Kamala’s corner

When is a Chili a Chili?

Black bean Chili with chocolate and coconut. Really? Coconut? Caribbean Chili maybe?

Ok, so let me get this right. Chillies, spices and vegetables make a Chilli. But, chillies, spices and vegetables also make a Curry! Hmmm…. What is the difference, in principle? To a seasoned south Indian tongue, the Mexican taste is likable, which is partly where Chilli comes from…I suppose. So a chilli is not very far from a curry?

What it is is that a dish ‘made of any kind of combination of vegetables, cooked with chilli, spices and other ingredients’ can turn out to be something I can readily associate with but one that the judges at the cook-off might not count/feel is a Chili, even if it satisfies the rules per se!

Oh no, this is a crisis! When is a Chili a Chili?

So let’s take away all the labels for a moment, no chili or curry. Perhaps I can identify some broad distinguishing features for a Chili.


When I brought up the subject of blender for making a Chili, the comment was, whatever do you need a blender for?

Tut – tut.. Wrong thing to say to a south Indian! What can a south Indian cook think of without a mixie and a grinder?


My ever reliable Preethi Blue Leaf spice grinder!


The blades are what make these tiny grinders so useful!

Here’s what Dan from Team Dan had to say –

If you need a blender get the students to do it the old way – mortar and pestle! Get them to sport t-shirts, one with mortar and another with pestle!

Enough said then about mortar, pestle and mixie! Might actually use Dan’s idea as a sign of protest against stifling my creativity in this Chili contest 🙂

So the first distinguishing feature that makes a Chili stand out from, say, sambhar – No grinding of spices! Certainly haven’t seen mention of grinding in any of the Chili recipes so far. Talking of appliances, here’s one that Chilli cooks seem to use – a slow cooker, came across it in this recipe.

What about creaminess? Haven’t seen this either, in recipes. I was thinking of a South Indian favourite – majigha pulusu (more kolambhu), this will have veggies, lentils, I can add beans, and sure thing – spices. But it’s mainstay – soured yogurt makes it creamy, and certainly doesn’t pass the colour test.

Right, time to try out some ‘real’ Chilli! Time to go in search of the soul of Chili…

Surely if there are restaurants making anything close to ‘authentic’ chilli, they should be in London. I’ll ferret them out!

The first search throws up nothing but Indian restaurants! Then looking for tex-mex restaurants – coming up with Mexican restaurants, but apparently (I have now discovered) Mexicans disown chilli saying it as a “despicable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the US from Texas to New York” – a 1959 Mexican dictionary!

Ok, look for American restaurants. Oh no, am I going to survive this? Dark clouds gathering…

Set in an imposing stone building just off Trafalgar Square, the Embassy is for those who like their American nosh with a dash of Southern flair. It serves hearty Tex-Mex tucker and is decorated like a Texan saloon bar.

Can’t do that one, further search….found it!

Vegetarian bean chili at Chimichanga on Haverstock Hill in northwest London. Surprise, surprise – it tasted a bit like sambhar, had rice in it, and was covered in cheese!

A Mexican dish with a Sambhar soul 😉

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First steps to a vegetarian Chilli

The start of a long weekend and I am kicking it off with some prep for the cook-off.

My family’s cookery wisdom is not going to come to my rescue for the UH chilli cook-off, now I am on my own venturing into Chilli world.

I tell you what, Karela will go very well in a Chilli. I have a gut feeling. The sharp and subtle release of bitterness that a bitter gourd can exude will make for a mature grown-up curry, oops Chilli! What about groundnuts? Just a gut feeling.

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Bitter Gourd

What about this recipe? Click to view video.

best veggie chilli snip

Hmm..I got distracted by the nice filming, especially by the hollowed out capsicum, like how the light comes through from the other side and makes the green body translucent. Light – phenomenal! Don’t like it when it gets all dark inside the pot with that crumble 😦

Not bad, but not exciting to just do the first thing I have come across. Time to get my head down and come up with a plan. If I go anywhere near coriander, or curry leaves, or sambhar powder the judges will put it down as Indian, I think, not Tex-Mex… So time for some help

What about asking Indian Americans? – I don’t mean American Indian, i.e. Indians in America from India. I know just the right people. I’ll write to the internet curry cooks – Anuja and Hetal at Showmethecurry.com. Living in America, they might have come across a chilli cook-off or two and their website is mainly vegetarian. No point asking Kamala’s corner, a superb South Indian cookery website, but that’s it.

Just heard, I am getting sent some veg recipes from Texas, ones that have been tried and tested in office chilli cook-offs!

This is all off to a good start.