Chili with ground beef and beans

Chili is great food for cold weather–it is January as I write this. There are jillions of recipes, with beans or not, with tomatoes or not, with ground or cubed meat. This has become our regular go-to chili and because it freezes well we make big batches and almost always have some in the freezer. Also it can be made a few days ahead and reheated.

While some chilis are made without beans, I think they are an important part of a good chili. Most important, they taste good, but also are nutritious and low cost. You can use canned but I prefer to cook my own. Pinto beans or red kidney beans are traditional.

The chili flavor is of course the center of the dish. While some recipes go to the trouble of toasting, cleaning, and grinding dried peppers, I have found you can get equally good if not better results with high quality chili powder. This is *not* the chili powder off the rack at the supermarket! I like to mail order it from the southwest, where the best chilis are grown. I can recommend the company Made in New Mexico for really good chili powder and other regional foods.

Cumin is a major spice here. While you can buy ground cumin, you’ll get much better results by toasting and grinding your own.

You’ll note the treatment of the ground beef with salt and baking soda. I learned this technique from a cooking magazine. The baking soda quickens the browning of the meat so you get a decent result before the meat overcooks.

How to serve this? Over plain rice is one idea. I also like to put a piece of cornbread in a bowl and top with the chili. Or cornbread on the side. Homemade tortilla chips are good too. You can top it with various things such as grated cheese, chopped radishes or red onion, chopped cilantro, sour cream, chopped scallions, avocado, etc.

  • 1 lb dry pinto beans or 3-15 oz cans
  • 2 lb ground beef, preferably 85% lean chuck
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 large or 6 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil or bacon drippings
  • 1 to 4 TB chili powder, to taste (mild to spicy!)
  • 2 TB ground cumin
  • 1 TB garlic powder
  • 1 TB paprika, preferably the Spanish smoked kind
  • 1 TB dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1-15 oz can diced tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 TB sugar
  • 1/2 TB ground black pepper
  • 2 TB balsamic vinegar

For dry beans, wash and put in a large pan covered by about 2″ of water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover. After about an hour, drain and discard the liquid. Add fresh water to cover and bring to a simmer. Start checking after 40 minutes, it might take up to an hour. When they are “al dente” – still a bit firm – remove from heat and drain, reserving the liquid. Set aside.

For canned beans, drain, reserving the liquid, and set aside.

Mix the beef thoroughly with the baking soda and salt, adding 2 TB water. Hands are great for this! Set aside for at least 15 min.

Heat the oil (medium-high heat) in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 5 min. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring, until the beef is browned. This may take 10-15 min. Don’t break the beef into tiny pieces, leave it in 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks. It will give off some liquid. Add the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, and oregano. Stir for a few minutes.

Add the beans, tomatoes, sugar, and black pepper along with 1 c water and enough bean liquid to give the consistency of a really thick soup. Cover and bring to a slow simmer for 1-1/2 hours, stirring every now and then. Add water if needed.

Add vinegar. Taste for salt and add if needed. Stir well before serving.

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