Take your pick of spellings: chile(s),
chili(s,es), chille(s), chilli(s,es), chillie(s),
chilley(s), chilly(s,ies). Debates about
the spelling are endless, and this controversy
has even made it into The Congressional
Record. Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) noted
in 1983: "New Mexicans know that `chili'
is that inedible mixture of watery tomato
soup, dried gristle, half-cooked kidney
beans, and a myriad of silly ingredients
that is passed off as food in Texas and
Oklahoma." But at least Domenici allowed
Texans to spell their chili with an i to
differentiate it from the New Mexican versions
of the dish.
Texans insist on spelling both the pod
and the dish with an i, which is their prerogative.
New Mexicans refuse to acknowledge that
the word chili even exists, which is their
right, and they spell the plant, pod, and
dish with an e. In Illinois, for some strange
reason, the dish is spelled chilli. In the
end, say the true chiliheads, it really
doesn't matter how you spell it-so long
as you love it.
For the past couple of decades, writers
who must use these terms quite often, such
as ourselves, have reached an informal agreement
on style. To avoid confusing the plant and
pod with the bowl o' red, we use chile,
the original Spanish-Mexican spelling, to
refer to the plant and the pod. The word
chili means the dish of meat and peppers.
It is an abbreviated form of chili con carne,
which is a curious combination of the Anglicized
chili (from chile) and the Spanish carne
(meat). Interestingly enough, some early
California recipes were for carne con chile,
which is actually a more accurate description,
in Spanish, of the chili of today.
As early as 1949,
Arthur and Bobbie Coleman, authors of The
Texas Cookbook, noted: "The dish itself,
the completed product, is chili with one
`1' and an `i' on the end.... The word chile
means a hot pepper, the fruit, not the powdered
product. To spell the name of the dish chile
would lead to confusing it with the main
Dried chiles are usually soaked until soft, then pureed. To soften dried
chiles, place them in a pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Remove pan
from heat and allow chiles to soak until softened (the skin may still feel
papery and tough, but the pulp will be tender). Before pureeing, remove stems
and seeds. Process chiles in a blender or food processor with only enough liquid
to make a paste. Paste can be refined further by pressing it through a sieve.
Chile purists scorn the use of so-called Chili Powder found in the
supermarket spice section. It is dark brown in color and may contain garlic
powder, oregano, cumin and salt. Pure ground chile is deep red in color and
imparts a far sweeter and more full-bodied taste to foods.
As you become more experienced in cooking with chiles, you will be able to
substitute not only one variety for another, but dried for fresh, fresh for
canned, and so forth, depending upon what is available. You may substitute chile
powder for whole dried chiles in dishes calling for pureed chiles. Allow about
one tablespoon of powder for each large chile.