I am from Texas. Chili is a big deal here. Like, A BIG DEAL. You have never seen a fanboy argument taken more seriously than one between some Texans over what constitutes proper Texas chili. It’s the exact same dynamic – personal taste defended with near-religious fervor.
So here’s the deal: true, authentic Texas chili does not contain beans. That’s what the arguments are usually about. But the Real Deal also doesn’t contain tomatoes as the red in “Texas red” comes from the chiles not tomatoes. However, it’s rare to find tomato-free chili here. So I say, toss aside this hypocrisy and strife and embrace all the chili possibilities. Keep an open mind. That’s what Oliver Queen would do, and I have little patience for foodie fundamentalism.
I started reading Green Arrow comics in 2000 when Ollie was brought back from the dead in Kevin Smith’s run titled “Quiver.” I quickly fell head-over-heels for Ollie, and over time, I’ve read virtually every appearance he made between the mid-1960s and the New 52 reboot of 2011. Among other traits like being a lousy boyfriend, discovering he has kids he didn’t know about with relative frequency, and a propensity for arguing politics with his best pal, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, it’s been long-established that Ollie likes cooking chili for his family and friends. The spicier, the better!
It makes sense: good chili takes some time to prepare, but it’s something you can do while chatting with friends. It smells great while it’s cooking, and it’s easy to make enough to feed a crowd. That’s why my mom has served Frito pie every Halloween night for more than 20 years now. Before trick-or-treating gets underway, everybody can have a nice, hot bowl of Frito pie. It’s good cool-weather food even though it’s usually 75 degrees outside on Halloween around here.
I was an adult before I found out Frito pie was a Texas delicacy and isn’t known everywhere. If you’ve never had it, Frito pie is chili poured over Fritos corn chips in a bowl and topped with shredded cheddar cheese (and optional diced onions and sliced jalapenos). At high school footballs games and similar events, you often can find Frito pie served in individual-sized packets of Fritos at the concession stand. It’s a perfect intersection between trashiness and true ingenuity. You can learn more about Frito pie in articles from Texas Monthly. This one, “Texas Primer: Frito Pie,” is from the November 1986 issue and still 100 percent accurate. And this one includes a recipe for how to make Frito pie in the bag. It says you can use either homemade or canned chili which is true. If you want to go the homemade route, here’s a recipe for a good, spicy chili.
Chili a la Green Arrow (for Halloween Frito Pie)
2 pounds extra lean ground beef
1 white onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 or 2 8-oz cans of tomato sauce
2 cups water OR 1 15-ounce can diced/crushed tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup chili powder
4 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika (I like smoked paprika)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp red pepper (optional)
2 tbsp masa flour/corn meal
1/4 cup hot water
red kidney beans
shredded cheddar cheese
sliced jalapenos (fresh or pickled, whatever you like)
Note: This recipe scales up easily if you need to feed a crowd of Justice Leaguers, trick-or-treaters, or similar.
- In a dutch oven, brown the ground beef and onions together. If your beef is extra lean, there will be just enough grease to cook the onions, and the onions will give up enough juice to flavor the meat nicely.
- While the meat and onions are browning, measure out your spices into a bowl. If you want milder chili, you don’t have to include the red pepper at all. And if you want it really hot, you can add more red pepper. Oliver Queen likes to make a five-alarm chili which would have about five teaspoons of red pepper when making this quantity. You can also make a big batch of the spice mix ahead of time and keep it in an airtight container for a few months if you’re making chili regularly. This is when buying your spices from the bulk bins can really come in handy, and it’s much cheaper (in my experience, 75-90% cheaper) and less wasteful than buying a new container every time.
- When the meat is browned, the onions are soft and translucent, and there is still a fair amount of juice in the pot, add the crushed garlic. Make sure it doesn’t burn, as burned garlic has a nasty, bitter flavor.
- Add the tomato sauce and water. You may elect to use a 15-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes instead. That will add tomatoey goodness and plenty of liquid. For the batch of chili pictured, I wanted it thick, so I only used one can of tomato sauce and the additional water, and it was really extra spicy since the spices weren’t as diluted.
- Mix in the spices and let the whole thing simmer so the spices can permeate everything. If you want to add beans, drain two cans of dark red kidney beans and gently stir them in. You can use black beans or pinto beans too. Or both — it’s your chili.
- While the chili is simmering, mix two tablespoons of masa flour or corn meal with 1/4 cup hot water. Stir until it’s almost a paste. Mix it into the chili and let it keep simmering for at least five minutes. You don’t have to use this step, but it does make a thicker chili.
- Simmer gently until the chili thickens and reaches the consistency you prefer. And then the chili is done!
Eat it in a bowl (with or without Fritos on the bottom) topped with chopped onions, shredded cheese, sliced jalapenos, or any combination of those. Sometimes people add a dollop of sour cream to give it a cooler balance, and that’s fine too. Sliced avocados are good on top as well.
You can also use chili to top hamburgers or hot dogs. Or tamales. Or rice. Or pasta. Seriously, we’ll put chili on almost anything.
P.S. An alleged recipe for Ollie’s chili was once published, but I tried that recipe once and didn’t like it at all. Green peppers? Basil? No. Just no. And everyone hates it: that’s canon! New 52 Ollie has a chance to start over with a recipe that’s actually good.
P.P.S. Here’s how good the chili is: my Siberian husky, Zero, made this sad, sad face when we wouldn’t let her have a chili dog.