How to Make Homemade Chili (without a recipe)

May 25, 2015

beans-315507_640Chili is one of those one pot dishes that’s easy to make, keeps a while and that you don’t need a recipe for.

If you keep your pantry stocked with canned beans, tomatoes, and onions – it’s also a dish you can make when there’s nothing else to eat.

Here are some guidelines for how to make homemade chili – without a recipe.

You’ll need:

  • Onions, medium dice (onions, garlic and peppers are called aromatics.  they form the flavor base of a dish)
  • Garlic
  • Red, green, or jalapeno pepper, medium dice (optional)
  • Canned or dried beans (Pinto, black, kidney, chickpea, white bean – or a combo)
  • Ground beef, chicken, turkey or tofu (optional)
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Diced canned tomatoes (1 28 oz can is usually sufficient)
  • Veggie, chicken stock, beer or water

Some fun/healthy additions:

  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Shredded Kale
  • Corn
  • Diced sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Celery

The process:

  1. Use a large sauce pan – dutch oven is ideal
  2. Warm the pan 1-2 minutes on low medium heat (around stove knob 4-5).  Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil (enough to cover the pan and provide a foil for the aromatics.
  3. Add the onions and peppers, if using.  Cook for 8-9 minutes on low medium heat.  This process is important to develop the flavor of the chili.
  4. Throw in the garlic, cook 30 seconds to 1 minutes.
  5. If you are using ground beef, add it once the onion and garlic is cooked.  Cook on medium heat until it is no longer pink.
  6. If you are not using the ground beef, this is the time to add the beans.  For a big pot of chili, I like to use 3 28oz cans (8-12 cups of beans) and 1 28oz can of diced regular or fire roasted tomatoes.
  7. Now, add spices.  Chili powder and cumin are the two main spices to go in chili.  For the quantity above, I add 2-3 tablespoons of chili powder and 2 teaspoons of cumin.  Season with a healthy pinch of salt.
  8. You can also add a bay leaf and a pinch of cinnamon.
  9. Add your liquid: you can use water, stock, or my favorite, beer.  You’ll need just enough to barely cover the beans.  Knowing how much liquid is the trickiest part of chili.
  10. I don’t typically cover the chili.  But baking it in the oven as opposed to using the stove top will deepen its flavor.  45 minutes to 1 hour in a 350 oven is ideal.  If you are using zucchini, add it halfway through.  Add kale or corn 15 minutes prior to being ready.  And add spinach at the end to wilt.
  11. If the chili starts to look dry, add more liquid a little at a time.
  12. If the chili is too watery, some of the liquid will evaporate during the cooking time.  If it is still watery at the end, drain a little liquid in a cup and reserve just in case.
  13. You’ll want to thicken the chili: You can do these in 3 ways: if you have an immersion blender, pulse the chili 2-3 times.  Don’t overdo.  Or, using a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash a small portion of the beans and stir.  You can also use a blender to pulse 1 cup of beans, but this option is more work/mess.

Ways to upgrade

  • Use ancho, guajillo or other dried chilies – toast and grind in a coffee/spice grinder.  I like to use a mix for depth of flavor
  • Toast cumin seeds and grind for improved flavor
  • Add a couple of squares of chocolate or cocoa powder
  • Grate the zest of an orange and add the juice
  • Add a couple tablespoons of apple cider or other vinegar near the end of cooking
  • Sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon
  • Add can of diced green chilies
  • Use 2-3 cups of salsa instead of tomatoes

 Serve with:

  • Avocado
  • Corn tortillas
  • Tortilla Chips
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Scallions
  • Pickled jalapenos (slice thinly, add pinch of salt and cover with apple cider or wine vinegar for 10 minutes for a quick version.  You can do the same with onion)
  • Pickled red onion
  • Sour cream or yogurt
  • Cilantro
  • Roasted sweet potatoes
  • Rice or quinoa

Repurpose in:

  • Tacos
  • Enchiladas
  • Chimichangas or flautas
  • On top of polenta

Make chili is up to your imagination – you don’t need a recipe.  Start practicing the basics and pay attention the process, and you’ll improve in no time!

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