The best recipe I've ever used for chili
(or heard of)
What follows is, by far, the best recipe for making chili I've ever heard of, and- best of all- I made it up myself. "Made it up" is a bit misleading, though, because this recipe has evolved over many years (probably around 30, in fact) to become the tastiest, healthiest method for making chili ever. I will frequently try recipes my friends have made, but none of them ever holds a candle to the chili I make for myself and my family. Best of all, you can make an enormous batch and it keeps surprisingly well!
Delicious chili. Wow.
Main overall concepts
I've had numerous friends over the years ask me for this recipe. I always tell them it's more about the overall concepts than the recipe, which are:
- Trying to get as many fresh vegetables as possible into the chili (by volume, it's more than half)
- Taking the time to slice the vegetables properly
- Using a base of 1 part tomato sauce, one part kidney beans, and one part meat for the remainder (plus spices, of course)
That's really the main gist of this delicious chili recipe, but I'm going to get very specific with this one. If, for some reason, something isn't 100% clear, just let me know what it is and I'll be glad to tell you. I want you to be able to experience amazing, healthy chili every time, too!
It's worth noting, before we begin, that this makes a "family sized" batch of chili that typically leaves me with more than a week's worth of leftovers. You can also freeze anything that you're not going to use for more than a week, which is a nice bonus.
What you'll need
Ingredients and utensils/tools
- Ground beef (1 pound), preferably 80% lean or higher
- Ground turkey (1 pound)
- Zucchini (2, medium)
- Squash (2, medium)
- Carrots (1 pound)
- Onions (2 large yellow)
- Green peppers (one large or 2 small peppers)
- Jalapeno peppers (10 medium sized ones)
- Tomato sauce (2 x 28 ounce cans)
- Corn (one 16 ounce can, drained)
- 28 ounce can Kidney beans (you can definitely use dried beans too for a more "gourmet" approach)
- Garbonzo beans (chick peas)
- Chili powder (2 tablespoons)
- Cayenne pepper (one tablespoon)
- Paprika (one tablespoon)
- Cinnamon (one tablespoon)
- Garlic powder (one tablespoon)
- Fresh tomatoes (optional)
Utensils and tools:
- One large (2 gallon) pot, preferably nonstick
- One 12" saute pan (also sometimes called a fry pan), preferably nonstick (Calphalon is my favorite brand)
- One rubber spatula
- One hard plastic spoon for stirring (avoid metal if you're using nonstick)
- One ladel for serving and portioning
- One eight inch chef's knife (I love Wusthof Trident, but that's up to you)
- One large cutting board (the bigger, the better)
Almost all the ingredients I needed for 2 weeks worth of chili
Besides health and flavor, another great thing about this particular recipe is economics. You can get all of the ingredients (if you shop carefully) for under $25, and this is enough food to have chili for a meal every day for 2 weeks (for two people).
Step 1: brown the meat
(and season it)
This first step can be done in conjunction with step 2 (prepping the veggies) if you'd like, although you can focus on only one task at a time if that's what you'd prefer. No matter what, make sure the cooking process itself is enjoyable! Cooking at home should be a fun little adventure, not something that you detest. Sure, it will save you a lot of money, but you'll also find a lot of rewarding value in cooking for its own sake, particularly if you take your time to get everything right, and share the food with others.
Start by browning the ground beef and ground turkey in your large saute pan. Use the rubber spatula to separate the meat so that it cooks evenly, and keep an eye on it at first, while you're heating the pan to medium high. Once the meat starts sizzling, turn the heat to medium. After the last trace of pink has disappeared, drain the meat (you can use the rubber spatula to press the meat against the side of the pan if you want; if you want something more thorough, just dump the meat into a colander). Replace the meat to the heat (I'm a poet and don't know it!), and season it with chili powder, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Seasoning the meat while it's still cooking will ensure that the spices are activated by the heat, and absorbed by the ground beef and turkey, making every bite delicious.
Diced (or sliced) carrots
Cutting the carrots can be a bit tedious, so do this first. Start by peeling them, then cutting the ends off and discarding the ends and peels. Slice one carrot at a time in half, lengthwise, then line up both halves, then slice horizontally, producing half circle shapes. They don't have to be perfectly similar in size (they won't be), but if the width is the same, then you're going to have a much better end result.
Step 2: prep the vegetables
To me, this phase is what is going to separate this dish from just another chili recipe. Attempt to use some gourmet techniques to prepare the vegetables. Remember, the key here is to make the slices as uniform as possible, which will help to ensure that the cooking will be very even.
