Improv Chili

"This chili is similar to one my mother made when I was growing up that she served to our family of five, and our much larger extended family. Unfortunately, my mother never wrote her recipe down. So, I have spent decades tinkering with my own version that is similar to hers but made my own over time. It’s been a family staple for decades now. I never wrote it down either…until this contest came along, and I thought it a good time to pay attention to the details so that my heirs won’t have to guess like I did."

Prep Time

15-20 minutes

Cook Time

1-2 hours or more

Paired With

Main Protein



Olive Oil 1 tsp. or less, 1 small-medium one or 1/2 of a large one, 7/8 of it for chili, 1/8 of for garnish, 1/2 lb. *(sometimes I use 1/4lb ground beef and 1/4lb ground turkey, but never all turkey, as some beef adds important flavor), (2) cans of 14.5 oz. can **(1) 29oz. can of Cas Mamita Original Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies works too if you want to add a lot more heat; but I like the fire roasted style the best), (2) 14.5 oz. cans, (1) 8-10 oz. can, (1) 15.5 oz. can, 1-2 empty cans full (approx. 10-20 oz.) -- Note: the more water you add, the more time you will need to cook it down, (2) 8 oz. cans tomato sauce (or [1] 6 oz. can tomato paste + 1-2 empty cans of water ), 1/2 tsp., 1 tsp., 1/2 tsp., 1/2 tsp., 1/2 tsp., 1/2 tsp., 1/2 tsp., 1 tsp or so to taste, 1/2 tsp or so to taste, 10 oz. can, to taste (I don't usually add this but some may like more heat), one spoonful per bowl, one spoonful per bowl or to taste, 1-3, 1/2 a large one or 1 small one, As needed: a few grape tomatoes or 1small to large tomato, 1/8 white onion and/or 1-3 green onions, 1/2 tablespoon or so, 1 slice or muffin or roll or more
Bell pepper (green and/or other colors)
Large white onion
Simply Nature Grass Fed Ground Beef 85% lean 15% fat*
Happy Harvest Organic Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic, Oregano**
Great Value Mixed Chili Beans (dark kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans in chili sauce)
Small can dark red kidney beans (any brand)
Goya Pintó Frijoles De Olla (pinto beans)
Tap water
Cento Tomato Sauce (or watered-down tomato paste )
Ground cayenne pepper (any brand)
Stonemill Original Salt Free Seasoning Blend (dried spices i.e. onion, black pepper, marjoram, basil, mustard seed, cayenne, parsley, garlic, and carrot), citric acid, and lemon oil)
Smoked paprika (any brand)
Chili powder (any brand)
Lime juice
Lemon juice (any brand)
Dried red chili flakes (any brand)
Black pepper (ground pepper corns are preferred but or already ground will do too)
Morton's Kosher Salt
Optional: Can Whole Kernel (Sweet) Corn (any brand)
Optional: Your favorite flavor tabasco sauce
Optional garnish: sour cream (any brand)
Optional garnish: shredded cheddar or Mexican-style blend cheese
Optional garnish: diced radishes
Optional garnish: diced cucumber
Optional garnish: fresh diced/sliced tomatoes (any kind)
Optional garnish: diced fresh onion (the remainder white onion and/or green onions)
Optional garnish: fresh shredded/chopped parsely and/or cilantro
Optionally served with: bread and butter or cornbread (your choice)


I start by sautéing the white onion and bell pepper in olive oil over medium heat. As it begins to cook and become translucent, I add the meat. Let meat sit a minute or two but as it sizzles stir with a wooden spoon or spatula and break apart any big chunks. Flip, stir and then let sit as it begins to brown and caramelize on one side, then the next.  Meat should look mostly gray before draining off a little fat into a trash can and adding next ingredients. Note: it need not  be fully cooked, as it will continue to cook. Also, I prefer to pour grease into an old carton, can or other surface rather than directly into plastic bag of trash as it might melt it. I use a pan lid to hold back the food when I drain it.

Next add all the cans, water, and seasonings. Note, I don’t drain and wash any can goods. If you are watching your salt in-take, you may wish to strain the can goods and rinse with water to remove their salty coatings. Brands are just a suggestion. You may use whatever you can find. Seasonings and amounts are also suggestions and can be adjusted to taste just be sure to let chili sit for a few minutes (sometimes as much as 20 minutes) before adding more as you won’t get a true sense of what it needs until flavors meld and change. Stir as you add ingredients. Keep on medium heat for maybe 15-20 minutes, then cover and turn down to low and let simmer for at least another 30 minutes, up to a few hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so. I usually simmer it for at least 45 minutes. The longer you simmer it, you may need to add a little more water, but should come down on side of pot from starting point, at least a 1/2 inch or more. Note: this is a watery, soupy chili but you should still cook it down for at least 30 minutes and preferably longer.

All garnishes are optional, I like to pile them high on each bowl after I serve the bowls or I put the garnishes in separate little serving dishes and let my fellow eaters serve up what they want. Serve with bread and butter if you like. It’s great for dipping. Enjoy.