Chilli con carne (chilli with meat) is a spicy stew with meat and beans in it and definitely not vegetarian. The vegetarian version has beans and usually a choice of 2 to 3 types of vegetables (sem carne/ sin carne). Serve it with some carbohydrates (bread or rice) and you have a well-balanced meal!
What actually goes into a chilli depends on who is cooking it, but a chilli isn’t a chilli without chillies (chilli peppers)! An essentially American dish (particularly Texan) and supposedly invented by the Spanish immigrants who settled in San Antonio, the original chilli had no beans. That chilli was made by pounding together dried beef, fat, salt and chilis and dehydrated into small bricks which could be cooked into stews on the trail by cowboys, adventurers and gold miners in the 1800s.
Over the years, the chilli evolved from a simple “on the go” dish to a slightly more sophisticated stew and you now have a whole lot of variety including some without beans, those with the beans and meat, and vegetarian versions as well.
It is still a very hearty stew and is a dish that can take on whatever identity you decide to give it so long as the basic ingredients are there to qualify it as a chili. What you add to the stew makes the difference to taste but vegetarian versions use beans (you can use your favourite kind or a mixture of 2 or 3 varieties, if you wish), bell peppers, tomatoes, some vegetables, chillies and spices.
Here is my version inspired by too many recipes to mention and somewhat adapted from Emeril Lagasse. I have tried to keep true to the identity of the chilli (beans and chillies) without deviating too much in my choice of ingredients. We found the American style chilli to be a slightly less fiery and spice-wise milder version of a rajma (kidney bean curry)
One of the time held traditions seems to serve chilli with cornbread so I made some cornbread as well, but that comes later in this post. Chili can also be served with rice or bread, and I understand it is also served with spaghetti so the choice is all yours.
Chili Sem Carne (Vegetarian Chilli)
(Adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s recipe)