshness.

Sauté the mushrooms in 2 T butter and smoked salt to taste and put to the side (you can add more Scotch if you would like a smokier flavor).

Take 4 small turnips or Navets (thanks to the Old Foodie for giving me this name) and roast them in a 375º oven for ½ an hour, then peel and chop).

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil (add chorizo if desired).   Add chili sauce, cumin and mushrooms and some of their liquid, the turnips (if using),  smoked salt, 1 T aleppo pepper (or to taste) and oregano and simmer for 20 minutes.

*Take 1 oz of New Mexico chilies, 1 oz of smoked Serrano chilies and 2 T raisins and put in water and microwave for 2 minutes.  Allow to stand for a few hours to soften.  Toast 2 T sesame seeds in a skillet. Slice the banana and sauté in 1 T olive oil. Puree the seeds, a teaspoon of cinnamon, the banana and the chilies with some of the soaking liquid and ½ a small ripe banana and salt and pepper.

**Take 10 tomatillos, split in half and roast, face side down, in a 375 oven for 20 minutes.  Puree in a blender with ½ an avocado, juice of 1 lime and smoked salt to taste. Add 1 t of honey if lime is especially sour. Add cilantro if desired, cumin and salt to taste.

Serve beans with swirl of avocado cream and tortilla chips (homemade are best, just cut fresh tortillas into quarters or sixths and sauté in salt and oil till crisp).


Cathy said...

Who would have guessed that chili has such an interesting history. You've taken it to a whole new level with this wild mushroom version with avocade/tomatillo crema. I turned on my furnace today for the first time this fall. It's oficially chili season.

Diane said...

What an interesting post. I have masses of chillies this year to take back to the UK to keep us warm during winter :-) I have also made several bottles of sweet chilli sauce which is quite delicious. This recipe looks interesting, glad you put the link to the cranberry beans or I would never have known what they were! Diane

Kathy Walker said...

I guess I am not a purist when it comes to chili...I like it with beans or without and seem to always add tomatoes. The best thing about chili is that you can make it in so many different ways. Enjoyed the history! Thank you.

tasteofbeirut said...

Having lived in Texas over twenty three years, I immediately paid close attention to your post. I thought i had seen and tasted every type of chili under the Texas sun, but this one is such an elegant innovative take on the more common ones! I love the idea to include mushrooms and I love that creamy salsa in its midst, such an inspired post!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

This is the most creative chili recipe I think I've ever seen! Scotch, mushrooms and chorizo?...I know my husband would love this!

Thank you for the very interesting chili history and photos too.

Sarah said...

Wow, I love this chili. You have really worked on the smoky flavours and what a creative edge to add a splash of Lagavulin. I never think to use scotch in cooking. The creaminess of the avocado tomatillo crema would be a perfect compliment.

Emily said...

I love chilli, especially hearing about it from your perspective. It's a pity I'm allergic to mushrooms but maybe I can find an alternative. The colour combination is so rich and appealing too.

Faith said...

Mushroom chili is such a wonderful idea! Chili is such a hearty dish, mushrooms really are the perfect pair. That swirl of avocado cream is gorgeous!

Linda said...

Deana... this just looks so delicious and comforting on a damp and chilly day such as today! I would love to have a bit on a chip right now! You have made me very hungry!
I love coming to visit you...I learn something new each and every time!

La Table De Nana said...

Ahh..Sisters and their secrets:) How interesting and how fun for you to cook w/ the Marx products..you made them proud!

Stella said...

Yum Deana! Your chili with mushrooms and avocado crema sounds so awesome right now-it's almost supper time here;)
Oh, and I find it so interesting that the chili made by the Canary Islands women resembles Berber seasoning. Especially since the Northern language of Spain called Euskara has not been linked to any other language in Europe (even Latin). Yet recently it was discovered that 11% of the language is Berber-that's about all they know about it still in reference to its origins...
Anyway, great post-me wants some chili!

Ana Powell said...

Very original and must be well delicious ♥

Lazaro Cooks said...

What a great way to put a goodie box to use. Unique and creative recipe. Love the mushrooms in the chili. One of my favorite foods, I have some many fond memories of Mom's chili.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Deana that was such an interesting read of one of my favourite ingredients! I really miss chilli when I travel to a country that doesn't use it much or at all and I can only go for about a week until I really crave it! :P

Barbara said...

Perfect fall post, Deana. (And it's actually going to drop into the 60's tonight in S. Florida!)
I'm ready for chili, the history of chili and the recipe!
For some reason, I knew chili was a Texas original...we lived there for a few years, so perhaps I picked up the info then. But the rest was such a pleasure to read. You do marvelous research, my friend!
The chili recipe looks marvelous...you did Marx foods proud. Wish I had a bowl of this to use for my next post. (you'll see!)
That crema is the perfect finishing touch.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a list of beautiful ingredients. How could this not be absolutely amazing.
I'm not picky about my chilli. I like tomatoes and beans... or not. Just a bowl of hot yummy stuff, and I'm happy. Its all comfort food :D
*kisses* HH

Magic of Spice said...

Love this post...and wow with the wild mushroom chili, that looks delightful :)

Ju (The Little Teochew) said...

Oh YAY. Yum. Wow. My kind of food. The chili sauce must be so sweet cos of the banana. And you presented it beautifully, Deana!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh Deanna dearest, this is heavenly stuff here! I LOVE MUSHROOMS ( I make a killer diller cream of mushroom and roasted chestnut soup), and I never thought of using mushrooms for chili! I see you use cinnamon; I am of Mexican descent and cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, chili and peanuts were part of many a memorable meal, especially during the holidays. Blends of the most unlikely ingredients is what makes authentic Indian based Mex food so lovely. THANKS FOR COMING DOWN FOR A STROLL IN YOUR BOOTS!!! Have a fabulous autumn day! Anita

Gemma said...

I liked this vegetarian mushroom chili without meat. In Catalonia there is many interest for looking mushrooms in the forest :)

Mags @ the Other Side of 50 said...

Just YUM! I rarely see recipes using cranberry beans (which I love) and I'm drooling over that avocado/tomatillo crema.

Becky said...

Beautiful! I would have never thought of a mushroom chili, but now that the idea has been planted, it sounds perfect ...

Angela said...

Gorgeous. Love the blog!

Classic Kitchen Twist said...

This sounds so delicious and comforting!