Essential Chili: The 4 Things You Really Need

by Jane Wangersky | October 9th, 2014 | Recipes, Simple Solutions

chiliI’ve got several time-honored, long-cooking, big-batch chili recipes that use chunks of beef and about 10 kinds of spices. This isn’t one of them. But it’s quick and easy, it tastes good, and you can build on it till it’s almost like one of those more ambitious chilis.

Keeping it to four ingredients, I had to find the essence of chili. Having lived in Texas, I know some people will take issue with that essence containing beans rather than meat. If you feel this way, hey, use meat instead — I’ll talk about that and other variations in just a minute.


Serves 2
Chili that is made with only 4 ingredients- simple and flavorful


  1. 1 15-ounce can black beans
  2. 1 six-ounce can tomato paste
  3. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  4. 1 tablespoon chili powder — or less (or more!), to taste
  1. Put the beans in a sieve and rinse them well — this makes them less of a problem to digest.
  2. In a large frying pan, mix the tomato paste with about half a can (1/4 cup plus two tablespoons) of water. If that doesn’t make it into a thick sauce, add more water, spoonful by spoonful. We’re starting with tomato paste because it’s easy to thin out an ingredient that’s too thick, more complicated (though not impossible) to thicken one that’s too thin. You can always add more water.
  3. You can use beer instead of water. You can also use tomato juice, or any other liquid that you think would taste good with the tomato — just be cautious using commercial soups and bouillons, which can be very salty.
  4. Start heating the mixture over low heat and stir in the cumin and chili. Cumin is the secret ingredient — without it, all the chili in the world won’t have that unmistakable Mexican taste.
  5. While it’s still starting to heat, stir in the rinsed beans. Sprinkle with salt if you want. Let the chili heat gently till it’s bubbling. Serve over rice with sour cream and grated cheese.
To change things up, do any or all of the following
  1. Start by heating a couple of teaspoons of oil, chopping an onion, and frying it till it’s soft.
  2. When the onion’s almost cooked, add some chopped peppers and celery.
  3. Crumble a pound of hamburger and add it after the vegetables if you’re using any. Cook till it’s no longer pink, then add the tomato paste and proceed from there. You may want to leave out the beans altogether, though beans and meat together are good too.
  4. Add a teaspoon of dried basil and/or oregano. Summer savory doesn’t change the taste much but makes the dish more digestible.
  5. When you get to the point where the mixture just needs to heat, add about a cup of frozen mixed vegetables. This makes it almost a complete meal.
  6. Then there are the different beans you can try (lentils, kidney beans — I don’t recommend garbanzos) and the different meats (anything that you can buy ground — pork, turkey, maybe even hot sausage if you like lots of spice). But here, as I said, you have the essence of chili.
Think Tasty

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