Full-conversion Indian Chili

By Joseph Delli Gatti

“Full Conversion” food is a name given to a concept that I discovered during my year-long sojourn in Mauritius while serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   I considered how close some traditional Mauritian-Indian food ingredients were to traditional Mexican or Central American food ingredients.

Some of my favorite things to eat in Mauritius were roti with beans, halim, curry-fried noodles, Indian-made Chinese rice, and chicken or lamb biryani (made both Indian style and Muslim/Middle Eastern style).  It was probably the best food in the world.

Much like the Mauritian creole language resulted from various nationalities sharing a language while trying to maintain segregated religion and cultures, the food tended to follow the same approach.  What would African/creole or Chinese people have for dinner if they only had access to Indian and middle-eastern cooks and ingredients?

So much food around the world uses similar or the same ingredients with a different combination of spices.  For example, roti is very similar to farata and tortillas.  One region might specialize in serrano peppers, and another country might specialize in chili peppers or jalapeños.  Each one has its own distinct flavor that works best in conjunction with the traditional food of that area.

While “equivalent” foods exist already in each country or region of the world, they don’t always taste that great blended together – for example, you wouldn’t probably put mozzarella cheese on tacos or cheddar on pizza (sorry Papa Murphy’s – that mixed cheese is a fail, IMO – I always request mozzarella only).  So keeping regional foods and ingredients together, which emerged from centuries of experimenting, taste-testing, budget constraints, and what regional farmers could and chose to produce, is a really good idea.  And knowing which ingredients go together best can help invent some pretty awesome new foreign foods!

Some of the full-conversion foods that my wife and I have done together are Mexican lasagna and Indian chili.  Here’s an example of Mexican lasagna ingredients:

  • Mozzarella —> cheddar
  • Lasagna noodles —> tortillas
  • Marinara sauce —> salsa
  • Hamburger/sausage —> chicken or pork
  • Ricotta cheese —> more cheddar

Layer the tortillas and sauce and cheese just like you would a lasagna, and then bake it the same as you would a lasagna.

Now on to the precious Indian chili.

Indian-food Ingredients: 
4 cups of thinly sliced and quartered onions
1-1 1/2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into small/tiny pieces
1 can of great northern beans (don’t dump the juice/water out of the can)
1 can of white kidney beans (don’t dump the juice/water out of the can)
2 Tablespoons of garam masala (preferably the kind with fenugreek and without chili powder or anise)
1/2 Tablespoon of curry powder (can include chili powder)
1 Thai chili pepper, sliced very tiny (strip out the seeds in advance for a more mellow spice).
1 teaspoon of salt

Now the secret Italian ingredients (because I’m Italian):
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 Table Spoon of finely diced or crushed garlic
1 Roma tomato, in large dices
1/8-1/4 cup of Grape juice

Goes well with: 
Long-grain white Rice or white jasmine rice
Thai chili peppers
Simply orange juice, passion-fruit juice or a mango lassi
A little canned coconut cream to spoon out like you might with sour cream

1.  Add the olive oil into a pan over medium heat (1/2 heat).  Cook the onions for an hour until well-caramelized. You’ll need to stir them more and more often as they begin to caramelize.  Do not cheat on this process and cook it at higher heat to sear or burn the onions or the acids in the onions won’t covert properly to sugars.  add in a small portion of the grape juice (which will help any possible remaining amount of onion acids to convert to sugars).

2.  Turn up the heat to medium-high (2/3 – 3/4 heat) and add in the chopped up chicken meat, the chopped tomato, the chopped Thai chili pepper and the garlic. Sprinkle over the top, all of the garam masala powder and salt.  Stir frequently until the tomato has melted into nothing and the chicken is dry/well cooked, and don’t let the onions burn.  As the chicken cooks, the spices will adhere to it via the tomato, and will get cooked onto it.

3.  Turn the heat back down to medium.  Pour in the two cans of beans with the juice/syrup/whatever it is along with the remaining portion of grape juice.  Sprinkle in the curry powder, and add a little water until the beans lie flat on the surface (or stop being able to clump/pile up).  Let simmer – stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes.

If you want to make it look fancy, save aside a small portion of the caramelized onions before adding in the chicken.  After you finish cooking the chili, pour it into a serving bowl, garnish the surface with caramelized onions, a dab of coconut cream in the center, and a whole Thai chili pepper or two.   (photo to be added).

You can eat it like chili or you can try the following method: put about a cup of rice off-center on a plate; take a little less than a cup of the chili and place it half on/half off of the rice.  Take a tiny nibble of a Thai chili pepper.  Then eat the chili and rice with a spoon (scoop up half a spoon of rice and half a spoon of chili) and then eat it altogether.  Your mouth will be hot from the pepper, but will gradually cool down as you eat each spoonful of rice with chili.  When the spice level in your mouth is back down to 0, take another nibble of pepper.  If you time your chili bites right, you’ll run out of spice when your meal is done.

If you decide to try to create any “full-conversion” foods, please share your experience in the comments below.  I’m sure others would love to read about it.