at mimi's table mimi's favorite chili 101 #1

It’s that time of year! Here in central Indiana, we’re having the coldest winter of any I remember here in quite a long time. In fact, it’s been warmer in Billings, Montana, my former home. Temps reached -16°F last night. No weather for man nor beast. But a perfect time to warm up with a steaming bowl of Mimi’s Favorite Chili.

(Uh, don’t be put off by the green stuff mixed in with the sour cream in the above picture. I served Mexican dinner on Christmas Day and my husband mixed the guacamole and sour cream together. It looks questionable, but was delicious!)

I’ve made this chili recipe for as long as I can remember, seriously forty years or more. Sometimes we eat as pictured. Sometimes I’d make up some macaroni and serve the chili over that. A friend of mine used to serve her chili over cooked rice – another option.

Funny. Richard and I were in Costco the day before I made the chili pot. A customer overheard us talking about making chili, and immediately invited himself over. Our conversation wandered to the topic of what to serve with chili. This fella said he insists that his chili is served with a peanut butter sandwich. “Well, of course!” I said. Our new friend and chili connoisseur told us he was having a difficult time winning over his wife to the idea.

In the mid-century olden days, the school cafeteria always served chili with peanut butter/honey sandwiches and carrot and celery sticks. We settled it must be an Indiana thing.

Any way you like it, a hot bowl of chili, mild or spicy, is a surefire way to warm up your bones!

Let’s make some!

at mimi's table mimi's favorite chili 101 #2

First, brown your meat in a heavy 6-qt dutch oven or other heavy pot. Oh, and don’t forget to add a Tablespoon or so of cooking oil to the pot, bring up to medium-high heat, then add the meat. Even though there’s fat in the meat, the oil helps the process along. You may use ground beef or ground turkey, as long as it’s pretty lean. I normally use 90% lean ground beef, but don’t be afraid to use turkey. It’s delicious and we really can’t tell the difference once the chili is finished.

While the meat is browning, dice up a nice large yellow sweet onion, set aside. Mince 2-3 cloves of fresh garlic, set aside. Measure the chili powder, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, and paprika into a small bowl, set aside. Open up your cans of tomatoes and beans. The goal is to have everything at the ready so the dish comes together quickly.

Chili 101

AMT Here's a tip iconNow’s the time to have a discussion about heat – like hot peppery heat. Not everyone shares the same enthusiasm for peppery spicy food. I, myself, like the heat from peppers or Tobasco sauce or ground cayenne, but enjoy the flavors in moderation. I like the simple spike of heat, but not so hot that’s it’s uncomfortable to eat.

If you like the flavor of pepper but not the heat, add one diced green pepper, or throw in a stalk of diced celery, or both.

Need to add a little extra heat? Add 1-2  finely diced jalapenos or 1-2 finely diced serranos, which are hotter than jalapenos. Set them aside with the minced garlic.

What I do is add a finely diced jalapeno, a finely diced serrano, and add dry ground cayenne to the dry spices. A couple shakes of red pepper chili flakes goes in there, too. And a couple shakes of Tobasco sauce as the chili cooks.

You can always add more hot peppers to the mix if you like spicier chili or include the pepper membranes and seeds into the dice, which adds another level of heat. Remember, however, to add peppers to the browned meat when you dump in the diced onions. If you decide to ladle the chili into serving bowls over macaroni or rice, keep in mind that will lower the heat level, too.

If you’re serving children, look out. In my experience, they don’t tolerate peppery heat at all – enter macaroni or rice and lots of cheese.

at mimi's table mimi's favorite chili 101 #3

Now the meat is nicely browned. Add the onion and peppers (hot or mild). Stir over medium-high heat until the onions begin to soften. Add diced celery, if you’re using.

