Something Really American: My Grandma’s Chili-Mac aka American Chop Suey

Whenever I’d go to my Grandma’s house (my Mom’s Mom) she’d have something yummy waiting for me. I don’t know if everything she made was so delicious because it was inextricably linked to her, or if everything was just that good.

My Grandma did everything in a calm and patient manner, and this carried over into her cooking. Watching her in the kitchen was a pleasure; everything was done with the utmost care and precision.

She’s probably the most consistent cook I’ve ever known. Her dishes were always cooked to perfection. At chef school, the teachers talked about consistency being one of the most important attributes to a good chef’s food. Customers come to eat the same dish repeatedly, and expect it to be the same as it was the last time. If you can achieve this as a cook, time and time again, you’ve accomplished something really great. My Grandma was an expert at this.

At any rate, my Grandma’s chili-mac was probably my favorite dish. I used to request her to make it all the time. After she passed away, there was no more chili-mac; she had not left a recipe and I had never learned how to make it. However, there was something in the college dining hall that was almost the same (though not nearly as good as my Grandma’s) called American chop suey. So during college, I sort of managed to satisfy the craving.

I have since consulted my mom, and we’ve tried to replicate the chili-mac recipe, with moderate success. Please try out the recipe below! It’s very easy to make.

Grandma’s Chili-Mac
Makes 4 servings

1 lb lean ground beef
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 large stick of celery, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
1/2 freshly black ground pepper
salt to taste
2 cups uncooked macaroni

Heat the canola oil and sweat the onions until soft. This should take approximately five minutes on a medium heat.

Next, add the beef in small chunks. Brown the beef until all red color is gone, approximately five minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste, and then add all of the remaining ingredients, aside from the macaroni. Bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a separate pot, cook the macaroni. Once the sauce is cooked, the macaroni can be added, and it can be served immediately. Chili-mac is definitely a comfort food. It’s also a good way to get kids to eat their meat and veggies in disguise… the beauty of tomato sauce!

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