Start by peeling the carrots, since these will take the longest to cook. Peel them first, then cut the tips off, and slice them in half (be really careful, as some carrots are really uneven after peeling!). Now slice the carrots into half moons, as in the picture above.
We're going to use essentially the same concept with the zucchini and squash, except that you don't have to peel them. Instead, you can simply wash them, cut the tips off, slice them in half, and then slice them into half moons. Jalapenos will use a similar concept, except that you'll need to remove the seeds and ribs from the inside. Note: you may want to use a smaller knife for this, but I still prefer my eight inch chef knife, and virtually every other experienced cook I've known has preferred to do the same. Do the same for the green pepper (this will be considerably easier and faster than the jalapenos!). Finally, peel and dice the onion as pictured (and as recorded for Youtube!).
You should notice a pattern for all of the vegetable prep. The veggies are first washed (except for the onion), then the tips are sliced off, then they're sliced in half vertically. After that, each half is sliced into uniform quarter- to half-inch sections. Seeing this pattern will help to make the task that much easier! Now, keep the veggies separate, because you'll want to cook them at slightly different times.
Me peeling an onion
A quick hack
Quick tip for peeling the onions (specifically for dicing)
See the related video. The easiest way to dice onions is to make the peeling process a part of the dicing process, simply by cutting the ends off the onion, then slicing the onion in half, as pictured. This will make the peeling process considerably easier.
Dice the onion into precise, grid-like patterns for better distribution throughout the dish, no matter what you're making.
Step 3: sautee veggies
Now it's time to make the magic happen! Sauteing the vegetables provides a very even, measured cooking technique, and makes each bite have a distinct texture, which is really important (unless you're into Soylent Green). Start by heating your large pot (2 gallons) up over medium-high heat. Give it three minutes or so to heat up, and stay there while it's heating (for safety). Once the pan is hot, throw the carrots in first, and use the rubber spatula to mix them around, making sure each slice gets coated with heat. You don't need to use any oil, provided you're using a nonstick pan, but if you really want to go all out, use a little bit of canola oil (don't use olive oil; the smoke point is far too low!).
Let the carrots saute for at least five minutes. They need a little time to soften up. Next up, throw in all of the remaining vegetables. The squash and zucchini need the least amount of time to cook, as they're inherently soft, but having so many veggies in there after the carrots ensures that the cooking time will be longer for all of them, and it won't matter much once you get the veggies in there. Again, if you'd like to go all out, saute the onion next, then the jalapenos, then the green peppers, and last, the zucchini and squash, but it's really not necessary (in my experience making this for a couple of decades in various incarnations). Lower the temperature to medium when the veggies have a slight sear on them, or when the onions start to become translucent.
Sauteeing vegetables all at once
Step 4: mix and simmer
Now that the meat and veggies are in the works, it's time to combine everything and make the chili happen! Open the cans of beans and drain them (typically, you can just push the lid up against the beans and hold them over a trash can or over your sink, but feel free to use a colander if you're less patient). There's some merit in using dried beans instead of canned beans (mostly texture), but I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's worth it from an economic or gourmet standpoint (hint: no, it isn't, unless you're really comfortable in the kitchen).
Keeping the veggies in the large pot, dump the drained, seasoned meat in there, and add the beans, meat, and tomato sauce to the pot. Let the whole thing simmer for at least an hour on medium heat (you can eat it sooner, but in order for the veggies and beans to properly absorb the flavor, giving it some time is much, much better). Reduce the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer for another hour, if possible.
Step 5: serve!
Use creativity! But here are some simple tips.
And now... Serve! My general chili strategy goes something like this, if it's just for me or me and my girlfriend. On the first day, I'll serve the chili plain, as initially pictured (at the top of this article). If there are guests, I'll do something fancy, like topping with cheese (see picture sequence below), garnishing with fresh jalapenos or cilantro, and adding a dollop of sour cream.
After the first day, on day 2 and 3, I'll usually have leftovers (and trust me when I say that it gets better with time! the flavor becomes uniform). To keep things interesting, that's when I'll typically melt cheese before serving, so it's almost like a different dish. Days 4 and beyond, I might use the chili as burrito filling (melt cheese with it inside of a flour tortilla- delicious!), or use as a topping for eggs with cheese, or as omelet filling. Use your imagination, and have fun with this recipe!