Recipe: Upgrading Mom's Chili

I am going to start off with mom's recipe as-is, so if you don't want to go any further you don't have to. But I do have some tips, tricks, and upgrades I've done to make it a little cheaper, and a little healthier along the way. But we'll get to that.

Every year on Halloween, we had chili for dinner. It was a great way to have a nice warm dinner on for whoever wanted to eat it, whenever they were ready. Last minute costume adjustments, homework, etc. before trick or treating, plus that and the candy sorting... it made for a busy evening! So having chili in the crockpot was great, because we could have a bowl before we went out (thus ensuring no cranky, hungry kids being too tempted to dig into too much candy before we got home!) and usually another when we got home to warm up.

We also figured out the best way to eliminate the gassiness usually associated with chili: Start this recipe before 10am! By dinner around 5 or 6, most of the complex starches that cause the gas (by fermenting in your intestines) have cooked down into more simple starches, which are easier for your gut to handle. No gas! But still complex carbohydrates.

Mom's Halloween Chili
1 lb ground beef (see tips below about making this vegan!)
1 medium yellow onion
1 green pepper
5 cans beans--we will get to this
2 cans tomatoes (diced, stewed, with or without complementary flavorings, doesn't matter)
1 packet chili seasoning

  1. Brown the beef with the onions and pepper, and put in crockpot.
  2. Dump your beans in with most of their juices (I usually drain off just what dumps easily), and the seasoning packet. Stir. 
  3. Turn on low for 6-8 hours
Yes it really is that simple. This will get you a hearty, though relatively mild chili--good for olderly and kids. Serve topped with shredded cheddar, diced onion, and maybe sour cream. Have a hot sauce bar nearby for anyone who likes their chili to burn!

Upgrades, tips and tricks
  • Choosing beans: Mom's recipe calls for 1 can Northern White beans, 1 can Pinto beans, 1 can dark red kidney beans, and 2 can chili hot beans. The latter are just small red beans with chili seasonings. Finding kidney beans without sugar is hard, and chili hot beans without extra junk is nigh impossible. I also like to have black beans, so almost any combination of beans that sounds good will work. (Not garbanzo, yuck.) 
  • The seasonings: This was hard to get right. Seasoning packets are riddled with bulking agents like simple starches, sugar solids, even wood pulp AKA cellulose. They're difficult to find gluten free and often aren't vegan. I have figured out a seasoning combo through the years that has worked (Now this is a guesstimate, remember I'm a dump cook): 2 tbsp chili powder, 1.5 tbsp cumin, 1.5 tbsp garlic powder, 1.5 tbsp onion powder, salt & pepper. You can taste it right away, if it needs more or seems perfect, ADD MORE. The seasonings soak in pretty well. 
  • Making it vegan: This is actually the same recipe that my brother and I always used to take vegan chili to church events, where we had a lot of vegan friends. Everything is vegan except the meat itself (though you should check your cans of beans and seasoning packets because some brands aren't), so it's really easy! Just eliminate that and you have a good beany chili. Or, you can put in a cup of bulgar wheat or TVP, both of which will sweeten up the pot a bit and absorb more seasoning, so you have to add some more spices. Lentils have been a big hit as well. 
  • Adding more vegetables: You can also add carrots and zucchini, either in puree form or in chunks. Both of those will add some sweetness so again, more seasoning is needed. If you do add vegetables, drain the beans. And of course, any additional chili peppers are going to be delicious. 
  • Adding more meats: I like to use turkey or chicken in this instead of or in addition to the beef (depending on whether I need to stretch it), and/or we will add bite-sized chunks of hot dogs. There's also the option of cooking the hot dogs whole in the chili, and putting them on buns that way--which is always delicious. Once we added all the leftover meats from breakfast, tacos, and turkey dinner to the pot and ended up with a 5-animal, 7-meat chili. That was pretty awesome. 
  • NOT Adding other stuff: I did add rice once. It was good, but I had to double my seasonings. And I think I prefer it without. Just not my style. Garbanzo beans were not my style either, though some people at that party seemed to like them. I do not like this with mushrooms, though a white chicken chili with mushrooms sounds really good. 
  • Low carb/No beans! If you're going for a meat-only chili (or at least a bean-free one), I highly recommend doing the meats with different textures. Ground turkey, shredded chicken, and chunky stew beef make a REALLY good chili with the rest of the veggies mentioned and the seasoning above. 
  • Stovetop: Once the meat is cooked, you're just heating up the canned foods. This can be ready in 20 minutes but, gas. Take a beano or something. 
  • Pressure cooker with dried beans: Use 1/2 cup of each bean, 3 cups of liquid for each cup of beans, and the rest is the same. You'll have chili from dried beans in an hour, but the gassiness is brutal. 
  • Dried beans in the crockpot: I'm still working on perfecting that. If you're going to try it, you have to soak the beans first, and the liquid requirements far overflow the crockpot so you can't turn it on and ignore it overnight--you have to be around to keep adding water and last time I think it took like 12 hours. Also, dried beans absorb WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY More flavor than canned. Use stock of some kind instead of just water, double or triple the seasonings besides the chili powder, don't skimp o the salt, and then keep adding chili powder to taste close to the end. Put some extra fresh onion in there, some fresh garlic, and definitely when using dried beans, I'd add fresh chilis. 


  1. I usually add a cup of frozen corn and a couple of diced jalapeno's to mine. And the combo of pressure cooked beans the night before, and then crockpot all day achieves the same as long cooking, from dried beans (does take a little bit more work, but since I always have dried beans on hand, it's not any more forethought then remembering to get the right combo of stuff when I'm at the grocery).


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