Western Chlil Casserole


If you live in a northern climate, this time of year is perfect for chili. Now, here in the Americas (and I would add, world wide) we all know about chili. Some claim it originated with the early Texas trail drives where some enterprising trail cook served up buffalo meat, or cattle meat, or whatever meat was available and mixed it with chili peppers and onions, fed it to the cowpokes, and the rest is history. But history is more defining than that. Chili peppers were known to the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans long before Europeans settled on the American continent. Chili peppers even show up in the ancient cuisines of China, India and the Arab penninsula. So, chili peppers were here long before the Texas cowpokes got to it. That being said, the dish has been popularized throughout the Southwest and entered the American pantheon.

What we know as "chili" is simply chili con carne, or chili with meat. There are many variations of chili, depending upon the geographic region. Some include beans, and some do not. Some include tomatoes and some do not. Some eat it as is with tortilla chips, and some eat it over rice.  President Lyndon Johnson's favorite chili recipe contained venison rather than beef; and he added tomatoes and onions to it. It was known as "Pedernales River Chili" popular in the Texas Hill country. My favorite chili recipe is a "chili casserole"---which to my southern friends would be akin to blasphemy. But I love the dish. I discovered it long ago in one of my old cookbooks: Quick and Easy Dishes published by the Favorite Recipes Press in 1968. The dish is credited to Charlyene Deck, of Exeter Union High School in Exeter, California. I don't know is Ms. Deck is still around or not but, as a kid from Spanish Harlem on the other side of the continent, I salute her.

WESTERN CHILI CASSEROLE

1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 15-ounce can Mexican-style chili beans
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 cups corn chips, crushed
1 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
Pitted ripe olives

1. Brown meat in skillet; add onion and celery. Cook until tender.
2. Remove excess fat from skillet; add beans, salt and chili powder
3. Place layers of chips on bottom of 2-quart casserole. Alternate layers of chips, cheese and chili mixture, reserving 1/2 cup chips and 1/4 cup cheese for garnish. Sprinkle center with reserved cheese; place reserved chips around edge. Top with ripe pitted olives. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until heated through.
    Yield: 6-8 servings.

Picture: courtesy of Bearcooks Food

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