Neil Gaiman's American God's Chili

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May 12, 2010: I’m reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It’s great how he has mixed all these myth and folklore traditions together into something wonderful, strange, and new.

I came across this description of some great sounding chili, "Laura's Chili" on pg 33 of my edition:

Laura made a great chili. She used lean meat, dark kidney beans, carrots cut small, a bottle or so of dark beer, and freshly sliced hot peppers. She would let the chili cook for a while, then add red wine, lemon juice and a pinch of fresh dill, and, finally, measure out and add her chili powders. On more than one occasion Shadow had tried to get her to show him how she made it: he would watch everything she did from slicing the onions and dropping them into the olive oil at the bottom of the pot. He had even wrtitten down the recipe, ingredient by ingredient, and he had once made Larua’s chili for himself on a weekend when she had been of town. It had tasted okay — it was certainly edible, but it had not been Laura’s chili.

So that’s the challenge. Using those few clues to create a truly mouth watering chili. The hard part is determining how complete the recipe is. No tomatoes? On purpose I think.

Laura's Chili


The Mystery

So I am trying to recreate the chili recipe mentioned at the beginning of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. No mention of tomatoes to be found.

Is it because:

  • Gaiman is a novelist and not a cookbook author and the scene is intended to define the relationship between two of the characters, not tell you how to make chili
  • There are no tomatoes in the recipe. The red wine and dark beer are the ingredients intended to provide color and body to the dish
  • It never existed it’s just a metaphor

The Cultural Detective continues on, he will try it without tomatoes.

Which leads to the question: does a bowl of chili exist until someone eats it?


  • 4Tbsp olive oil on medium heat in a stew pot
  • added sliced onions and minced garlic, cooked until they started to turn translucent
  • added minced carrots and 2 fresh chopped jalapenos
  • added 1lb pasture raised beef cut in 1in cubes
  • browned the meat
  • added 2 microbrew beers
  • salt & pepper
  • simmer 2 hours
  • add the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1-2 cups red wine, fresh dill
  • continue to simmer and reduce another 1.5 hours
  • add chili powder and cumin to taste
  • simmer 30 minutes

Other Solutions

None of which were consulted prior to my attempt.

Suggestions for Further Reading


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