This sweet and tangy chili reminds me of the beloved vinegar-based Lexington style BBQ sauce from my home state of North Carolina.
The first time I ever had sweet potatoes in a chili was when I was invited to a girls night by my sweet friend Christine. We all came by with a bottle of wine and sat around chatting with one another and getting to know each other better. I live for those nights. Never underestimate the power of having a circle of strong and interesting women around you. We were all talking and scattered about when Christine started spooning out bowls of chili. Some of us were on the floor and others on the couch. Once we all had our bowl - the talking stopped. You know that natural kind of quiet that happens around good food? Where no one really notices that the talking stops, but everyone's content in the new found silence. This chili was inspired by hers and I've never a chili without sweet potato since. It adds a delightful natural sweetness to balance the classic savory flavors and with a touch of vinegar? Shoo. This will become a staple in your house just as much as it did mine.
One of the things I love about food and recipes is how they grow from person to person. Generation to generation. Culture to Culture. It's a livable collaborative art that's full of history. Within that history, you'll find laughter and tears. Trauma and celebration. The role of food in our lives is not only one of nourishment - but one of human connection. Take chili for example. As the state dish of Texas, the origins of chili have long been debated. Many claim the dish is completely American in origin. While what we know of chili today might be uniquely American, there are records of similar chili based stews in writings from 1529. A Franciscan friar, Bernardino de Sahagun is said to have ate the earliest recording of chili in Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital and what is now Mexico City. Many say that it's prevalence in Tex-Mex cuisine, a style of cooking influenced by Texas's close proximity to Mexico, actually derived from the Canary Islander population in what is now San Antonio. The Canary Islands are a Spanish archipelago west of the North African country of Morocco. When Canarians migrated to San Antonio, they brought their Moroccan inspired cooking styles with them. Even still, the dish was different from what we know of Chili Con Carne today. Our modern understanding of chili is often attributed to a group of women who ran chili stands in San Antonio's Military Plaza in the 1860's and were often called the "Chili Queens". Many argue that modern chili didn't show it's face until five decades later.
In my research, it seems like there's no real clear origin story for this dish. However, one thing seems certain: to simply label this dish as simply "American" without acknowledging it's Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and Moroccan influence/roots feels dismissive of it's entire history. While chili may now be far from it's inspired origin - it's origin matters as a means of accepting the diverse identity of what The United States truly are. We are, indeed, a melting pot of traditions brought here by immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds. A problem that can occur within a "melting" pot, especially when the pot itself is dominated by white Europeans, is that it makes way for different cultures to become indistinguishable from the "American" brand and, thus, erases their own identity and history. This feels especially true to Texas who, as a red state, has created and indulged in an entire style of cooking inspired by Mexican and Latino traditions while also having a long standing history of racism against the Mexican, Latino, and Indigenous people of their area. At one point, this racism included a system of discriminatory laws against Mexican and Latino Americans modeled after the Jim Crow Laws put forth against Black Americans. They were also often victims of both racist mob violence and lynchings within Texas.
While the Mexican people are said to often deny any association with the dish, Chili is a beloved staple within American Tex-Mex cuisine. Acknowledging it's diverse influence goes further than just saying "Oh yeah. Tex-Mex wouldn't exist without Mexico" but it includes taking total responsibly with how you support the human rights of it's inhabitants, Mexican-American immigrants, and all those of Latino or Hispanic decent. Simply put - we should not be whitewashing food history to make it more palatable for us and we shouldn't enjoy food inspired by folks who we don't actually support through your political voting and activism. Food is cultural and, therefore, political - especially in a world that not only centers white European lives, but seeks to disenfranchise the lives of people of color. You may be thinking, "Meg, its only food." Let me tell you, friend. It's never "only food."
This recipe is a bit different from the more traditional chili served by my sweet friend. It combines two southern favorites: Chili & BBQ. Instead of sticking with the regional Texas BBQ - we move on up to my home state of North Carolina by adding a tangy vinegar kick. Given the spices within a chili, it still has that Texas BBQ edge. But, it's thinner consistency and vinegary tang is much more reminiscent of a Lexington BBQ sauce. My point being - It's simply a happy BBQ marriage nestled in a pot of chunky chili.
Serve this dish with our Sweet & Fluffy "Buttermilk" Cornbread and you'll be good to go.
Carolina BBQ Sweet Potato Chili
Author: Megan Thompson Aston
Time: 1 hr 30 min ~
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium Sweet Potatoes, peeled and chopped 1 1/2 in cubes
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large beefsteak tomato, chopped
2 tbsp garlic, roughly minced
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cayenne pepper (optional)
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp ketchup
2 -16 oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup dry TVP
1 1/2 - 2 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp salt +
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper +
2 tbsp oil for cooking
Texas Pete Hot Sauce, for serving
Prep and chop your vegetables. They should be kind of chunky.
In a large pot over medium heat, add your preferred cooking oil.
Once your oil is heated, add your onions and green peppers to the pot. Cook until the onions start to become slightly translucent and soften. This should take only a few minutes.
Add the garlic. Toss with the onions and peppers.
Add your dry spices. Toss with your veggies and continue to stir over medium heat for a few moments to bring out their flavor.
Add tomato and ketchup. Stir together.
Add the vegetable broth and stir until completely combined with vegetables and spices.
Stir in the TVP and reduce the heat to medium low.
Add your sweet potato and toss in the mixture. Cover.
Cook on medium low covered until the sweet potatoes soften and the other vegetables release their juices. Stirring occasionally. Add more broth if need be. You'll want your sweet potatoes almost completely covered in liquid at this point.
Once potatoes are just softened, mix in your black beans & vinegar. Allow allow to cook on medium low uncovered until the beans have slightly thickened the chili.
Salt and pepper to taste using the provided measurements as a starting point
Serve with our Sweet & Fluffy Cornbread and a few dashes of Texas Pete Hot Sauce for a real authentic NC vibe.
You can choose to use a different meat alternative if you're not fond of TVP. If you do, you'll need to discount the broth in the recipe by at least 1/2 a cup. Add your broth slowly throughout the process to avoid it being too watery as this is already a bit of a thinner chili.