Dave's Chili

Dave's Chili Copyright ©ShulieMadnick

We have made our mid-western friend's, Dave's, chili recipe for over three decades. Our son Sagie, who has now lived in Israel for the last 5 years, made Dave's chili in his new apartment in Tel Aviv this past week. It's not the first time Sagie made Dave's chili. It's the chili he grew up on during regular rotation, especially during the winters, in our home in a suburb in Northern Virginia.

Jonathan met Dave in grad school in DC. Dave and Cathy, Dave's girlfriend at the time, were one of the rare handful of couples in a mostly singles' crowd. We hosted each other for small gatherings. I made Indian and Israeli foods, and Dave made chili. Little did I know that Dave's chili would be one step closer to my coronation into Americanhood more than any green card and citizenship could. Cranberries and maple syrup were the first.

As the story goes, Dave and his buddies would have chili throw-downs and challenge each other to the spiciest versions. Hang on, scratch that; it never happened. I am mixing it up with Bobby Flay's throw-downs. 

Dave doesn't know how he really came to chili. It might be when he visited his brother in Texas. He doesn't count the hamburger in tomato sauce chili version of his childhood in Iowa as the 'coming to chili' pivotal moment of his life. Along the way, his recipes changed, and on vacations with his large extended family, he puts 3 pots on the stove; spicy, medium, and a small one he dubs "ketchup." His Illionoisans in-laws could only handle the "ketchup" chili, and his BILs would have the medium and add spice according to their level of tolerance. 

A couple of years ago, we met Dave and Cathy and their young adult kids at a restaurant in NYC. To my "we have made your dad's chili recipe for years now," they responded: "but he (Dave) makes chili differently each time." 
But the chili recipe Dave gave us on the fly when I pressed him for it (he never had a chili recipe written down) struck us and stuck with us, and became a family favorite. The cumin, the cayenne, chili powder, and jalapeños were a (good) punch in the face boldness that appealed to our Indian senses. It's the only chili I am willing to have. It was identical to the version he made for us. 

Dave agrees that next day chili always proves to be better even when we can't help ourselves and dig in and have it the day of. Always served on a bed of Frito Lays for what is known as Frito pie.  The very Frito pie topped with cheese and sour cream that Gary, the husband of another grad school friend Jeannie, was looking forward to at his school cafeteria lunches while growing up in Texas. 

Further reading:

Dave's Chili Copyright ©ShulieMadnick

Dave's Chili

This is the recipe I follow but feel free to reduce the spices and jalapeño to tame this chili


2 lbs beef, chuck (medium cubed)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium/large onions, cubed
3 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and (medium) cubed
2 cans (28 oz each) tomato sauce
1/2 bottle of beer
2-3 cans red kidney beans (28 oz each), rinsed and strained*
3 tablespoons Worcestershire
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 rounded tablespoon chili powder (spice mix)
1 rounded teaspoon cumin
1 rounded teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
4-6 jalapeños, stems cut and make a slit lengthwise but not halved
2 tablespoons Honey
2-3 teaspoons red pepper flakes, or to taste
3-4 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

For serving:

Frito Lays
Rice or mashed potatoes (where Frito Lays aren't readily available)
Sour cream** (optional)
Chees** (optional)


On medium heat, sauté the beef, onions, bell peppers, and jalapeños in 2 tablespoons oil for several minutes while mixing occasionally. Add all ingredients in the order listed, stir, bring to a boil and reduce heat to a low bubble. Cover and cook for an hour to an hour and a half while stirring periodically. Adjust the flavoring to your taste, particularly the chili, cumin, and cayenne, if necessary. 

Best reheated and served the next day in a bowl lined with Frito Lays.

Keep refrigerated for up to 4 days or freeze individual servings for up to a month.

*If using dry beans, the beans have to be pre-cooked first.
**We don't keep Kosher, but I can't bring myself to serve meat with sour cream and cheese, but you can.

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