Here at PB&J we have lots of chili recipes, some with ground meat, some with chunks of meat some with no meat at all! Chili is the perfect dish for the fall, great for cooler evening dinners, easy enough to make up for a large group, and it can be made fast enough for any weeknight meal! As much as we here at PB&J love recipes (and, I mean, we have a whole segment of our website devoted to them, so we love them quite a bit) sometimes using a recipe just isn’t quite the right move.
So how do you make chili without a recipe? Well, chili can be broken into a formula with 5 basic parts:
LIQUID + SPICES + VEGGIES + PROTEIN (OPTIONAL) + BEANS (OPTIONAL IF YOU’RE FROM CINCINNATI)
Liquid is the most important element in figuring out the math of your chili. As a good starting point, let’s begin with 4 cups of liquid. With 4 cups, you can serve about 6-8 people a good serving of chili. Your liquid can come from anything: stock, canned tomatoes/tomato sauce (unseasoned), and even water. I prefer chili to have tomatoes, so I use 2 cans (fire-roasted when I have them) and about 2 cups of stock.
Spices. For me, classic chili flavor depends a lot on the spices! It’s just not chili unless it has cumin and a little bit of (spicy) heat. A good place to start (with our 4 cups of liquid) is 2 tbsp of cumin and about ½ tsp of chili flakes (a full tsp if you like it hot, ¼ tsp if you can’t take the heat). I also like to add in 1 tbsp of coriander, 1 tbsp of smoked paprika, ½ tsp of dried oregano, and a pinch of cinnamon. I love 6-7 cloves of garlic minced up in my chili, but if you’re not a garlic head, you can use less or skip it all together. A bay leaf or two while it simmers also adds great flavor!
Veggies! I love a thick, rustic chili with lots of veggies. They add a ton of flavor, plus a powerful nutrition punch. For our 4 cups of liquid, I like about 2-3 cups of veggies. I like some onion, some carrot, and of course some peppers (sweet or spicy, or both– chili does get its name from chili peppers, after all). I’ve also tried some recipes that add celery, and a few that add sweet potato, both perfectly delicious.
Protein. There’s a hot debate in chili circles over what type of protein is best, cubed meat or ground meat. To me, the nice thing about chili is that it can easily accommodate any type of protein, even vegetarian options. For our 4 cups of liquid, I like about 1 lb of meat. I like ground turkey and chicken as lean options, ground beef and cubed stew-beef (look for chuck or round), and even ground pork. If you want a meat substitute, I had an amazing seitan chili that made me ask the cook to promise that it contained no meat! Which brings us to…
Beans. Soak up all that good flavor, and add that perfect texture to your chili. Traditionally black beans, pintos, and kidney beans are the “chili beans” but you can get creative: navy beans, black-eyed peas, and chickpeas are all good in chili. Always drain and rinse canned beans, unless you plan on simmering them for a long, long time, as that fluid contains a lot of the protein that makes many folks feel gassy. I usually use 2 cans of beans, if you want to leave out meat, I suggest doubling that.
BONUS! Toppings! Half the fun of eating chili is scooping on your favorite toppings. You’ve got so many good choices: shredded cheddar or jack cheese (get 2% for a leaner option), sour cream (again, you can choose the low-fat option), plain Greek yogurt, avocado with lime, pickled jalapeños, crushed tortilla chips, sliced black olives, chopped scallions, chopped cilantro, fresh squeezed lime juice, and even chili flakes or hot sauce if you like that extra kick.
What are your favorite chili combos?