A mission statement

Hello, and welcome to My Kitchen and I. Every year I choose a cuisine to explore. This year, it's the year of the Snake! And I'll be continuing to cook mostly Asian foods, particularly Chinese dishes. Have I finally found the best cuisine in the world? Come explore and cook with me and let's find out. Please feel free to share your stories and comment on anything you see here, and thanks so much for visiting. Hope you enjoy the Year of the Snake in food!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

An Aztec-inspired chili

#letslunch January challenge — chili.
My take — Aztec.
Go here for more great chili recipes!
Cowboys on the trail are often credited with the invention of chili, but given that chile peppers were being traded throughout the Americas thousands of years ago, I have to wonder if it doesn't predate the wild west by quite a wide margin.

Smithsonian researchers have found the starch grains characteristic of chiles at seven sites ranging from the Bahamas to southern Peru dating as far back as 6000 years. One cave had as many as 7 different kinds of chiles!

Chile peppers are almost always found in the company of corn, according to the researchers, and I have read where some native Americans claim the first chili had no beans, only corn. In Panama, chiles were found with both corn and yams, which to me sounds quite delicious!

Other common foods those ancient chefs worked with ....

Yes, indeed, there were beans. As well as achira, arrowroot, leren, yucca, tomatoes, palm fruit, algarrobo, peanuts, pacay tree fruits and squash. Squash and gourds were often used as containers for holding food, and eaten, too, according to starch grains found on the ancient teeth of the Americas. Perhaps bowls of chili were served in an edible squash bowl?

Meatwise, there were domesticated ducks and turkeys at the time the Spaniards dropped by. It's been noted also that the ancients hunted small game such as lizards, small birds and, uh, insects.

No, there are no insects in my chili. Or lizards.

From a museum trip last year, I know Aztecs scooped out turtle shells to use, and I am sure they would not have wasted that turtle meat with hungry mouths nearby! They did catch and eat fish, too. Given that they would eat insects and blue algae, I really don't think it a stretch to presume they would also eat delicious crab meat, shrimp and lobsters if they lived near the coast.

From the sophistication of their chocolate recipes, I also don't think it's too large a stretch to believe that they had discovered the delicious character of chili long before any cowboy can lay claim to the dish. Wouldn't these people, whose royalty drank their esteemed flavored chocolate drinks from gold cups, be smart enough to put corn, beans, tomatoes and chiles together, along with whatever delicious meat they had available that day?

I think so!

And so, with all the reading I'd done on the ancient chefs of meso America, I went on safari to the local grocery store, tracking down whatever "game" was on hand for a delicious Aztec-inspired chili. At first I had a vague notion of throwing a couple lobster tails into the mix, but unbelievably there were none. Anywhere! All sold out! Folks, is there some new health benefit to lobsters that I've missed? Please tell me if so.

I settled for shrimp and crabs instead. And then I spied a Cornish game hen. A small game bird! I plucked that small game bird from the freezer bushes and took him right home. (After paying, of course.) Along with a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio!

I think the little bird gives this dish a really nice presentation. In fact, the whole thing is a wonderful conversation starter. It was also quite fun to make, and, if I do say so myself, terribly delicious to eat! Fortunately for all our waistlines, this chili is fairly lowfat and healthy. No New Years resolutions need be broken here!

Ingredients: corn, avocado, dried ancho chile
sweet potato, garlic, Cornish game hen, shrimp
crab, jalapeno, black beans, picante sauce
chipotle chili powder, smoked paprika, lemon juice
Aztec-inspired chili

In a medium-sized stock pot simmer on low heat

4 cups cooked black beans
3 crushed cloves of garlic
2 dried ancho chiles chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp smoked chipotle
2 cups picante sauce
1 skinned Cornish Game Hen

Since the chicken is stewed in flavorful sauces, there is no real loss of flavor or quality in leaving out the skin. In fact the juices will penetrate the meat better without the skin, while reducing the fat in the dish considerably. A win-win!

While the chicken is simmering, boil in a pot of salted water for two or three minutes

1 dungeness crab

The crab meat doesn't have to be done all the way. You just want it to let go of the shell. Let the crab cool, then take all the meat out of the shells and peel a dozen or so shrimp. Add all the shells to the pot of water you just boiled the crab in. Simmer for about one hour on low to create a nice dab of flavorful stock.

