Choose Your Own Chili Adventure

Chili is one of those meals that taste delicious, serves a crowd, is a fine comfort food, makes for great leftovers, freezes well … and you can’t really mess it up. It’s easy to make with even the most basic of ingredients that you have in your pantry. You can take chili to another level or keep it low key. Either way, chili is one of my favorite fall and winter eats.

Chili and cheese quesadilla points – because you are worth it.


Lately, I have been opting for the veggie chili route. It makes me feel healthy-ish and if done well, you don’t miss the meat. I’ve done chili with ground beef, ground turkey, a nice cut of sirloin pan seared and tossed in, with zucchini … the possibilities are endless.
I’m going to share a basic interchangeable recipe that you can take in many directions.
THE BASICS of a decent chili, according to my humble opinion and discerning palate are:
Beans – Most chili’s have an assortment of beans. I say a minimum of two kinds of beans, generally no more than 3. I always throw in a can of black beans and then some other version. Any of the following will do – black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, cannellini beans (aka white kidney beans). Do not use lima beans or butter beans. They are too soft and mushy and you will be doing your chili a disservice. Also, don’t confuse beans with peas, they are not interchangeable. Here is a list of best canned beans according to Real Simple. **Stock up on beans because you can do so much with beans and they are cheap – like around a buck or less a can. Also, if the apocalypse comes, you will have plenty of beans for your survival arsenal.
Maters – Much like in southern bbq sauce (Georgia), the tomato takes a starring role in chili (unless you are doing white chili, but that is a horse of a different color). Two cans of tomatoes – I use a can of diced tomatoes (plain or garlic seasoned) and a can of Rotel (whatever level of heat your heart fancies). **Always have a few cans of Rotel on hand – I use it in chili, dips, grits, hash browns, cornbread, and more. It’s about .90 cents a can and it’s a wonderful addition to many things.

Garlic – 2 tablespoons minced garlic (from the little glass jar of minced garlic because it’s sometimes ok to take shortcuts) or 3-4 cloves finely minced garlic.
**If you have no minced garlic and no cloves of garlic, it’s ok to use garlic powder, but I expect you to do better next time. The best place in the Atlanta area to get spices on the cheap is Your Dekalb Farmers Market
Onion Any color or type of onion will do. Purple aka Red , Yellow, Vidalia, whatever. If it’s a big onion, dice half of it for this recipe. If it’s medium in size, go nuts and dice the whole thing. ** I was out of onion last night and I wasn’t venturing out. I posted a call for onion on my neighborhood Facebook page and got 3 offers. I went with the lady willing to walk it over to me. I didn’t even know her. I met a new neighbor, got to pet her sweet pup, and got an onion. My neighborhood is cooler than yours. She brought a yellow onion if you are wondering.


Spices – Don’t tap out and use a seasoning packet. Be bold and make your own blend. Spices can make or break a dish and as a full grown adult, you should have more than salt and pepper on hand. To make your own chili seasoning you will need chili powder 2 tablespoons, paprika 2 teaspoons, cumin 2 teaspoons, garlic powder 1 teaspoon, salt & peppa to taste (you know Push It is in your head now, you’re welcome). I know I used real minced garlic above, but I like to use both. Because garlic. **Optional additions for chili spice blend: onion powder, red pepper flakes, subbing regular chili powder for ancho or chipotle chili powder.
** Want to get crazy? Some folks add a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg to their chili and some folks even add a tinge of cocoa powder. If you are not a seasoned cook, don’t starting throwing in cinnamon and cocoa willy nilly, start with basic chili and work your way into spice exploration after you nail a basic chili recipe.
Cooking Methods –  If you want quick chili use a pot on the stove, if you want it slow and low opt for the crock pot route. Medium heat for stove top chili, low heat for long cooking crock pot action (as in overnight or for the duration of a work day). Set your crock pot on medium heat if you want it to cook for several hours and eat it up soonish – say if you are running errands for a few hours and want yummy chili when you get home.
In a medium skillet cook the onions on medium heat until almost clear in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. As your onions are turning clearish, pop cans.
Pop open your selected two kinds of beans and drain the goop from the cans of beans over the sink while holding the lid over the can (don’t spill the beans). DO NOT RINSE THE BEANS. You want to the remaining bean goop to thicken your chili. Throw in your spices. Toss in the nearly clear sauteed onions. Dump your cans of tomatoes (do not drain the  tomato juice liquid) into a large pot or crock pot.
Going Green I use the following veggies in some combination: zucchini, mushrooms, carrots. Some folks like corn niblets in their chili and that is their business, I am not one of those people, but you do you. White or yellow corn is fine. If the canned corn is watery and not creamy, drain the liquid before dumping. I saute on medium heat a whole large zucchini roughly cut into bite sized bits in a bit of olive oil until it’s softer than raw, but still has a bite that retains some crispness to it. I do the same for carrots ( 1 large carrot or 2 handfuls of baby carrots roughly cut into bite sized pieces). I do not cook the shrooms, I just slice them and toss them in the pot with the basic ingredients listed in THE BASICS. Shrooms are soft and don’t need to be cooked before being added. **Cook the veggies along with the onions and garlic to save time and pan clean up.
So Meaty – If you want the meats, I suggest a pound of whatever meat you want cooked in the skillet along with the onions on medium heat until no pink remains. If you are doing ground beef you don’t need the oil, beef is a little fattier than chicken or turkey. If you are doing chicken breasts, you can cut it up into small cubes or shred it once cooked. If you are going for steak, cut into bite size chunks and cook with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic, and the onions until nearly done by pan searing and adding into the pot with the basic ingredients listed.
Next Level Meats – You can really get crazy and do a pound of smoked brisket, I wouldn’t cook a brisket specifically for chili, but I would cut up and toss the brisket into chili if it was leftover from a BBQ and you wanted to do something with it. I would also tear it up. Noms.
For Color – If you are visual and like a variety of colors in your food for aesthetic reasons, add  half of a bell pepper, diced. I go for yellow or green because red and orange get lost in the red of the tomatoes. **Bell peppers add flavor and color.

Simmer your chili on medium heat until it begins to bubble up, then reduce heat to medium/low and cook for at least 30 minutes once it has started bubbling. Stir your chili every few minutes if you are doing the stove top route.
If chili is too thick, you can add any of the following liquids in 1/4 cup increments (you can always add more, but you can’t take it away so a little liquid at a time is best) – water, broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable), beer (nothing fancy just cheap time tested stuff like Miller Lite, PBR, no crazy flavors), tomato juice, bloody mary mix. If chili is too watery, use 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste or opt for cornstarch – 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons COLD water poured into your pan or crock pot, stir it in(warm/hot water makes for lumpy cornstarch). See what I mean about improvisation?                                                                        ** I once made a killer roast with half a bottle of Two Buck Chuck and a can of PBR, a few handfuls of potatoes and carrots along with onions, garlic, and rosemary – (post coming soon on that).
Accoutrements– Perfectly grilled grilled cheese (post coming soon, it will change your life), cheesy quesadilla, oyster crackers, saltines, Fritos, Doritos ( I say original not Cool Ranch), tortilla chips, tortilla strips, avocado slices or cubes, onions, Cheez-It crackers, garlic toast … (whatever puts the wind in your sails). Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese, jalapenos (fresh cut if you want to really show off, but from a jar is ok, too).

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