Add the garlic. Continue to cook until you smell the aroma of garlic, about one minute.

at mimi's table mimi's favorite chili 101 #4

Add the dry spices: chili powder, cumin, Mexican oregano, cayenne, crushed red chili peppers, and cinnamon. Stir all the spices together and heat until you can smell the spices, 1-2 minutes max. (Adding the spices this way intensifies their flavors.)

at mimi's table mimi's favorite chili 101 #5

Dump everything else into the pot: diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, dark red kidney beans. Add 2-3 cups of liquid:  beef or chicken stock or just plain water if you don’t have stock in the pantry. Stir and bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat to continue the simmer. Cover with the lid not quite covering the pot so steam is able to escape.

at mimi's table mimi's favorite chili 101 #6 at mimi's table mimi's favorite chili 101 #7

After 45-60 minutes, your chili is ready! See how much liquid was evaporated?

Ladle generous portions into deep bowls and add your toppings: Monterey jack or cheddar cheese, sour cream, guacamole, additional finely diced hot peppers, finely diced sweet yellow onion.

On this particular night, I had some leftover tostada shells and we used them to break into our bowls instead of crackers.

at mimi's table mexican food iconChili Thoughts

  • I think chili is one of the first dishes beginning cooks learn to make. It’s easy. The ingredients are inexpensive. Everyone enjoys a hearty bowl.
  • Serve with peanut butter sandwiches or cornbread.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix up the ingredients. You can add corn. Use canned pinto beans, light red kidney beans, or black beans.
  • Try a can of beer in place of some of the stock/water. If so, you’ll want to add the beer to meat/spice mixture before you add tomatoes, beans, etc. Let it cook a bit after adding to burn off some of the alcohol.
  • Cinnamon is uncommonly used in chili unless you’re in Cincinnati. Just 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon is all you’ll need. Cinnamon evens out the flavors.
  • If you need to thicken your chili, add a Tablespoon of cornmeal stirred into 1/4 cup of water. Add to the chili after the cooking is finished and stir to incorporate.

at mimi's table signature 2 fallI would love to know how you make your chili special! What tips and tricks do you have up your sleeve?


Chili 101: Mimi's Favorite Chili
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
It's that time of year when a steaming bowl of Mimi's Favorite Chili warms us to the very core. Learn Chili 101 and how to make my easy and satisfying recipe along with a couple of hints.
Recipe type: Chili
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6-8 servings
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1-15oz can of dark red kidney beans drained, or pinto, light red, or black beans, drained
  • 2-14oz cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes.
  • 1-28oz can whole tomatoes
  • 2-3 cups of beef or chicken stock, or water, or a combination
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers, finely diced or 1-2 serrano peppers, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Options to replace jalapenos and/or serranos
  • 1 green or red pepper, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  1. Over medium-high heat, add 1 Tablespoon cooking oil into a heavy 6-quart dutch oven
  2. Add ground meat. Brown until there is no pink visible.
  3. While the meat is cooking, chop onion, mince garlic, dice peppers. Set aside.
  4. Measure dry spices into a small bowl. Set aside.
  5. When the meat is ready, add chopped onion and hot peppers. (Add green or red pepper and celery if using.) Stir and continue to cook until the vegetables are softened.
  6. Add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, one minute.
  7. Add dry spices, stir to distribute and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes max.
  8. Add all the tomatoes, beans and stock &/or water. Stir to distribute.
  9. Bring the chili to a simmer. Cover the pot, but not completely so steam escapes and thickens the chili.
  10. Turn down the heat. Simmer for 45-60 minutes.
  11. Check for seasoning. Add 1-2 shakes of Tobasco sauce, if using.
  12. Serve with peanut butter sandwiches or cornbread.
  13. This chili can also be served over cooked macaroni or cooked rice.
1. You can substitute one can of beer to replace an equal volume of stock/water. Add the beer to the meat mixture before adding tomatoes. Let the mixture cook for a bit to allow the alcohol to cook off.
2. To thicken chili, if needed, add 1 Tablespoon cornmeal to ¼ cup of water, mix. Add the slurry to the chili while stirring.

Serve with any variety of toppings: shredded Monterey Jack &/or cheddar cheese, sour cream, guacamole, diced sweet yellow onion, diced jalapeno or serrano peppers.