The Indisputable Ingredient In New Mexican Green Chili

Cold nights call for homemade chili, but this comfort food isn't confined to just one season of the year. Chili, besides warming you up inside, is also popular at barbecues and parties — and events are even planned around the dish in the name of chili cook-offs.

Despite its ingredients, chili is traditionally an American dish. According to What's Cooking America, the dish became popular about 100 years ago, when people with little money would try to get the biggest meal out of their meat. There are tales that a nun from Spain created the first recipe, but it's more understood as having North American roots.

Of course, most people know chili today as a thick, beef-based stew that's loaded with tomatoes and packed with spices. But there is a relative of traditional chili, called green chili or chili verde, that has quite a different take compared to its hearty relative. And if you're from New Mexico, you know there is a special ingredient that must always be included.

New Mexican green chili has a distinct ingredient

Green chili, also referred to as chili verde, is a type of chili involving — you guessed it — green chilies. It's typically made with pork and fresh tomatillos rather than beef and tomatoes, according to No Recipes, and it originated in Northern Mexico. And no, not all green chilies are created equal. Greengos Cantina reports that some green chilies have a sweetness to them, but they're met with a spice that can be mild or quite hot. There are plenty of varieties, including jalapeños, poblanos, and Anaheim peppers.

With that said, chili verde can be made with any type of green chile pepper — unless you're in New Mexico. According to Serious Eats, New Mexican green chili must include Hatch chilies. Chili Pepper Madness says the main distinction between Hatch chiles and other green chile peppers is the location in which they are farmed. Hatch chiles are grown in Hatch Valley, a region in New Mexico known for its high elevation and volcanic soil, per 505 Southwestern

As a result, authentic New Mexican green chili cannot bear that name unless it is made with Hatch chilies grown in the region. Much like other green chiles, Hatch chiles range in spice from mild to extremely hot, and the heat level varies depending on when they are picked; the longer the peppers ripen, the hotter they'll be. According to Hatch Chile Store, the peppers range in length from eight to 13 inches, and you can expect to wait about 80 days to pick mild peppers.

Chili variations around the country

Whether it's traditional chili or chili verde, New Mexico isn't the only place that has an unwritten rule regarding its chili preparation. According to Serious Eats, Texas chili is always slow-cooked with red chiles and enhanced with cumin. Oh, and never put beans in it. In Oklahoma, you should always prepare red chili, but feel free to add beans as desired. And in Chicago, nobody cares what you make, as long as you spell it "chilli." Taste of Home reports that Cincinnati chili also exists, which is a version featuring sweeter ingredients, such as cinnamon and chocolate.

There are other variations of the dish that aren't geographically based. According to Taste of Home, white chili is made with poultry, rather than pork or beef, as well as white beans. Plus, it doesn't hurt to add some Monterey Jack cheese to that dish. And for vegetarian chili, which is another common variety, beans tend to take center stage, though plant-based meat would work as well. Any way you dress it up, chili is always delicious and very warming.