Chili: In defense of the dollop

It’s officially chili season! Break out the sweaters, the scarves, the excuses to stay inside, and make yourself a big pot of chili!

In this recipe, I may frustrate you with inexact measurements, but I assure you, it is for a good cause: In defense of the dollop, the dash, the pinch, the handful, and the flavor to taste. Chili is what you make when you want to feel warm inside, and it’s also what you make with a fridge full of ingredients that don’t necessarily go together in any other dish, and essential to cooking is the willingness to feel it out and guess.

A locally famous chef once told me that most so-called chefs aren’t real chefs, they’re cooks who only know how to follow a recipe. A true chef knows what to do when half the needed ingredients are no good and improvising is a must if people are to keep coming back to the restaurant. I would argue that we have a society afraid to improvise and fail, even when the stakes are low. You can think of cooking as an opportunity to learn the lessons of effort, experiment, failure, and sometimes surprise success.


  • A pound of ground beef 80/20 is the most common, 90/10 will require more spices, 73/27, between you and me, that’s my favorite, and the cheapest. The second number refers to the fat percentage of the ground beef. Note: Please experiment with other meats too, spicy sausage is great, turkey is okay, bacon if you have the budget
  • A good amount of white onion, chopped or maybe sliced if you want to try it that way.
  • Bell peppers to taste, chopped
  • A couple good sized pinches of chili powder
  • 1-5 cloves of garlic, minced. I, for one, say you can never have too much garlic. My friends, neighbors, acquaintances, the Pope probably, will all disagree with me on this point
  • Go ahead and throw in a bay leaf, or basil, or some other fresh herbs if you’re brave
  • A pinch of cumin
  • Enough chopped jalapenos to regret it a little
  • Lots of diced tomatoes, canned is fine, this is your main source of liquid so if you over do it, just cook for longer, it’ll be fine.
  • Tomato sauce, canned is fine again, and about half the amount for this as what you used for diced tomatoes
  • Chili beans, canned, about the same amount as what you used for tomato sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • A dollop of sour cream in your finished bowl isn’t half bad.
  • A handful of cheese is essential, although you may not want to mix it in with the chili while it’s cooking.

A crockpot is best. A large saucepan may have to do, but if you use a stove make sure to be attentive to it. A crockpot, you can set and forget for a few hours or more.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, mix in the ground beef, onion, and bell peppers and cook until the beef is browned. You may or may not choose to drain the excess fat, I do not.

Add everything else in with it. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat to low. Let simmer for a minimum of 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. Note: Some add the beans in after an hour, I’ve never had any problems one way or the other. A basic rule of thumb, the longer chili simmers, the better it tastes, and it’s one of the rare foods that tastes even better the next day when you pull it out of the fridge.

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