In a 425 degree oven roast

four shucked ears of corn
two sweet potatoes
2 jalapeno peppers

I laid the husks on top of the corn rather than leaving them in the husks, because I wanted the corn to brown and caramelize a bit. I wrapped the sweet potatoes in foil. I figure our ancient chefs would have cooked these things directly in a wood fire, getting a nice smoky quality to all the ingredients. So when the corn and sweet potatoes were done, I sprinkled them generously with more smoked paprika.

The finished chili
presented well &
tasted great!
Peel the skin off the roasted jalapeno and chop it up. Add it and the corn, cut from the cob, to the simmering pot of chili. Add the leftover corn cobs to your simmering seastock, if you like.

When the seastock is finished, add it to the chili pot along with the peeled shrimps. Cook two minutes, then add the dungeness crab meat and cook until it is heated through.

Taste the chili and adjust seasonings to your liking, adding some salt and more chipotle pepper to your taste. The corn does make this chili taste a bit sweeter than you may be used to. I liked it, but you can add some lemon juice to zing it up a bit if sweet chili isn't your thing. I added about one capful and found that sufficient.

Each bowl gets some sweet potato,
shrimp, crab meat
and Cornish game hen.
Put a serving of sweet potatoes in a bowl to one side. Add some chili to the other side. Top with two or three shrimp, some of the crab meat and a portion of Cornish game hen, our small game of the day. Garnish with avocado if desired.

This was just great served with a nice glass of Pinot Grigio! Enjoy!

More great Chili recipes from the #letslunch bunch!
To join us on twitter, send a tweet to #letslunch

Cathy‘s Chunky-Style Cowboy Chili at Showfood Chef
Charissa‘s Clean Out Refrigerator Night Cassoulet, A “Frenchified” Chili at Zest Bakery
Ellise‘s Chicken Tinga Chili at Cowgirl Chef
Emma‘s Dave’s Chili at Dreaming of Pots and Pans
Felicia‘s Low-Concept Vegetarian Chili at Burnt-Out Baker
Grace‘s Chinese New Year Chili at HapaMama
Joe‘s Texas Bowl O’ Red at Joe Yonan
Karen‘s Hawaiian Chili at GeoFooding
Linda‘s Smokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili at Spicebox Travels
Lucy‘s “Full of Beans” Chili at A Cook And Her Books
Pat‘s Miso Chili Con Carne y Wasabi Sour Cream at The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

Cheryl's Keema Chili at A Tiger in the Kitchen


  1. This looks beautiful! I wanted to eat that first picture. Thanks for sharing...

  2. Aww, thanks so much! I thought all our chilis looked great!

  3. I love the infusion of the seafood in the chili. Very unique! And the addition of sweet potato? I'd be a happy girl sitting down to a bowl of this. :)

  4. I've chosen your blog for the Liebster Blog Award! Check out the latest post on my blog and be sure to pass the award along :)

  5. It's been SO long since I've had chili, well..a really good chili, and yours looks to be just that! I love the ancho and love cornish game hen twist! This is a must make for me - SOON!

  6. Cool, Elena, thank you! I will work on figuring out what I need to do about that asap. @Lisa Thanks for the kind words. The best chicken I've ever had was stewed in a flavorful sauce, so I have been a fan of the method ever since!

  7. Hi there. I was wondering whether you would like to link this in to Food on Friday: Chillies and other spicy stuff. This is the link. You did some time ago link in a great dish to Food on Friday: Asian Food. I now realize that I haven't been following your blog. Sorry about that. I have signed up to follow now. It would be great if you followed Carole's Chatter back. Have a super week.

  8. Oh Hi, Carole, sure thing. I don't see a link but I'll try a google search to find you.

  9. Sorry I didn't put in the link Renee. Will try to remember next time! Thanks so much for linking this in. Have a great week.

  10. heyy!!!Renee

    its a nice share..

    I used to do cooking mostly in weekends and also love to try new recepies.

    this sounds terrific! It reminds me a bit of jajiangmein sauce, but in chili form.

    I love the unique spice blend you’ve used here.

    I will definitely try this very soon '

    thanks a lot for sharing your ideas


I love your comments!