Tuesday, February 8, 2011

BIG Pot of Sweet Chili

This recipe is something that was just kind of made up one night at college after studying numerous chili recipes online. I had never made chili before, but I was so excited that I made a couple BIG pots of it and invited about 20 people over for dinner and an evening of games. Unfortunately, because I had never made chili before, that night was the spiciest chili I had ever eaten! That was one of my earliest lessons that I learned the risks of experimenting with new recipes for the first time when company is coming over... especially for such a large group. 
Here is a picture of some of us playing 'night tag' after that chili dinner 4 years ago. The boy in the far back with his hands up- the one in the black sweatshirt that almost disappears into the night sky- that is Peter. Who knew that almost 2 years later he would ask me out, and 4 years later, we would become husband and wife. How fun.

Luckily, that first experience didn't scare me away from chili, and I've made it about ten dozen times since then. I can now confidently say that you will not burn off your tongue anymore. In fact, I now have several different versions depending on who I'm cooking for. For example, if I'm cooking for Peter and I and our friends, we like it with a little kick. But for a very large diverse group, I will keep it sweet and mild. This time, my dad asked me to make it for his Super Bowl Sunday party. Because my mom can not stand ANY heat at all, I made an extremely mild and sweet chili version for their party. This is the version I will share with you today. If you want to kick it up a little bit, simply add more cayenne pepper. 

Shopping List: 

  • 4 cans Stewed Tomatoes, approximately 15 oz each (I usually try to get some sort of 'zesty jalapeno' or 'mexican seasoning' version of stewed tomatoes, but really- it doesn't make a huge difference what type you choose)
  • 3 cans Kidney Beans, approx. 15 oz each
  • 2 cans Black Beans, approx. 15 oz each
  • 1 can Whole Kernel Corn, approx. 15 oz each
  • 2 large Onions, diced
  • 2 large Bell Peppers, any color, diced (Green adds more color variety but tends to be a little more tart-smokey in flavor; Red has a much sweeter taste to it. I prefer the red bell peppers for this recipe, but I just get whichever is less expensive)
  • 1 Jalapeno pepper, deseeded and minced
  • 1 lb meat 
**Nutrition Noteworthy: I usually use ground turkey, but you could use ground beef if you desire. Today I used ground Buffalo to give it a Super Bowl spin. Also, buffalo meat is extremely high in protein and yet very low in fat. A very healthy option :)
  • 1/3 cup Ketchup (optional. Basically, this is a source of sugar and salt to flavor your chili. Sometimes I even forget to add it and it is delicious anyway. If you are watching your sodium levels, skip the ketchup. If not, it's a nice hint to boost the flavor)
  • 1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground Paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground Cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Powder, (if you like it a little spicy like I do, add 2 teaspoons)
**It is important to use a very large pot for this recipe. You will see later that the pot that I use here is just barely the perfect size. This was Nana's pot. I've mentioned in my bio that Nana is one of my big inspirations for playing in the kitchen. This was one of her big pots that I remember her cooking lots of meals in- except the knob was broken off the lid, so she used to use a hot pad to pinch the nubby screw that remained, in order to lift the lid. When Nana had passed, some appraisers went through her house to mark items of value, and chuck those with no value. After they had left, my mom saw Nana's pot in the dumpster; Mom recovered it and sent it to me at college. It is one of my most valuable possessions. For quite a few years, I used it just like Nana- pinching the screw to lift the lid. I recently found a 'Le Creuset' knob that screwed right onto the existing hardware! One man's trash is another man's treasure... and what a treasure it is...

(you can't see through the blinding glare behind the ingredients, but outside those windows, all the boys are playing a pre-Super Bowl game of Whiffle Ball. They have chalked lines, a pitchers mound, foul poles, ...they take their games very seriously. As Nana would say, 'boys will be boys!' :)

In your large pot, heat some oil  (today I will use grape seed oil- I will explain why at the end of this post) to saute all your diced fresh veggies. 
**Tip, when mincing Jalapeno, I hold the knife in one hand and on the other hand that handles the pepper, I cover it with a plastic sandwich baggy (like a glove) so that my fingertips won't burn for days (because they will- trust me!). Then just throw away the baggy along with all the seeds.

The key here is low and slow; over low heat, let these veggies slowly get soft and sweet. When the onions become transparent, then it is done. They should eventually look like this:

Then remove your veggies from the pot, and brown your meat over medium-high heat. (Sometimes I will add a little garlic powder or chile powder here, this time I didn't, but it doesn't hurt :)

Once your meat is all cooked, mix the veggies back in:

Then dump ALL of your canned ingredients, juices and all (do not discard the liquid!), and the ketchup and seasonings/spices:

Let it simmer over medium to medium-high heat, uncovered, for about 40 minutes. During this time, all the flavors and spices will marry together and condense into a more stew-like consistency. The somewhat transparent juices in the pot should eventually thicken and become homogenous and somewhat opaque. 
One time, I forgot to tell a *certain someone* to leave it uncovered so that some of the liquid could evaporate and thicken the pot... she wound up letting it simmer for a few HOURS and it came out very thin and soupy and she couldn't figure out why... so I'm telling you now, "leave your pot UNCOVERED while it simmers!"

I don't normally encourage people to 'stir the pot', but when making chili it is important that you do so, and all the way to the bottom -especially if you have your burner on the higher end of the heat spectrum. If you do not stir and scrape the bottom frequently, some of the thicker parts of the stew will bake and/or burn to the bottom of the pot. If you're lucky enough to have a little niece who loves to cook with you, then this part should be easy.   :)

See how thick and stew-y it has become!? mmmmm. You can even see the line that marks where the chili was, and how far down it is now. This can help you measure how much has evaporated. 

Serve it up...

...and watch it disappear!

-My grandpa LOVES chili! And because he is living a 'heart healthy' lifestyle, I sometimes call this my 'heart healthy chili'. Here are some reasons that you too can enjoy this heart healthy recipe:
  • Use low sodium canned ingredients
  • No added salt
  • Lean ground meats, such as turkey or buffalo
  • I use grape seed oil for sauteing here, because it can withstand the cooking process better than other common oils. This is due to its higher 'flash point' (the point at which oil breaks down during heating). In nutrition terms, this means that it retains its health properties at higher cooking temperatures than do other oils. 
  • Beans provide lean protein and are also a great source of fiber for the heart healthy diet.


  1. Is it still called "Heart Healthy Chili" after your 3rd bowl before halftime? Maybe that's why it's called the "Super Bowl".

  2. That looks delicious!

    UD, Tucson, AZ

  3. I also made this to go with my cornbread (as you suggested). I didn't use grapeseed oil because I like mine really spicy and savory. But it was still delicious! :D