Chili, the way you like it, is the easiest route to dinner
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Chili, the way you like it, is the easiest route to dinner

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Lots of crunchy, sharp and creamy toppings turn a simple bowl of beef and chili into dinner in an instant.

Lots of crunchy, sharp and creamy toppings turn a simple bowl of beef and chili into dinner in an instant. (Ben Mims/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Several years ago, my partner and I spent a month in San Antonio, where his family lives. We were both unemployed at the time, so we spent the days driving around the city, exploring and eating all the wonderful food. We consumed a lot of chili.

We ate the "authentic" kind, consisting of cubed beef chuck or sirloin cooked in a mole-like gravy of hydrated and pureed dried chiles, and we ate plenty of the Tex-Mex kind, in which ground beef stands in for cubed and is seasoned with ground chili powder made from a mix of dried chiles, but often of the New Mexico varietal.

Beans and tomatoes - highly contentious ingredients to add to chili in Texas - were found in several iterations we tried. After sampling so many, we decided that the ground beef version with beans - but with tomato paste and not canned tomatoes - was our favorite. It has been a staple of our quick weeknight dinners ever since.

Consisting of just ground beef, beans and spices, it's incredibly easy to execute for beginner cooks (there's nothing to even chop!) and is ready from start to finish in under 30 minutes. Once it's ready, we dole it out in bowls and top it with cheese, sour cream and diced avocado. We use red onions and scallions because I like the sharp bite of the former and the vivid color of the latter. The only thing that's not allowed in the chili is greens or vegetables of any kind - that would be sacrilege.

EASY BEEF AND BEAN CHILI

Time: 30 minutes

Yields: Serves 4

You can use this recipe for a simple chili and then flavor it in different ways. Experiment with single ground chiles in place of the mixed chili powder; ground coriander along with the cumin; or smoked paprika for smoky depth and an extra rich red color. Whichever way you choose, keep it simple so the spices shine through. You can also use ground lamb, bison or turkey instead of beef, or vegan meat substitutes such as Beyond Meat. For chili cheese hot dogs, fries or nachos, use this chili and top with finely shredded cheddar cheese.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons double-concentrate tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups beef or chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) organic red kidney, pink or pinto beans, undrained
  • Shredded sharp cheddar or Colby jack cheese, sour cream, diced avocado or guacamole, diced red onion and thinly sliced scallions, for serving

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring to break it up, until no longer pink, 4 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle over the chili powder, oregano, cumin and paprika and cook, stirring, until the spices are toasted in the fat, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, and cook, stirring, until lightly caramelized, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Sprinkle the flour over the beef and cook, stirring, to cook off the raw flavor of the flour, about 1 minute. Pour in the beans, liquid and all, then pour the stock into the can of beans to help loosen any stuck beans and rinse the rest of the liquid out of the can; pour it into the pan. Stir everything to combine, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and season again with salt and pepper.

3. Serve the chili in bowls and top with cheese, a dollop of sour cream, avocado, red onion and scallions.

Variations:

No-Bean Chili: Omit the beans and their liquid and double the beef for a total of 2 pounds.

Vegan Chili: Substitute 1 pound Beyond Meat for the ground beef and substitute vegetable stock, mushroom broth or water for the beef stock.

Seasoned Ground Beef for Tacos: Cook the recipe through Step 1, then remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Use as a filling for tacos.

Make Ahead: The chili will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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