17 Comfort Foods For Deep Winter

4 of 18

Staff Photo by Derek Davis: Kamasouptra, a vegetarian soup delivery business run out of the community kitchen at the Public Market House in Portland. Michael Jerome fills a bowl with vegetarian chili. Photographed on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

3. Chili

Now, this one is truly versatile, not to mention historic. The first recipe that made something we can call chili dates back to 1850. Before World War II, many Texas families drew upon Latino food culture when they created their own chili recipes. Hundred of small, family-run “chili joints” could be found wherever someone had some culinary skill and a good recipe.

Like many old cooking traditions, chefs endlessly debate the use of certain ingredients. Some vehemently argue that tomatoes have no place in chili, while others cannot imagine a pot of the stuff without some of the acid and color of a tomato.

Meanwhile, others will straight up fight you over the presence of beans in their chili. The earliest chili recipes did not, in fact, use beans. However, beans have been around long enough in the chili world to merit their own tradition. These include black-eyed peas, kidney beans, great northern beans, and navy beans. Still, there are some detractors. In 1999, The Chili Appreciation Society International specified that competition cooks are forbidden from using beans (they also can’t marinate any meats).

Clearly, though, no one’s going to break into your kitchen and arrest you if your chili isn’t made to exact specifications. I mean, I make a vegetarian chili of which I’m quite proud. It might also make a true-blue chili con carne fan faint from pure flouting of tradition.

Recipe: 25 Great Chili Recipes (New York Times). Yeah, it’s a cop-out, but then maybe I won’t have to hear from someone who missed their favorite version.

Healthier variation: Seriously, try the vegetarian chili. I make a highly doctored version from this slow cooker recipe, which includes cornmeal. I’ll throw in whatever I have in my fridge, but corn, peppers, and beans are standbys.