The Fastest Chili in the West!

I was in a pinch! I had to go out and needed to feed my family. Desperately searching my nearly empty fridge (we were going on vacation), freezer and cupboards, I found a can of beans. Inspiration took over — I could make a quick chili!

Practically instant chili

Practically instant chili

Despite what the chili-heads and aficionados will try to tell you (and sell you), chili doesn’t have to be a complicated or obtuse affair. Indeed, some of the chili I’ve thrown together in a pinch with ground turkey and tomato paste, for example, have been better than the fancy versions with heirloom tomatoes and tri-tip that I’ve labored over across the course of days.

Last year I was judging a local chili cook off with a few friends. The chili was awful. The best chili of the day, I told my co-judges, was the one I purchased for my kid from the hot dog concession stand.

“But that chili came from a big can!” one of my colleagues protested. And I rest my case.

So armed with my can of beans and about 20 minutes, I got to work.

The key to making a delicious, satisfying “instant” chili is to achieve something of the depth of flavor you get with a long simmered version. And the trick to that is to use shortcuts. Three of my favorite shortcuts? Chicken bouillon (I like to use a good one, like organic Better Than Bouillon), corn tortilla chips or corn tortillas, and a few slices of American cheese.

The bouillon brings a complexity and meaty flavor, the tortilla or chips add a distinct Southwestern taste, and the cheese binds it all together in a creamy way that is usually achieved with hours and hours of cooking.

Voila! Or, as they might’ve said in the Old West, “Eureka!”

As with any chili, spices and spiciness are subjective and variable to your tastes. And you can experiment to your heart’s desire with tossing in anything else (jalapeños, corn, different meats) you might fancy. Enjoy!

*    *    *

Skinny Girls (almost) instant chili
serves 4-6

1 lb. ground turkey (or ground beef, pork or chicken)
1 can kidney beans
1 small white onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 tbsp. grapeseed oil (or other vegetable oil)
1 tbsp. chicken bouillon (or one cube)
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 cup crushed corn tortilla chips (or 2 finely crumbled corn tortillas)
2 slices American cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until golden. Add ground turkey and cook, stirring and breaking up into small bits, until golden — about 5 minutes. Add tomato and continue cooking, stirring, another 2 or 3 minutes.

Lower heat to medium, add beans, chicken bouillon, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of water and tortilla chips. Bring to a simmer. Lower heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes. Add cheese, stir, and season to taste with salt & pepper.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amy Sawelson Landes
    Apr 04, 2014 @ 16:04:38

    I will share a secret to great, complex chili: Add 1/2 oz (1/2 a square) of Baker’s (or other) unsweetened chocolate. Mole anyone?


    • scolgin
      Apr 04, 2014 @ 16:16:41

      YES! I love that — were I to go that route, I would up the chile quotient (and the Mexican angle) with some extra ancho chili powder and maybe some fire-roasted green chiles.


  2. Perry
    Apr 04, 2014 @ 18:48:24

    Great. It’s practically kitchen cabinet chili- I have a Puttanesca sauce that I make in a pinch, using mostly closet ingredients. The cheese slices is a valuable tip.


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