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Chilli with Beans

June 28, 2011

As requested by my friend Pam, here’s my chilli recipe.

Of course, I had to make it last night so I could actually write down what exactly I use, and how much. I’ve had to do that with a lot of my recipes, because when I cook, I tend to just use, oh, this much of that and a good sized spoonful of the other. When people have asked me for recipes before, I’ve often been at a bit of a loss to think exactly how I do cook it.

So it’s a good practice to keep that in mind if you use any of these recipes: the amounts of ingredients I use can often vary wildly, so feel free to adjust up or down as you prefer. Especially with something like a chilli, where peoples’ tastes – for heat, spiciness, etc. – can be quite individual.

The key to cooking this chilli is to cook it slow and low: simmer it for at least an hour, up to 2 or even 3, to let the meat come really tender, and a good, rich sauce develop. You’d think, having said that, that this recipe would be a natural for the slow cooker, but experience has taught me that it ain’t. The one time I cooked it in the slow cooker, the result was quite bland. So just use a good, heavy-bottomed pan and low heat.

If you can’t be fagged soaking and cooking dried beans, use a tin or two of kidney beans. They taste just as good, the main difference is that beans soaked overnight and cooked will have a soft, creamy texture while the tinned beans are more al dente, as it were.

If you want to make a vegetarian version, just double the amount of beans (or more, even) and use a vegetable-based stock (if I use stock powder, the brand I use is vegetable-based, anyway).

What do I need?

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of dried red beans (kidney, pinto, borlotti, etc.)
    or use 1 or 2 tins of kidney beans
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large or 2 small red chillis
    (use however much you’re comfortable with, heat wise)
  • 1 kg of steak
    – use a stewing cut like blade or chuck steak. You can use mince if you like, but I like a good, chunky chilli
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 cup of stock
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
    or 2 tsp cumin seeds, ground in a pestle & mortar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • Tomato paste
  • Salt
  • Grated cheese (cheddar, or Monterey jack if you have it)
  • Sour cream
  • Corn chips or cooked rice, to serve


  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp hot smoked paprika

What do I do?

Soak the beans in a bowl of water overnight, the night beforehand.

Drain beans, then put them in a pot of fresh, cold water. Bring the pot to the boil, then cook the beans on low heat for about an hour or so, until the beans are nice and soft on the tooth. Once you’ve got the beans going, time to get started on the main event.

Slice the onions, drizzle some oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan or dutch oven, and fry the onions gently for 5 minutes, until they go soft and golden. Slice the garlic and chilli, add them to the pan and fry them for another minute or two. Put the onions, garlic and chilli aside in a bowl for the moment.

If you’re using chuck or blade steak, cut the meat up into large-ish cubes, about an inch or so wide in the old money (3 centimetres, kids). Keeping the meat big’n’chunky helps keep it moist inside when you sear it.

Heat more oil in the pan and quickly fry the meat in batches on medium to high heat. You want to sear the meat so it’s browned on the outside, but still uncooked in the middle. The idea here is that the seared outside will help trap the juices inside the cubes of meat.

Once you’ve browned all the meat, turn the heat back down and tip the onions, garlic and chilli back in with it.

Add the chopped tomatoes, stock, cumin, bay leaf, pepper and salt to taste. A couple of generous dollops of tomato paste also helps make the sauce really rich and red.

You can try some interesting variations in the taste by adding other spices. Pop in a cinnamon stick to add some sweet fragrance. A smidgin of hot smoked paprika will add some smoky heat (add it sparingly at first, until you’re comfortable with the heat). A 1/2 tsp or so of cayenne pepper can also add some more mouth tingling heat.

Cover the pan and cook the chilli on low heat for a couple of hours. It should be just bubbling, not roaring away, or you’ll burn the crap out of it. Also remember to check it and give it a good stir with a wooden spoon every now and then: check it every 10 minutes or so at first, until you’re satisfied the it’s cooking on the right heat, then just check it every 20 minutes to half hour. Don’t just put it on and forget about it! When you stir it, use the spoon to scrape the bottom and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom.

When the beans are done, drain them and either add them to the chilli while it’s still cooking, or you can put them aside and add them in when the chilli’s done, and just let them heat through.

When it’s all ready, fish out the bay leaf, and the cinnamon stick if you used one.

Dish the chilli up into bowls and grate some cheese on top (no need to overdo it, just enough to give a nice melt on top). Bung the bowl under a griller for a minute or two until the cheese is melted.

Serve it up with a good lump of sour cream – and don’t forget to warn people that the bowl will be hot!

I prefer to eat chilli with corn chips (plain, of course – no Nacho Cheese Doritos!), but you can use rice if you must. But it’s much more fun to shovel up big scoops of chilli by hand with the corn chips.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2011 3:24 pm

    I’m this way with chili, especially. I never make it the same way twice. Depends on what I have on hand. I like that you add paprika.

    • June 30, 2011 2:44 pm

      Hot smoked paprika has to be used pretty sparingly, but it’s got a really distinctive taste.

      Sometimes I add some oregano. Another I’ve used once or twice is some ground pimento/allspice.

  2. Pam Brown permalink
    July 3, 2011 9:01 am

    I did it I made it and it was delicious thank you

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