After Thanksgiving’s sleepy festival of tryptophan-rich turkey and carbs, I need some fire.
So I’m making chili.
Classicists might take issue with my chili because it includes beans and uses hamburger instead of diced beef. Also, I’ve stopped making my own chili powder and started trusting the good folks at McCormick’s. I even use canned beans instead of cooking dried ones.
So I’ve even strayed from my own purist past in making chili these days. But it still tastes good.
Magically speaking, chili is a dish of love and passion, abundance and vitality. The chili pepper ground up for chili powder can be used in love charms and spells; cayenne speeds up workings. Cumin gives protection and aids fidelity. Oregano is a joy-bringer and adds vitality. Garlic is a protective, as well as a bringer of family harmony. Onions bring prosperity and stability. Tomatoes are good for use in love spells.
Beans are used in prosperity charms in some cultures, as well as calling to the fertility brought by the Goddess. And then, there’s the secret ingredient—beer. Not too much, just a half-cup or so. The rest is for the cook. As Julia Child said, “In the kitchen, you are alone. No one can see how much beer is for you and how much is for the chili.” (OK, so I paraphrased. But I think she would agree.) Just be sure it’s good beer. I like something with a bit of body—a Negra Modelo, or Dos Equis amber. Remember: inferior ingredients mean inferior food.
As with so many foods, there is some dispute about the origins of chili. One source I read said that a dish similar to chili has been eaten in Mexico for two thousand years. Another said this is not correct, that chili was in fact invented by cooks on cattle drives. And that they planted the necessary herbs and spices in circles of mesquite to keep cows and other herbivores from devouring the ingredients before they were needed.
One of my favorite stories was of the San Antonio Chili Queens, who sold chili and other spicy fare from sidewalk stands starting in the 1880s. They were put out of business in 1937 when they could not conform to the city’s new sanitary codes.
Some recipes use a bit of corn meal for thickening. I don’t, but do like to serve chili with corn chips or corn bread. I do this because the flavors complement each other well. I think it also gives some additional American authenticity to the dish; there are numerous stories about the Goddesses who brought corn to the continent’s First Peoples.
Corn has long been a popular offering for harvest rituals, shamanic rituals, and rituals honoring the cycles of nature. Corn meal also is useful in spells related to luck, prosperity and abundance. It has associations with the sun and the fire element, both welcome as we travel towards the year’s coldest and darkest days here in the Northern Hemisphere.
As I make corn bread to go with the fiery chili I’m concocting, I’ll think of the Hopi story in which Sakwa Mana, the Blue Corn Maiden, is kidnapped by the Winter, then rescued by her friend Summer. And that the two seasons agreed to share her company, leading to a cycle of seasons. I see many parallels with the Greek myth of Persephone, Demeter and Hades.
Chili to fire love and abundance. Corn bread to honor the growing cold and remind us of summer’s heat. It’s a perfect meal for this first weekend of the secular winter holiday season.
If you’d like to make chili similar to the pot I have simmering in the stove, this is how I do it.
First, brown a pound of hamburger in a large, heavy dutch oven. Drain off the fat.
Next, chop a medium-sized onion, three cloves of garlic, a green bell pepper, a small jalapeno, and either a mid-sized Anaheim pepper or half a large one. Add to the meat; turn the heat under the pot to low. Saute until the onions are translucent and the peppers soften.
Add two 15-ounce cans of dark red kidney beans, rinsed well.
Add two 15-ounce cans of small diced tomatoes, juice included.
Add a quart of tomato juice.
Add enough chili powder to turn the broth a rich red-brown. This will be in the neighborhood of three tablespoons.
Add four to six ounces of beer, depending on how much additional liquid you feel is appropriate.
Sprinkle on some Louisiana Crystal Hot Sauce. No other kind is appropriate. I shake it liberally, circling the pot two or three times.
Cook the chili several hours, until the liquid reduces and becomes thick. Put the energies of love, lust, prosperity, family togetherness, or other desired effect into the chili as you combine ingredients and stir.
Serve with sides of chopped onion and shredded cheese, corn chips or corn bread. I like to serve it with a cold beer on the side. I can’t guarantee magical results, but I do know it has helped distract more than one partner from an afternoon of football.