Four meatless chili recipes competed for top dog last night in the South Loop. One had a combination of interesting spices and organic beans from Ottawa, Illinois. Another was traditional, substantial and served with corn bread. A third had a lot of curry in it which gave it an East Indian overtone, and it was topped by a mango chutney rather than the usual cheese, sour cream and onions offered by the other entries. And a fourth everyone seemed to like because it was spicy--although I thought it tasted bland--and was overpowered by carrots.
The contest in the heart of the South Loop was sponsored by the Alliance for a Greener South Loop, in honor of their Meatless Mondays in March campaign. As the name of the drive implies, the group encouraged everyone in the neighborhood to skip meat on Mondays during the month of March--because eating meat adds measurably to the world's dreaded carbon footprint.
The organization, headed by South Looper Gail Merritt--who did the chili with the curry and the mango--got several restaurants in the neighborhood to offer meatless specials on Mondays in March. The chili cook-off at the Daystar Center was the culmination, the fifth Monday extravaganza.
For an hour and a half, everyone got up and down with white recyclable bowls and tasted. Back and forth, back and forth, tasting the entries once, twice and then some. Goose Island's Green Line beer was aplenty. And there was a raffle every few minutes, too. My daughter Molly won a $25 gift card to Lou Malnati's--one of our favorite South Loop eateries.
Three "professional" judges--South Loopers who work with and know food--got up and said nice things about each chili, based on an eight-point rating system, ultimately saying that the spicy one with the beans from Ottawa was their top choice. One taster in the audience said that would have been his first choice--he liked the spices and the beans--but that it needed meat. His favorite was the bland, carroty one.
The "people's choice" went to the aforementioned Gail, the head of the group and organizer of the event, who made the curried recipe. The majority of the people liked the inventiveness of giving chili a new and exotic flair.
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