Chili is a thick soup with ingredients that vary by family recipes, regional ingredients and personal tastes. The most common versions are made with beef, tomatoes or tomato sauce, onions and spices, with kidney beans as a popular optional ingredient. Some recipes use poultry or pork instead of beef and chili flavors range from mild and savory to searingly hot. Chili pairs well with a range of foods, toppings and beverages.
Cornbread provides a good texture and its slightly sweet flavor accentuates chili spices. Toasted garlic bread dipped in chili is a tasty accompaniment, as is crusty French or Italian bread. Tiny oyster crackers mixed into the soup add body. Buttery snack crackers or saltines go well with chili, served on the side or crumbled on top. Some diners like dipping grilled cheese sandwich triangles into their chili.
Chili is served in some areas atop spaghetti, much like a pasta sauce. Rice is also used as a base, placed on the bottom of the bowl and smothered with the soup. Cooked elbow macaroni gives chili more substance and texture and, if left in the chili overnight in the refrigerator, the macaroni absorbs the spices and flavorings of the mixture. Adding frozen or canned corn kernels gives chili more color and adds nutrients and fiber to the dish.
To accommodate the wide range of tastes people desire in a bowl of chili, it is frequently served with a selection of toppings to be added after it is served. At parties and in restaurants, this condiment selection is called a chili bar. Favored dairy toppings include shredded cheddar, jack or Parmesan cheese, sour cream or creme fraiche. Popular vegetable condiments are sliced or chopped fresh or canned jalapeno peppers, chopped yellow, white or green onions, diced canned green chiles, roasted red peppers, freshly chopped red and green bell peppers, chopped fresh tomatoes, sliced radishes, avocados and sauteed fresh mushrooms. Less common chili toppings include bacon bits and refried beans.
The bold tastes of chili stand up well to richly flavored beverages. Frosty mugs of ice-cold beer are a common companion, as well as full-bodied red wines and fruity wine punches such as sangria. The lime and tequila in margaritas complement the spices in chili. Teetotalers and children often prefer a sweet carbonated beverage or lemony iced tea to accompany their bowl of chili.