There was a time when the most popular Chili used to be quite a bit different than the trendy varieties of today. A time when it was made with simpler ingredients and was served as a family meal, not a culinary adventure. A time when it was saucy enough to add a few crackers – and saucy enough that one HAD to use a spoon. I miss that chili.
My little sister recently suggested I do another Chili post; my last was White Bean and Chicken Chili, posted in 2011. I confessed to her that I couldn’t and somewhat shamefacedly (is that a word) admitted it was because I like this simple Chili we grew up with best, and I didn’t think anyone would be interested in it. It’s nothing fancy, nothing trendy, it’s made with beans and ground beef, tomatoes and spices. It’s considered in culinary circles and by chili aficionados to be a rather inauthentic dish.
My sister, though, surprised me by her vehemence when she said she liked it best, too! The following week I ran into a young lady puzzling over cans of tomatoes in store, consulting with her boyfriend on her I Phone. Turns out she was making her (long passed on) Grandma’s Chili recipe to surprise her Dad, who had been craving it for years. They were concerned, never having had this type of chili that it was too thin and were trying to figure out how to fix it. We went over her recipe, which was almost exactly like my Mother’s. She just needed to cook it longer.
Perhaps comfort food to both my sister and myself, as well as to this unknown (and I’m sure, very happy) man from Minnesota, this Chili is just a simple dish enjoyed by all who ate it just because it was good, all while never knowing any “better!” I concluded that sometimes “Good” is really “Good Enough.”
So here’s my Mom’s recipe, a recipe I’m sure was passed around and turned out by many of her generation, and this is how I make it for my family – but I use Pintos rather than Kidney beans. I always double this and use dried beans for economy’s sake, although one can use canned beans, instead. One package of beans (a pound) is too much, so I soak and cook the whole package and put about three cups of the beans in the chili and store the other cup and a half in the freezer for a later use.
This Chili is generally served with plain old saltines, although corn bread would be good. Add toppings as desired, which my kids love, although my sister and I had never heard of such a thing when we were young!
Old Fashioned American Chili, serves 4
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 1 large onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound chopped (or ground) beef
- 3 cups water (see note)
- 1 1/3 cups canned tomatoes with the juice
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon crushed cumin seeds (use about 3/4 teaspoon ground)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1/8 teaspoon basil
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 15 to 16 ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained, equivalent of 1/3 pound of dried, about one and a half cups, cooked. I substitute Pinto beans.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven, add the onion and garlic and saute until golden brown. Add the meat and brown. (I drain off the excess oil and fat at this point.)
While this is cooking, bread up the tomatoes by hand, squishing them. If the top portion, near the stem is hard and unpalatable, remove.
Add all the remaining ingredients, including tomatoes to the pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered until the sauce is thickened to desired consistency, about three hours (traditionally this chili is served on the thin side.) If desired, add one can of kidney beans just before serving.
note: I often use about a cup and a half of water so it doesn’t need to simmer for quite as long. A good, long simmer is important to meld all the flavors, but three hours, in my mind seems rather excessive. I’ll generally simmer it for an hour and a half or so, give or take, maybe two. I also normally double this – If I’m cooking for so long, it seems a shame to make just one recipe’s worth. Better the next day, this recipe also freezes very well.
Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:
- Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
- Follow my Strategies – You’ll see them all explained on the upper left tab of every page and how I apply them, below.
- Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
- Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.
- Ground Beef: By many, is considered to be a “cheap” meat, but I rarely see any hamburger for sale at less than $2.49 a pound, although now and then it shows up for $1.99 a pound (and I buy it and freeze when I see it on sale.) I can buy the much healthier chicken for 89 to 99 cents a pound and pork butt and loin for 99 cents a pound on a deep sale; chuck roast (for pot roast) can be bought at a low of $2.99 a pound. By comparison, hamburger doesn’t seem to be the greatest bargain out there. One pound is $1.99.
- Tomatoes, canned: These go on sale periodically, and if you’re flexible about brand you can often find inexpensive prices at the same time the producer issues coupons or Catalinas (slips that print out at check out giving you money back if you buy so many. Catalinas are often unadvertised.) Check your coupon matching site and load up when they are at very low prices. I almost always by the large cans and store the portion I don’t use in the freezer. My tomatoes were no cost, but I’ll price it out at 50 cents, which is an easily attainable sales price, half the can for this recipe is 25 cents.
- Onions: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi’s is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes. If you’ve bought too many onions, don’t let them go bad.
- Slice or dice them, saute and portion into Ziplocs labeled “onions” and freeze. You’ve just saved yourself a step for next time you make a dish. If you have enough, consider making French Onion Soup. If you use half an onion, consider if you can sauté the rest and put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. If not store in the door where you’ll see it when you’re cooking next. 1 at 33 cents a pound, about 10 cents.
- Bell Pepper: There are two types of sales, per pound or per pepper. I usually look for the per pepper pricing; in my area it’s generally cheaper – I’ll then buy the biggest, most gorgeous ones I can find. The peppers are often bagged and sold by a unit price, too. A really good price in our area is about a fifty to seventy cents a pepper for the red, yellow or orange ones, and 40 to 75 cents for the green bell. This is one item I seldom buy at Aldi’s. Cost for one, about 69 cents.
- Garlic: I look for a price of about $2.99 a pound, or about 54 cents a head. Check the pricing of the bulk per pound as opposed to the packaged. I never really find it on sale, but I use so much, I pay attention and buy a bit more when I see the price is lower. Cost for 2 cloves, around 2 cents.
- Beans: The lowly bean is one of the healthiest foods one can eat – eating beans regularly basically eliminates the issues so commonly known. Dried beans are so inexpensive to start with that they are seldom advertised as being on “sale,” but they often are after any Holiday in which Ham is considered an option for the main meal. Check for great pricing, too, in the ethnic aisles of the grocery store, as well as the pasta/bean aisle. Prices range, on sale, from $.79 to $1.00 a pound. Aldi’s had three pound bags for $2.39, which is the lower number.
- If you’re used to buying canned beans, unless a 15 ounce can is less than 26 cents with sales and coupons, they are more than the 79 cent per pound price of dried at Aldi’s. A fifteen ounce can is about 1 1/2 cups of beans, and a pound is roughly the equivalent of 3 cans. Cost 26 cents.
Put Your own Spin on It:
- This recipe, can of course, be varied any way you’d like, but like many old fashioned dishes, too many changes may cause them to lose their charm. I’d actually suggest if you’re looking for another type of chili recipe, to start with another chili rather than attempting to modify this recipe into something it’s not.
- A few minor changes may easily be made, like substituting the ground beef for cubes, poblanos for the bell pepper, which would make this a bit more authentic while still keeping in the spirit of the original.