My Three-bean Chili is a hearty, spicy, satisfying bowl of red you can have on the dinner table in 45 minutes or less. Recipe below.
You know, I was going to start this post about two chili recipes with a semi-apologetic note about some of the less than traditional ingredients in them. Then I got an email newsletter from Better Homes and Gardens’ site, bhg.com, with 20 chili recipes that used everything from chocolate bars to portabella mushrooms, cream cheese, wild rice, pineapple chunks and sprigs of fresh thyme! So maybe non-traditional is the new traditional.
Besides, who gets to say what’s traditional? In Cincinnati, traditional means adding cinnamon. In Texas, adding beans to chili is akin to a hanging offense. So who’s right? Not Cincinnati or Texas, as far as I’m concerned—but that’s just my opinion, nothing more. In the end, maybe all you can say of what’s traditional is that chili is a comfort food with robust flavors and spices [although not necessarily fire] and a bigger personality than, say, most soups or stews.
I said I was going to talk about two chili recipes. Marion and I each have our own separate but equal recipes, and we like them both—a lot. Whose chili gets made any given time depends on who has the time to cook at the moment and which flavor we’re craving. Both recipes include beans [adios, my Texas readers]. Both also use red wine, and one uses soy sauce. But these aren’t precious, dainty chilis. The less than traditional ingredients disappear into these robust dishes, leaving behind only a satisfying depth.
The more astute among you probably noticed that part of this post’s title was Part I. So today, I’ll give you one recipe, mine. You’ll have to wait for Marion’s delicious chili in a future post.
Terry’s Three-bean Chili
Serves 3 to 4, with potential stretchable leftovers
This hearty chili uses plenty of spice to deliver a big flavor, but not big heat [if it’s fire you want, you can adjust for it]. I use three varieties of beans not so much for taste, but because it looks cool. You can mix it up or use all the same. And while this simple recipe may not be the chili to end all chilis, it produces a reliably satisfying bowl of red—and quite possibly one of the best you can put on the table in 45 minutes or less.
1 14-1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes with juices, preferably unsalted
3 15-oz. cans beans, drained and rinsed [black, red or pinto and great northern]
2 tablespoons tomato paste, preferably unsalted
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup [plus more] water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 lb. lean ground beef [I use ground round or sirloin]
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 medium yellow onion
2 stalks celery
salt to taste
Combine first eight ingredients in a stock pot and bring to boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook, uncovered.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil and ground beef, breaking up beef as you brown it for about five minutes. Grind a generous amount of black pepper over the beef as it browns. Sprinkle roughly half the cayenne pepper over the browning ground beef; add the rest to the stock pot. While beef is browning [or immediately after, if you don’t feel like multi-tasking], peel and roughly chop onion and slice celery into 1/2″ pieces. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beef to stock pot. Add celery and half of the onion, stirring to mix completely.
Let chili cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes to let flavors mix and develop, stirring occasionally and adding water by 1/4 cups if chili gets too thick [be judicious here—you don’t want to make it too watery]. About 15 minutes into the half-hour of cooking time, add the rest of the onion. This will give some of the onion a little more bite, a trick I learned from Marion. Taste and add salt [as needed—canned products, particularly tomatoes, can add lots of salt on their own].
Serve chili as is, or with grated cheese, sour cream, chopped green onions, hot sauce or additions of your choice. Myself, I like it naked.
How spicy is good for you? This recipe, made as above and using only a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper, is very flavorful but [to my palate, at least] not hot. But heat is very subjective. If your taste runs to mild, rather than reduce the amount of chili powder, choose a mild one. The Spice House offers chili powders ranging from mild to hot, so you can get all the flavor while controlling the heat. Don’t skimp on the cumin either—it doesn’t add much heat, but its big aroma and flavor are the very foundation of the taste of chili. I didn’t realize this until once, years ago, I was buying chili powder at the wonderful spice shop at Soulard Farmers Market in St. Louis. The clerk asked me if I needed cumin too. I said I didn’t know. She said, “If you’re making chili, you do.” With that, she opened a container of cumin and gave me a whiff of its distinctive, powerful aroma. She was right—I needed cumin.
Getting a headstart. Over the years, I’ve refined the order of cooking steps to get from raw ingredients to steaming bowls of red as quickly as possible, making it a great work week dish. But this is a dish you can easily start the night before, getting it to the table even quicker the next night. And if anything, it tastes even better because the flavors have been swapping and percolating in the fridge overnight. Just mix the first eight ingredients in a large pot or bowl, but don’t heat them. Brown the ground beef as described above and stir it into the tomato/beans mixture. Let it cool briefly and then store covered in the fridge. The next night, just put the chili on the stove and add the onion and celery as described above.
Stretching leftovers. Depending on how many people you serve the first time around and how hungry everyone is, you can usually get an extra meal out of this recipe. Two variations we love are chili mac—just cook up some spaghetti or vermicelli and serve the reheated chili over it—and chili dogs. When it comes to chili dogs, by the way, if you can pick it up, you haven’t put enough chili on it. Put the dog and bun on a rimmed plate and add chili ’til you can’t see the dog. You can add various condiments—mustard, onions, relish—or grab a fork and eat it as is. If you’re running a little low on leftover chili, add another can of tomatoes to stretch it. My first choice is a 10-ounce can of Rotel Original Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies, juice and all. First, the small amount is usually all I need to stretch what’s left of the chili for a second meal. And second, it delivers a wonderful spicy kick, both heatwise and flavorwise. It’s available in Latino markets and the ethnic aisles of many supermarkets.