How To Make Chili

Technically, I’ll agree that chili is more of a winter dish than a spring dish, but listen: I feel like it’s something worth knowing how to make and I’m not going to let the ever quickly approaching change in seasons let me put off posting this “recipe” until next winter, because thinking about next winter is far too depressing.

I’m calling this “How To Make Chili” instead of “Follow This Recipe To Make Chili The Way That I Do” because, well, I’m sure that my chili making technique could use some improvement. But if you follow the directions as written here, you’ll get a perfectly good pot of chili. It will be interesting and everyone will like it, but Bobby Flay won’t hunt you down for a throw down.

Here’s what you’ll need, if you intend to follow this recipe exactly.

  • a big onion
  • garlic
  • vegetables (however many varieties you’d like — I used red pepper, green pepper, and mushrooms.)
  • some cooked beans (I used black beans because that was the variety in my freezer)
  • about 1.25 lbs (or however much) meat — I used 93% lean ground beef
  • 2 big cans of crushed tomatoes. Or 1 can crushed, 1 can diced would perhaps be nicer, actually.
  • Spices — I used cumin, chipotle, pepper, and some chili spice mix

A large pot with a lid would also be helpful.

And if you’re feeling daring, like I was, perhaps venture towards the hot pepper aisle. See what happens for you there. I bought these two cute lil’ habaneros. Which I’ve never used before. Ever. But they’re pretty. Will I have the guts to incorporate them into this pot of chili? Well, I guess you’ll have to read on to find out!

But let’s get to it. First up, as usual, is vegetable chopping time. One of my friends/past roommates used to enjoy vegetable cutting time a bit more by pulling a bar stool up to our counter. I always enjoyed that.

Chopping garlic brings me right back to my childhood, when I would spend what seemed like hours chopping garlic for my Dad, trying to chop it as fine as was humanly possible. Clearly, I've given up on that goal.

Aim to keep everything relatively close in size. I guess. Usually people say to do this so that everything has a comparable cooking time, but when you’re cooking something for as long as you’re cooking chili, I don’t think it really matters. Whatever. Just do what you can, but please don’t get out a ruler.

Clearly some of those mushrooms (which I like because of the extra meaty-type texture that they add to the chili) are bigger than some of those peppers. Don’t even get me started on the mushroom:onion ratio…

Put your giant pot on the stove over medium-high heat, and either put a little oil in there, or just spray it with cooking spray. I tend to use cooking spray. Then throw in the veggies. 

It was at this point of my cooking process when I remembered about the habaneros and realized that I had no idea what they actually were, other than pretty. So. I got to googlin’. 

oh geez. “one of the most intensely spicy spieces of chili peppers”? Crap. I am not quite that badass. More googling happened. Some people chop them up & just put them in chili. Some people put a whole pepper in the chili while it’s cooking to just let let it faintly lend some of its flavor. I admire people who roast them and then chop them up & add them to the chili.

For the rest of my cooking process, these little peppers stared me down, challenging me to use them. I’m stubborn. They are, too. But who will win this dispute? 

By now, your vegetables are probably moderately cooked. Ish. Moderately. It doesn’t really matter. Why don’t you add your meat? Or, if you’re not using meat, why don’t you add your beans & spices? 

I threw some chipotle, cumin, chili spice, and black pepper on the meat, and then smushed everything about.

yes. “smushed everything about” is a culinary term.

When that’s looking cooked-ish, why don’t you add the beans? Mine are still frozen here, but that’s just fine.

since taking this picture, I have cleaned my stove top. Don't worry.

I make my chili refined (or something) by adding a little bit of super strong coffee. I read about this somewhere, and it was an easy enough trick to do and it makes me feel fancy. I think it helps to make the flavor of the chili a bit deeper. Plus. I just like the idea of adding strong coffee to things. And I like any excuse to make my kitchen smell like freshly ground coffee beans in the evening. 

I'm not sure if this is a real thing, but I put the coffee through the filter twice when I want it extra-strong for chili. I feel like that makes sense.

and then just pour the coffee in. I probably only made about 3/4 of a cup. Now, it’s tomato time.

I was really excited about finding these big cans of crushed tomatoes because, unlike just about every canned thing in the grocery store, they don’t seem to have much added sodium or preservatives or sugars or artificial flavors or anything. Read some diced tomato labels. You’ll freak out a bit. 

Next time I make this chili, I will probably use 1 can of these crushed tomatoes and 1 can of diced tomatoes. But, if the search for diced tomatoes without funky stuff in them continues to be unfruitful (get it? because a tomato is a fruit? I am HILARIOUS), I’ll stick to these crushed ones. Once, I made chili with actual tomatoes from the farmer’s market. I liked the concept of it a lot more than i liked the process of it. Peeling, chopping, etc, all of those tomatoes was not a ton of fun, it was more expensive, and honestly, it wasn’t as delicious as I expected it to be. Farmer’s market tomatoes are for eating, not for cooking.

