Chili from Scratch

A highly seasoned favorite. To speed things up, use canned beans (see the variations).
TIME 2 to 3 hours, mostly unattended
MAKES 6 to 8 servings
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef, pork, or a combination
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
2 cups chopped tomatoes (diced canned are fine; don’t bother to drain)
1 or 2 fresh or dried hot chiles, seeded and minced
1 pound dried pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and picked over, and soaked if you like
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

1 Put the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the ground meat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Adjust the heat so it sizzles steadily and cook, stirring occasionally to break it up, until the meat browns all over, 5 to 10 minutes.

2 Add the onion and cook, stirring every once in a while, until it softens and turns golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and oregano and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes fragrant, just another minute.

3 Add the tomatoes, chile, and beans to the pot, along with enough water to cover everything by 2 to 3 inches. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the mixture bubbles steadily but not furiously, and cover. Cook, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. After that, stir the chili every 20 minutes or so and adjust the heat so it continues to bubble gently; add more water, ½ cup at a time, if the chili ever starts to stick to the bottom of the pot.

4 When the beans begin to soften (this will take 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the type of bean and whether or not you soaked them), sprinkle with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if the pot looks too dry, until the beans are quite tender but still intact—this will take about the same amount of time as it took for them to soften. When the beans are very tender, taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve, garnished with the cilantro.

  • Chili with Canned Beans. This cuts the cooking time down to about 35 minutes and is an easy adjustment: Drain and rinse about 4 cups (two 15-ounce cans) canned beans; add them instead of the dried beans in Step 3. Don’t add any water. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a bubble, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything thickens, 20 minutes or so. Then continue with Step 4.
  • Chili with All Sorts of Beans: Try black beans, white beans, chickpeas, or even lentils (which will be ready 30 minutes after you add them to the pot).
  • Chunky Chili: Instead of ground beef, use pork butt or beef chuck, cut into 1-inch chunks. Brown the pieces on all sides in Step 1 and continue with the recipe.

  • When you’re working with chiles, do not touch your eyes or any other tender areas, and be sure to wash your hands well—with warm water and soap—after you’ve handled them. Wash them twice for that matter. (If you’ve got rubber gloves that are thin enough so you can safely wield a knife while wearing them, consider going that route.)

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