How Chili Can Change the World

How Chili Can Change the World by Sindy Ho

This past weekend a group of us leaders retreated to the quiet calm of Monteagle, escaping from the daily demands and hectic calendars to a bit of beauty in a calm place. We stayed at Edgeworth Inn – an old house whose art-strewn walls spoke volumes, whose buckled wooden floor told stories, whose soft beds invited a body to sink deep into its flower-covered pillows and rest.

We sat in circles and gathered around a table. A table is just a piece of something hard with some legs sticking out of it until you gather around it. Then it becomes something alive, a thing to support words and food and ideas. A table takes on the souls of those who gather around it. Our table was a table of unity, love, friendship, grace.

Each of us was so very different – the eleven of us, all different shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs. Some older some younger, some single some married, some parents, some not. Among us a student, a peddler of homes, a nurse. Yet because we agreed on one thing – that every human deserves to be free in body, mind, and spirit; free to achieve their plan and purpose on this earth – we took all of our differences and we honored and respected them so we could work together towards our mission to end slavery in our state and to restore the rescued to a place where dreaming could once again be a possibility.

Then after all of our paper-shuffling and idea-debating and strategy-creating, we sat down around that table Saturday evening and shared a meal. Warm bowls of made-from-scratch chili scooped from a blue-enameled Dutch oven and dense, hearty cornbread with crispy edges lifted from a cast-iron skillet, smothered in honey and butter. On that cold snowy day, we lifted spoonfuls of spicy stew to our lips and let it warm our stomachs as our laughter warmed our hearts.

It’s my hope that this story encourages you to find people who care about something important that needs to be changed – people who might be different from you in many little ways, but similar to you in the big things that matter. Find these people and invite them to a table to talk, to dream, to make plans to fight injustice.

Then, serve them a big bowl of what I call my “Friendship Chili.” It has a pretty good success rate at helping me make new friends. I’ve included the recipe below to help you out.

So go on friends, and change the world – with faith, hope, and love – one invitation, one conversation, one bowl of spicy goodness at a time.

Friendship Chili and Green-Onion & Cheddar Cornbread Serves 10-15 people {I always use unrefined salt and organic and/or local ingredients when possible}

Friendship Chili Ingredients • 1 bulb garlic • 3 onions • 2 small cans whole chipotle peppers in adobo sauce • 3 lbs. ground beef, venison, or turkey • 5 stalks celery • 5 large carrots • 2 green bell peppers • 1 red bell pepper • 2 cups of random vegetable of choice – zucchini, asparagus, etc. • 2 cans {15 oz} black beans • 1 bag {16 oz} frozen sweet corn • 3 cans {the bigger ones…28 oz?} diced tomatoes • 2 cans {the little ones} tomato paste • Extra virgin olive oil – a bunch • Paprika, oregano, lots of cumin, parsley, bay leaves to taste • Honey or brown sugar to taste – to balance the tartness of the tomatoes • Salt & pepper to taste Optional toppings: sour cream or Greek yogurt, cilantro, avocado, salsa or tomato, onions, cheese

Note: This recipe turns out best when you make it with a good friend while blasting music and using a wooden spoon as a microphone to sing along.

Use sharp knife and cutting board or food processor to mince garlic and onions and set aside. Mince chipotle peppers and put into a bowl with adobo sauce. Careful, the adobo could stain a light cutting board if left sitting for too long. Continue with sharp tool of choice to dice celery, carrots, peppers, and random vegetable and put resulting vegetable confetti into a large bowl.

Generously coat the bottom of a large stock-pot or large Dutch oven with extra virgin olive oil. Heat on medium-high until oil sizzles when you toss a drop of water into it.

Sauté garlic and onions until onions are soft; add chipotle peppers and sauce along with a generous amount of paprika, oregano, cumin, and parsley. Sauté another minute or two longer. Add the meat and work the spices and herbs and a generous sprinkling of salt & pepper into it as it browns, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula.

When meat is fully browned, add vegetable confetti, black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste. Combine well and bring to a boil. Add more spices, brown sugar or honey, and salt & pepper to taste. Turn heat down to low and simmer until vegetables are soft, at least 30 minutes, preferably 45 minutes to an hour.

Serve hot, with toppings of choice and corn bread.

Green Onion & Cheddar Cornbread {adapted from the Food to Live By cookbook from Earthbound Farms}

Ingredients • Butter for greasing pan • 3 large eggs • 8 tbsp. {1 stick} unsalted butter, melted & cooled slightly • 1½ cups half and half • ½ cup heavy whipping cream • 2 cups yellow cornmeal • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour • 2 teaspoons salt • 1 tbsp. baking powder • ¼ cup brown sugar • 1 cup fresh or frozen, unthawed corn kernels • ¾ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese Optional: 1 cup of green onion, jalapeno, or bacon Also optional: butter & honey for serving Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9X13 inch baking pan or 13 inch cast-iron skillet. Set aside.

Break eggs into medium-sized bowl and whisk until just combined. Add butter, half and half, and cream and whisk well.

Place cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a large bowl and whisk to combine well.

Add the egg mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until partially combined. Add the corn kernels, cheese, and green onion, jalapeno, or bacon if desired and stir until just combined. Do not overmix or the cornbread will be tough.

Spoon the batter into prepared baking pan and smooth the surface {batter will be very thick}.

Bake the corn bread until it is lightly golden & a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes. Serve warm, preferably with honey and butter.