Chili, Simple but Not Plain
Could we take supermarket staples and create a basic chili with great flavor?
Problem: Unfortunately, many basic chili recipes yield a pot of underspiced, underflavored chili reminiscent of sloppy Joes.

Goal: To develop a no-fuss chili that tasted far better than the sum of its common parts: ground meat, tomatoes, and chili powder.

Solution: Add the spices to the pan with the aromatics to get the most flavor, and use commercial chili powder with a boost from more cumin, oregano, cayenne, and coriander. Use 85 percent lean beef for the fullest flavor, and use a combination of diced tomato and tomato puree. Add the beans, red kidney or black, with the tomatoes so that they cook enough to absorb flavor but don't cook so much that they fall apart. Cook with the lid on for half of the cooking time for the best consistency.

Makes about 3 quarts, serving 8 to 10

Good choices for condiments include diced fresh tomatoes, diced avocado, sliced scallions, chopped red onion, chopped cilantro leaves, sour cream, and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese. If you are a fan of spicy food, consider using a little more of the red pepper flakes or cayenne--or both. The flavor of the chili improves with age; if possible, make it a day or up to five days in advance and reheat before serving. Leftovers can be frozen for up to a month.

2 tablespoons vegetable or corn oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine (about 2 cups)
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
2 cans (16 ounces each) dark red kidney
beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can (28 ounces) tomato puree
2 limes, cut into wedges

1. Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed nonreactive Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano, and cayenne; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add half the beef; cook, breaking up pieces with wooden spoon, until no longer pink and just beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add remaining beef and cook, breaking up pieces with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Remove cover and continue to simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally (if chili begins to stick to bottom of pot, stir in 1/2 cup water and continue to simmer), until beef is tender and chili is dark, rich, and slightly thickened. Adjust seasoning with additional salt. Serve with lime wedges and condiments if desired.


Cut 8 ounces bacon (about 8 strips) into 1/2-inch pieces. Fry bacon in large heavy-bottomed nonreactive Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned, about 8 minutes. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat, leaving bacon in pot. Follow recipe for Simple Beef Chili with Kidney Beans, substituting bacon fat in Dutch oven for vegetable oil and equal amount canned black beans for kidney beans.

March, 2003
Original article and recipes by Test Kitchen