Chili is one of those meals that is a frugal cooks’ best friend and should defiantly be in your cooking arsenal, year round. You can tend it on the stove, set it and forget it in the slow cooker, bang it out in the Instapot; there are no end of ways to make chili. Even better, chili is one of those rare food stuffs that tastes better if you leave it in the fridge for a few days. Below is my go-to recipe for chili with frugal variations included.
2 pounds ground beef or 2 pounds finely minced mushrooms for vegetarian version
Large white onion, minced
6 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste (dollar store)
2 large cans (dollar store) tomatoes, small dice if you can find it
1 and a half cup cups dry beans (pinto, black or kidney or any combination therein) cooked and drained. I like black beans for vegetarian options and pinto beans hold up well with the beef version (you can get all your dry beans at the dollar store). Not a fan of kidney beans but many people like them. You can even do white beans with pork if you like.
1-2 slices leftover bread (from your freezer stash)
4 cups chicken stock from your freezer stash (beef or vegetable stock will also work)
4 large dried chilis, poblano works but any you like will work as well
1 cup boiling water
Spices: couple of tablespoons of mild chili powder, tablespoon of cumin/oregano/garlic salt/pepper/hot pepper flakes to taste and a teaspoon of minced fresh or dry rosemary
For vegetarian: 3 cups, your choice: shredded carrots, small chunks of zucchini, frozen corn defrosted, bell peppers, etc.
Toppings: sour cream, fresh cilantro leaves, shredded cheese, diced red onion, crushed corn chips, small chunks of fresh avocado, diced green onions and fresh thinly sliced jalapeno peppers
Method: Soften the dried chilis in a cup of boiling water, let stand while you sauté the onions and garlic in a hot pan on the stove or using the sauté option in the Instapot. Do not overcook as the garlic will get bitter so it is best to start with the onion in about a 1/4 cup of olive oil in a hot pan and cook until nearly caramelized, you really want some color on the onions because that is what will give your chili depth of flavor. Then add in the garlic, stirring briefly. Stir in the tomato paste and cook on low heat, letting the paste really cook out as it adds another layer of flavor. This is an important step so don’t skip it or rush. Set aside. Sauté the beef or mushrooms using a 1/4 of olive oil for the mushrooms. You won’t need oil if you are using beef. Brown and drain the oil.
Time to put it all together: In a slow cooker (or pot on the stove if you want to tend it), mix the beef with the cans of tomatoes and cooked onion mix. Blend the dried chilis and bread in a blender with the now cooled water and add in the entire mix of water and blended dried, softened chilis and the bread to the chili mix. If making vegetarian, add the vegetables. Add the stock and stir well.
Time for spices. Toast them briefly in a hot skillet on the stove. Then add in spices, about half of what you think you will want. Cook the chili on low for at least four hours and then add in the cooked beans, cooking for another hour on low. If on the stove top, cook on low for an hour before adding the beans and then cook another 20 minutes. Adjust the seasoning in your chili, adding in more at this point if needed (you can store leftover toasted spices in a small glass jar and use them in many other recipes (I usually add mine to a stick of softened butter and use it for flavoring corn bread and corn on the cob). Cook chili for at least another ten minutes on the stove or 30 minutes in the slow cooker. Serve with toppings of your choice. Freezes well and is better the second or third day.
If you are making your chili in an Instapot, follow directions, adding in the beans and spices in a second round, five minutes after cooking everything else (which usually takes 20 minutes or less). I have made chili in the Instapot and on the stove top but I have found my chili has the best flavor if made in the slow cooker.
Variations on a chili theme: Used cubed pork, lamb, beef or chicken that you cooked off as you would the ground beef but reduce the cooking time by a third in all cooking options. If you are using leftover protein that is already cooked, add in during the last spice round. If you use pork, consider adding in a small can of chopped green chilis and using white beans.