White-girl green chili

Green chili rules Pueblo, Colo., the city about 50 miles south of where I live. The Travel Channel recently did a "Food Wars" episode on the slopper competition between two Pueblo establishments (sloppers, for the uninitiated, are hamburgers smothered in green chili), and the annual Chile & Frijoles Festival has been THE summer celebration for 16 years running. The highlight of the Chile & Frijoles Festival is the chili competition.

My youngest sister, Susan, a resident of Pueblo, has made green chili her signature dish. For years she's brought green chili to family gatherings, given jars filled with the spicy nectar of the gods for Christmas, fielded and filled requests from co-workers and neighbors for jar after jar. Family, friends, neighbors -- many of whom are Hispanic natives of the city who have been devouring green chili for decades -- regularly exclaim that Susan's green chili is the best green chili they have ever tasted.

Yet Susan could never muster the nerve to enter the annual chili competition. She's a white girl, she kept telling herself; how could she expect to win a green chili contest entered by many whose families have passed down green chili recipes through generations?

Well, this year Susan did muster the nerve. She roasted, peeled and seeded her chilies. She crossed her fingers. She hoped the accolades she'd heard for years were warranted and that her white-girl green chili truly could earn one of the coveted top spots at the Chile & Frijoles Festival.

Yesterday, Jim and I and a few other family members braved the unrelenting heat of Pueblo to show our support of our little sister in the "chili and salsa showdown" at the 16th Annual Chile & Frijoles Festival.

As always, there were three categories: salsa, red chili and green chili. Seventy-three people entered the green chili competition -- the most popular category, according to the judges -- including Susan. Only three would be awarded a (small) cash prize and bragging rights. Forget the cash prize; the bragging rights were what Susan wanted most.

After several hours of walking among the booths in the carnival atmosphere, downing water, and eating kettle corn, the time finally came for the winners to be announced. Susan -- and the rest of us -- held our breath as the judges first named the three winners of the salsa contest.

Then they named the three winners of the red chili contest.

Then came the winners of Susan's category -- the green chili category.

And winning in third place, the very first name announced, was ... SUSAN!

Whoops and hollers, kudos and congratulations came from her assembled fan club! Susan made her way to the table to accept her certificate.

"There are some new names to the contest," the announcer said, and one of those name was my sister's. She had broken into the inner ring of the best of the best green chili-makers in the state. The very first time she entered!

My little sister and her white-girl green chili are true winners, true contenders. And she now has bragging rights to prove it.

Competitors at next year's festival take note: Plans for a triple-threat are brewing. Susan makes a pretty darn good red chili, too, and has already started brainstorming ideas for tweaks to the green to move her up to first place. Her partner, Mike, well, he's known for mixing up a mean, masterful, mouthwatering salsa. Like I said: Beware!

For my part, I'm happy to say I'll likely be one of the fortunate taste-testers throughout the coming year as Susan and Mike perfect their entries. And without a doubt, I'll be a happy recipient of some award-winning, white-girl green chili come Christmas!

Congratulations, Susan!

Today's question:

Have you ever entered a recipe or cooking competition?