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In March of 1519, when Cortes landed in what is now Veracruz, Mexico, to conquer the Aztec Empire, he arrived with only 500 men, 15 cannon and 20 horses. With this he would face the 12 million strong Aztec Nation.

Shortly after Cortes reached Mexico — just so there would be no confusion on intent — he ordered the sinking of ten of their eleven ships so retreat was never an option for his men — they would go home when Mexico was part of Spain, or they would not go home.

As they moved towards the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, Cortes recruited troops by conquering villages and making alliances with various enemies of the Aztec’s. In fact, when a rival Spanish contingent landed, Cortes quickly defeated them and the remaining soldiers were absorbed into his army.

In November of that year, after conquering numerous Aztec cities, Cortes and his new army — numbering now in the thousands — arrived in Tenochtitlán. Clad in their Spanish armor and riding horseback — which the Aztecs believed were deer — Cortes and his men were perceived as gods —- which made it easier for the Emperor Montezuma to be taken prisoner and for the Spanish to begin removing the gold from the city.

Once the capital was taken, the army continued, city by city, until August of 1521 — only two years later — when the last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtémoc, surrendered to Cortes. The Aztec Nation was no more.

Now, the reason these details survived over the last 500 years is largely due to one man. A conquistador named Castillo, who fought with Cortes, had a first hand account of the events, but more importantly kept an extremely accurate journal — in fact, it is from Costillo, that the first documented chili recipe exists.

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In one of the very early battles with the Cholulan Indians, in 1519, Castillo wrote that the Cholulan’s were so confident of their defeat over Cortes that they boiled chilies, tomatoes and spices, as a meal to celebrate.

What was missing in the pot? Meat — which the conquistadors would provide because the Cholulan’s planned on eating them.

The day — and the meal — did not go as planned but what did occur was that the first meatless chili recipe was documented.

From there, chili migrated from Mexico through Texas and into the American Frontier where wagon cooks created brick chili; where they would cook chili and then compress the liquid out and form it into bricks so they could transport and cook on the trail by warming it up and adding water.

But it wasn’t until 1893, at The Chicago Worlds Fair, that The San Antonio Chili Stand exposed 27 million people to the wonders of chili. And from there chili became a part of our American — and worldwide — culture.

For something so simple in nature — tomatoes, peppers and meat — it’s amazing how many types of chili there are.

For example, Chili con Carne is the traditional chili with meat.

Texas Chili, contains no beans; it’s simply meat, peppers and tomatoes — and a true Texas Chili purist will say that the stew should have no other vegetables but peppers.

Chili Verde is a spicy green chili that is made with pork that has been slow-cooked in chicken broth, peppers, and chili — with no tomatoes.

And there are many more. And within these and other categories there are a myriad of styles.  In fact, the great thing about chili is that there are no two alike.

Having our own signature chili recipe is important for us modern men for several reasons. First of all it’s an inexpensive but hearty meal. Being able to whip up a quick pot of chili means we will never go hungry. Also, chili is the quintessential guy meal that is so versatile and allows us so much creativity in preparing, so we get to expend some creative energy in perfecting our chili. And a quick pot of homemade chili is the perfect and simple dish to bring to an event or when you have people over.

HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE CHILI

If you follow just one rule, just one, then you’re chili will be in the top twenty percent of all the homemade chili’s out there.

The rule is this.

Use dried beans.

Canned beans are fine to use for chili — and I’ve made gallons of great chili using canned beans — but by cooking the beans yourself the beans will be firmer and the chili will be heartier. Also, instead of sitting in a salt water solution in the can, your beans will be soaking up all that great flavor of your chili.

Follow the directions on the bag for your beans but the method that seems to work best is the quick soak method — where you bring to a boil for one minute then let it set for an hour.

Now here are the basics, but the one thing to remember is this:

This is not is a chili recipe. You don’t want a chili recipe but  you want the basics. You’re going to develop your own.

Cook your dried beans.

In a pan, fry your onions, peppers, garlic, — whatever vegetables you want —  until they begin to caramelize and soften.

Brown your meat. Now ground beef or ground turkey is commonly used but you can be creative here and use anything you want; sausage, chicken, pork or cut up a steak or a roast. Also game meats work real well such as venison or goose. If you want to make a meatless chili you can cut up potato or use garbanzo beans or tofu — in fact, rutabaga works great in a meatless chili.

Combine your meat and vegetables in a pot with a few cans of stewed tomatoes, tomato chunks and/or tomato paste or fresh tomatoes if you have them. Whatever you want. You may need to add a little water here but you can also use beer or apple juice for taste.

Add your spices in. This is completely up to you and the only advice is to avoid the chili spice packets you buy in the store — because you can control it better by doing it yourself. The basic spices are cumin, cayenne pepper, chili powder and salt and pepper, tobacco. But there are no spices you can’t use —- I know a man who adds peanut butter and nutmeg in his chili and it tastes great.

Simmer and taste. Let the chili simmer down and let all those flavors meld together and keep tasting it and tweaking it.

And that’s it. Experiment and develop your own recipe. If there is something you don’t like change it next time.

Also, make a big pot. Chili freezes pretty well and you can save it.

Have fun.

BY:

evdemorier@aol.com

Everett De Morier has appeared on CNN, Fox News Network, NPR, ABC, as well as in The New York Times and The London Times. He is the author of Crib Notes for the First Year of Marriage: A...