American Classics

Mom’s Chili Mac

March 18, 2020
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The first time my parents drove to the tiny Texas town where I would spend my early childhood, Dad got lost. He found a filling station and asked the attendant where Riesel was — pronouncing the placename “Rye-zel.” The man blinked at dad for a few moments and then, eyes wide with belated recognition, said, “Ohhhh! you mean REEEEE-zel!”  drawing out the eeeeeeeee’s in an impossibly wide-mouthed drawl. And so it was, we moved back to Texas. Mom had grown up in Houston and coached collegiate basketball in Texarkana. Then she made a serendipituous wide swoop North to coach at the University of North Dakota, where she met Dad, a South-side Chicago native, at the beginning of his vicarage in the frozen North. After a few winters there, Mom was very glad to get back to the Lone Star State. My brother and I benefited from the remoteness–and the heat. We ran around nearly naked for two years, in, and out, and all around the old wooden farm-house, with it’s big rooms, tall windows, and banana trees out back, where we used to sit on the porch steps and eat huge slices of Texas watermelon : ) And my mom’s cooking–lots of no-bean steak chili, and this chili mac made with dried New Mexico chilies, plenty of cumin, chili powder, garlic and onion, and the obligatory elbow macaroni, this dish is comfort that never fails to please.

Mom cooked basics well, and liked hot stuff. She used to keep pickled peppers in the fridge so hot, just opening the jars made my eyes sting. For Texas chili–we made a version with steak, dried chilies and no beans!  But when we were little, chili mac was a bit easier to make.

You can pile the whole mixture in a casserole, top it with the grated cheese, and pop it in the oven until hot and bubbly, or, if you prefer: individually plate the chili mac and serve the cheese and garnishes at table. NOTE: if you taste the chili sauce before you mix in the macaroni and ground turkey, it will seem spicy–but once the other ingredients are added, it mellows out. In fact…for those who want it hotter, you may want to add more cayenne, and keep a bottle of hot sauce on the table. Enjoy!





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