|D.C. chili spots
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Hard Times Cafe
3028 Wilson Blvd.
Chili is a winter food trend that Washington has never ignored. It has the spice to heat up even the coldest of days. Whether served Texas-style with no beans, Cincinatti-style with spaghetti or vegetarian-style, it’s available here in D.C. But chili is more than just a wintertime meal; its history is as complex as some of its variations.
Chili is part of the Hispanic food tradition; its trademark peppers and oregano originated in Mexico. The first documented chili recipe in the United States dates to San Antonio, Texas, around 1880. While there are many legends and stories about where chili originated from, historians generally believe the earliest version of chili was made by cowboys. The inexpensive ingredients and easy-to-follow recipe was perfect for the open range.
Because of its American upbringing, thousands of chili recipes have been created over the years, culminating in certain styles that many Midwestern and Southwestern states claim are the best in the land. Oklahoma-style includes stewed tomatoes, beef and beans, along with dried chili peppers and masa, a finely ground cornmeal used to thicken the chili. First introduced in 1893 at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Texas-style contains no beans and calls for chopped skirt steak instead of ground beef. And Cincinatti-style adds cinnamon, allspice and chocolate to the Texan recipe. It is traditionally served on top of spaghetti noodles with cheese and onions.
Although D.C. doesn’t have a chili named after the city, it is the home of one of the country’s best chili spots. Ben’s Chili Bowl is a home-style diner that D.C. has embraced since 1958. Still housed in its original location on U Street between 12th and 13th streets, Ben’s Chili Bowl caters to neighboring Howard University students, hungry late-night bar hounds and out-of-town visitors. Ben’s Chili Bowl is part of U Street history. Luminaries such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bill Cosby have been known to meet friends there or catch a bite to eat before a show or speech for the last 45 years.
Ben’s Chili Bowl is open until 2 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays and until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily, but the real specialty here is obviously the chili – meat or vegetarian – where 20 to 30 gallons are served every weekday, and about double that on weekends. Manager Amir Mian said Ben’s Chili Bowl receives more 1,500 customers per day on the weekends, adding that the busiest season is in the summer, when tour buses are led there to taste D.C.’s finest chili.
Mr. Mahaboob of Ben’s Chili Bowl created the secret recipe that has been used since the restaurant’s opening. The most popular items on the menu are the chili half-smoke (Bill Cosby’s favorite) and the chili cheese fries. The place has a great laid-back atmosphere and superb food.
The Hard Times Caf Chili Parlor in Alexandria, Va., is another place to go to sample a variety of chilis such as Texas, Cincinatti, Terlingua Red and vegetarian styles. Whether it’s chili served over a bowl of Fritos or baked with chicken, any of the four types are pleasing.
But if you don’t feel like traveling to U Street or Alexandria, La Prima’s Caf at 2000 Penn is open for lunch six days a week and is available on Colonial Cash. Its daily chili selection includes vegetarian with smoked jalapenos and meat chili with eggplant. Both options are loaded with fresh vegetables and just the right spiciness to satisfy any craving.
Here is a recipe for basic chili, suitable to cook in even the smallest dorm kitchen. It’s easy to make and keeps in the freezer for up to a month:
* 2 cups chopped onion
* 4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 2 35-ounce cans plum tomatoes
including the juice
* 1 15-ounce can tomato pure
* 1/4 cup chili powder
* 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
* 1 tablespoon dried hot
red pepper flakes
* 1 teaspoon dried organo
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1 tablespoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
* 1 pound ground turkey
* 2 green bell peppers, chopped
* 2 19-ounce cans kidney beans rinsed
and drained well
* Sour cream as an accompaniment
* Grated Cheddar cheese
as an accompaniment if desired
In a large pot, saute the onion and the garlic in the oil over moderate heat, stirring, until they are golden. Add ground turkey and cook fully. Add the tomatoes with the juice, the tomato pure, 2 cups water, the chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, organo, cinnamon, salt and black pepper, and combine the mixture well. Stir the bell peppers and the beans into the chili and simmer the chili, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes, or until the bell peppers are tender. Serve topped with Chedder and sour cream if desired.
To prepare the chili in advance, cool completely uncovered, then chill for two days, covered, or freeze the chili, covered, for two minutes.
For a vegetarian alternative, replace the turkey with a vegetable such as eggplant, zucchini or squash, and prepare as directed.
Makes about 12 cups, or 8 servings.