I have what I like to call “perfect timing”.
Like, remember when I decided to cook Indian-Style Chili on the exact same day at the exact same time that my lovely adorable Indian roommate happened to invite every single Indian member of our med school class over to eat some Diwali pastries?
No? Really? You couldn’t feel my embarrassment from all four corners of the globe? It was palpable. Tactile, even. Cut-it-with-a-knife thick.
There they were. Munching down on halwa and jalebi and some of the other most incredibly delicious sweets on this earth. Gossiping about where one could find the most authentic Indian food in this damn city (my kitchen did not make the list. In case you were wondering).
When I barged in with my coriander, turmeric, and cinnamon. Thinking that I was doing something truly groundbreaking. Indian-style chili? SCORE! was the mantra of the evening and what I had been repeating to myself over and over at the gym as I bribed myself to bike for just one more mile (times 16).
I think they were pretty oblivious to my activities until, eventually, the smell of meat and spice must have permeated the apartment because all of a sudden the whole crew tumbled into the kitchen, peered over the oven, and asked me what I was making.
I looked at the chili. Looked at them. Looked back at the chili. The silence encasing all of us. Compelling me to both speak and not speak, a kind of psychological dystonia if ever there were one.
Until finally one of them looked at the cookbook sitting on the counter and read “Indian-Style Chili” . With beef. Interesting. He said as he looked away. Doing his best not to make eye contact with this obviously confused white girl who had just offended all kinds of centuries-old traditions.
My lovely adorable roommate who loves me with reckless abandon said, brightly, “Well it definitely smells Indian!”
And, yes. That it did.
It smelled Indian and it tasted delicious, especially after a stint in the fridge overnight, as any good chili is wont to do. The currying spices melding so beautifully with the heat of the chile powder and the subtle sweetness of the roasted winter squash.
Will I be making it again? Yes. But perhaps under a new name. “Indian-Spiced Chili with No Resemblance to Any Authentic Indian Dish At All Ever But That is Still Seriously Worth Eating” has a nice ring to it. Don’t you think?
Before the recipe, be sure to vote for your favorite winter squash recipe at the contest I’m holding over at MarxFoods!
Indian-Spiced Chili in Winter Squash “Bread” Bowls
Serves 4-5, adapted from Monica Bhide’s Modern Spice
2 (2 lb) winter squash – acorn squash, kabocha, or buttercup are ideal
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cinnamon stick
1 medium red onion, minced
1 tbsp storebought ginger-garlic paste (or puree equal parts ginger and garlic together)
1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I used the ones from Trader Joes with chiles in them)
1 lb ground beef (I used SUPER lean) or ground turkey
1/2 tsp red chile powder
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 cup dried kidney or trout beans, cooked OR 1 (15 oz) can of beans
1 cup water
1. Preheat oven to 450. Cut winter squash in half lengthwise. De-seed. Spray with cooking spray or rub with a bit of oil. Sprinkle with salt. Place on a baking sheet cut side up and roast for 40-50 minutes or until fork tender. Set aside.
2. In a large lidded skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the cinnamon stick. When the stick begins to sizzle, add the onion and ginger-garlic paste. Saute, stirring, until the onion is golden brown, 7-8 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 15 minutes.
4. Add the beef and cook 10-12 minutes or until browned, breaking up the meat with a spatula.
5. Add the chile powder, turmeric. cinnamon, cloves and coriander. Mix well and cook for 2 minutes.
6. Add the beans and 1 cup water. Cover and cook for another 12-15 minutes or until the beef is cooked through and most of the water has evaporated.
7. Once the chili is cooked, season with salt to taste. Remove the cinnamon stick and spoon chili into each squash bowl. Garnish with finely chopped onion or green chiles if desired. Serve immediately.