My Chili: A Spicy Hot-Button Issue

I have been making chili for nearly 20 years now, starting with a simple recipe I’d seen in the 800+-page Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It started off innocently: diced onions and peppers, garlic, canned tomatoes, spices, and some ground beef or turkey.

I’ve since experimented with the spices recommended in that initial recipe, and I’ve also switched up the beans (from kidney to pinto or black beans) and added corn and fresh cilantro. But one modification I made ended up being a point of contention between me and an old boyfriend.

That was leaving out the meat. I had a quasi-vegetarian stage immediately after college, eating many vegetarian meals a week, without committing to that diet in full every day. So it made sense to me to modify the chili recipe, as the beans in the recipe were already providing protein. So I made a batch of chili, brimming with a supporting cast of vegetables and a blend of seasoning that was spicy and bold, but not hot to the point where you no longer tasted the flavor.

I mentioned to my boyfriend at the time that I had made vegetarian chili, and he was not amused. He basically wanted to know “where’s the beef?” like the original Wendy’s commercial. I made my disappointment known that he wouldn’t try something different. But I kept making the chili the way I wanted to; we just agreed to disagree.

Fast forward about 15 years, and I’m about to make vegetarian chili again today. I made it for a while after that tense conversation, but most often since then I’ve made it with ground turkey. This time around, though, I am prepared to accommodate my vegetarian version and a ground turkey version for my husband–I’ll be cooking the ground turkey separately, and he can mix it into the chili.

Mind you, my husband doesn’t have reservations about eating vegetarian meals–he’s eaten the chili sans meat before and has heartily eaten the soy chorizo and potatoes I’ve profiled. He also is a fan of vegetarian riblet sandwiches. Offering the meat is (1) me learning to not be pushy about my food preferences and (2) something that was going to be cooked anyway, for my son who won’t eat the chili (too spicy) but loves ground meat, only unadorned by any kind of sauce (no sloppy joe sandwiches, for example). 

Walking the line of eating the way that maintains your own health and still satisfying the palates of those who do not subscribe to your preferences is one of the biggest challenges I’ve had with eating healthy. But I realize now that it’s not fair to badger people into eating things they don’t want to (think the recent Bud Light beer commercial where the man is baffled by the quinoa patties that his girlfriend has brought to the tailgate party). I welcome the challenges that come with meeting the needs of different eaters, because it keeps me fresh on coming up with new recipe ideas.

Surprisingly Good Oven-Fried Fish

Have you ever had a weekend that just wasn’t long enough? I bet you have. I seem to have had too many of them in a row lately.

This past weekend, I wanted to make oven-fried catfish. I’ve made it before: Tenderize the fish in some form of dairy, dust with seasoned flour, spritz with cooking spray, bake, eat. Only it didn’t go down that way. I marinated the fish for several hours, and I seasoned some flour and dropped in the fish, but I didn’t get to actually make the fish right away. Not until the next day, in fact.

My husband was awesome enough to actually bake the fish for me, but he got a bit sidetracked, too, and ended up leaving the fish in too long. But that ended up being the final unfortunate event that made the best oven-fried catfish I’ve ever eaten.

Here’s the recipe:

2 lbs. catfish nuggets
1 c fat-free Greek yogurt
2 c flour
Seasoned salt to taste

Cover the fish with the yogurt; refrigerate it for an hour.

Wash the yogurt from the fish. Mix the flour and the seasoning; place it in a gallon size Ziploc bag. Add the fish; shake thoroughly to coat it. Refrigerate the fish mixture for several hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking pan or two with cooking spray. Add the fish, being careful not to crowd it in the pans. Spray the fish with the cooking spray. Bake for an hour, or until crispy.