Basic Chili

Chili, an American dish, is tasty, economical, healthy and quick


Many people enjoy their own versions of chili. If you consume canned chili, or have no recipe of your own, here is how to make a basic red chili that you can tailor to your own tastes. There is no reason why anyone should have to eat canned chili these days. A good chili should have a clean, savory taste, and the ingredients should be individually recognizable. There should be no evident grease or oil. In fact, the nutrients in chili are well-proportioned, with carbohydrates, protein and fats in well-rounded, healthy amounts. The only thing missing is grains, which can be added by eating bread with the chili; a good crusty French baguette or whole-grain loaf is ideal.

Keep cans of tomatoes and kidney beans, yellow onions, crushed garlic and prepared chili powder in stock. The only other thing you need is minced beef, which can be kept on hand frozen. Use a good-quality beef, with 80% lean. More lean does not cook well, less lean encourages grease. Start by sauté-ing about a half pound of beef and a chopped medium onion for enough chili for two. Add about a tablespoon of chopped garlic, or to taste, and brown thoroughly, until the onions are golden and transparent. When cooked, add about a tablespoon of medium-hot prepared chili powder, or to taste. Good chili powder (a mixture of ground red chile and cumin, perhaps with salt and garlic) is essential. The best comes from New Mexico, or from good spice distributors like Penzey's in Wisconsin. Mix the chili powder well into the cooked onions and beef. If there is any visible fat in the frying pan, it can be spooned out before the chili powder is added.

Open the cans of kidney beans and tomatoes. You can use any kind of bean you want (except green beans), but kidney beans are very good. Wash the kidney beans under cold water. Put the tomatoes into a saucepan and mash them with a potato masher (unless already chopped). Mashed whole tomatoes are probably most satisfactory. Then add the beans, and the onion and meat mixture from the frying pan, and stir. Heat, and add salt to taste. Do not use black or white pepper with chili! Add more chili powder if the spiciness is not up to your standards. The chili is ready to eat when hot; it improves slightly with aging, but is good right away, unlike other soups and stews. If you are slow and deliberate, you can use up most of a half-hour preparing a pot of chili, but it can be ready more quickly if necessary.

This chili is very much like the Stouffer's frozen chili (which is quite palatable) but very much cheaper. Stouffer's adds chopped green chile, which is OK, but a bit antagonistic to the red chile in the prepared powder. Chile Con Carne is really a somewhat different dish, and should not be confused with American chili.


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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 21 March 2001
Last revised