Okay, so dump (gracefully) your tomatoes into your pot. Now your chili will start looking more attractive.
I added a little bit of water at this point. The chili was just too thick, and I wanted to cook it together for a while longer, so knew it would give off water. Something that is very much feared in my family is soupy chili, so I was very cautious with the amount of water that I added.

All right. So everything is in there. Bring it to a boil, and then cover it & turn the heat on low so that it simmers.

UGH! You jerk of a habenero! I forgot about you AGAIN. Brat.

That pepper honestly sat right on top of lid while I paced around my apartment deciding what to do with it.

Let’s just say that whatever habenero flavor got into my chili was osmosis-ed through the pot lid into the chili. I googled too much and was scared of cutting it open–I feared that my entire kitchen and everything I owned would be forever covered with oil from “one of the most intensely spicy spieces of chili peppers” on earth and that I would never be able to be in my kitchen without crying from the pain of the heat ever again. Plus, I added quite a bit of chipotle spice, and my chili had a good flavor at this point.

sorry, lil guys. I'm sure you'll make friends with the other stuff in my trash can.

Be sure to mix your chili around every once in a while so that nothing burns on to the bottom of the pan. When you’re mixing the chili, also taste it to see if you’d like to add any more spices. Basically cook it for however long you’d like — I usually let it simmer for 45 minutes to an hour because that’s how much time it takes for my entire apartment to smell like delicious chili. It’s not until the aroma overpowers my apartment that I remember that I’m actually cooking it and that I should finish up that cooking process.

Clearly, the chili could not be contained in the pot, and some of it dripped over the side during the cooking process. Charming, huh? But see how it cooked down and is no longer even remotely soupy?

It’s done!

I was cooking this for future freezer meals, so portioned it out the way that I described in the Turkey, White Bean, and Green Stuff soup post and stuck the lil baggies in my freezer for future enjoyment.

So there you have it! Pretty good, albeit not revolutionary, chili. Posted just in time for spring!

Anyone have other chili tips?



11 Comments to “How To Make Chili”

  1. YuM! I love chili! I have used habaneros just a little bit. When I want to check out a chili’s hotness, I put one seed on my tongue and see how spicy it is. If I’m afraid it’s too hot, I trim out the seeds and ribs and just use the outside. Supposedly a lot of the heat is in the seeds and ribs. What I have heard about habaneros is that they vary immensely in heat depending on how and where they are grown. Some are nuclear hot, some are just normal. They scare me a bit too, but I love spice! I don’t love chipotle though. I don’t like smoked things very much.

    I very much love your writing style and really enjoy reading your blog. It’s the only blog I read basically. I read all about how to make chili even though I already make an awesome chili I am very happy with. One trick I do though is I mush the spices into the ground meat. I think this flavors the meat itself in a yummy way. Also I always use ground turkey breast because I don’t like or eat red meat. I don’t believe in eating the meat of things that are much bigger than I am.

    • thanks for the tips on the habaneros, Lara. I always think i’m more daring than I actually am when I wander into the pepper section. Interesting how location leads to differences in heat.

      i love smoked flavors. But i’ll still try your chili, if you bring me some 🙂

  2. Coffee- it’s not just for breakfast anymore!
    Next time I make chili, I will add some ‘joe.
    Thanks for the suggestion.

    As for your habaneros- have you considering making a jerk marinade with them? A little goes a long way…

    • those habaneros are long in the trash can, Mimi, and I don’t anticipate buying them without first buying rubber gloves to wear while cutting them. I’m scare of those lil dudes!

  3. I’m not a coffee drinker so I definitely would never add it, but it’s an interesting idea. I normally add a litte Spenda or something. I like the spicy/sweet flavor. Chili is such a good stable that’s for sure.

    Great post and practical as always.

    Keep the posts coming!!


    • You can’t really taste the coffee at all. I actually have no idea. i just pretend that it leads to a deeper, earthier tasting chili. But that’s could be all in my head.

  4. I’ve never heard of the coffee thing before. Interesting. I have added a little chocolate to mine before. It’s interesting, especially if you have a lot of spicy heat in it.

    oh yeah, & you ARE hilarious! I totally giggled at the sad peppers face^_^

    • Yeah, i forget where i read about the coffee. I just like adding some kind of depth to the flavor, so that it’s not just HOT HOT HOT LOOK I”M CHILI I”M BURNING YOUR FACE OFF WHEEEEEEE!
      which is what i think those habaneros would have done.

  5. Sarah!
    You forgot pumpkin!! That’s what makes chili more delicious.
    Also, I used to stool because I couldn’t stand…but I like your version better.

  6. I can’t stop laughing at dump (gracefully) and I want to eat that whole pot of chili. Good work, Snovello.

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