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How To Make Great Chili Without a Recipe

Updated on November 13, 2009

Making Chili without a Recipe

I don't mean buy chili from the grocery store--I mean make it yourself. And make it your own. There is no reason in the world that you have to follow somebody's recipe, painstakingly measuring 1/2 teaspoon of this, 2 cups of that or 8 oz. of the other! That's no fun.

The earliest references to chili that I can find are of a stew consisting mainly of chili peppers, with or without meat, that was made to use up leftovers. Another dish, along with quiche, frittatas, soup, and casseroles, invented to use up leftovers! The wonderful thing about this is, if you follow a few chili rules, you don't need a recipe for chili--just use what you have along with some "standard" chili flavorings and spices.

The joy of chili is the creativity you can bring to the dish. So, let's explore chili!

(Thanks to jslander for the chili pepper pic at the top. Find his photostream here)

Intuitive Chili Wins for October, 2008!

Thanks for Supporting my lens!

Thanks to all of your votes, Intuitive Chili won the Fresh Squid contest for the month of October, 2008. Yay! I am honored to accept the award and look forward to many more years of happy Squidooing:)

And a special huge thank you goes out to Michelle Willow who runs the contest and helps to make Squidoo newcomers feel welcome. Thanks a_willow for all you do!

Cabaret Squidoo Feature!

I am honored to have this lens featured at Cabaret Squidoo on Election Day. Now you can vote for President and for Intuitive Chili on the same day!

The Case for Intuitive Chili - Think it. Feel it. Cook it.

This is chili a la me, and I even baked the bread:-)

Cooking without a recipe can be a little scary if you've never done it before, but think of it this way: have you ever had cereal? You pour some, maybe cut up some of your favorite fruit or throw on a handful of nuts or raisins--add some sweetener (if you're me), pour on some milk until it reaches....there! Well, you've created your own recipe for (Insert Name Here)'s Perfect Breakfast Cereal.

Now, expand that idea to other foods that might require a bit more cooking technique.

If you've never cooked before, you will want some reference materials. Even if you have cooked a lot but find yourself unable to deviate from a printed recipe, you'll want to understand basic cooking techniques, methods and ingredient function. Don't look for compendiums of thousands of recipes. Rather, search for books and articles that explain the "hows" and "whys" of cooking, not just the "what's."

Once you have a handle on basic cooking methods, techniques and ingredient function, you can make almost anything. Armed with that knowledge and some regional flavor profiles, you're good to go.

By that, I mean tomato+basil=Italian, corn+black beans+cumin=Mexico, feta cheese+olives+oregano=Greece. You get the idea.

In the case of chili, here's what you need to know:

Chili is cooked by braising.Chili is Mexican in origin.Chili contains a lot of chile peppers, both fresh and dried.Chili is used for using up leftovers.Chili is often thickened with a corn product.

Knowing just these five facts about chili opens up a wide range of chili possibilities.

Not convinced? Here's the thought process:

  1. If chili is a braise, I will use tough cuts of meat. I can also throw in leftover cooked meats if I cut them in very small pieces.

  2. I will need a liquid to braise in. Hmmm--I'm thinking beer and beef stock.

  3. Mexican flavors: definitely cumin, Mexican oregano, maybe some beans, lots of onion and garlic, ooh, maybe some bitter chocolate or some cocoa powder, or maybe some coffee for a base note! Maybe a dash of cinnamon for a little "Gee, what is that flavor?"

  4. I'm going to need some peppers--from not to hot. I think some bell or Cubanelle peppers for a fresh, green base flavor. Then some minced or sliced jalapenos or serranos. I've got some dried chiles in the cabinet--I'll soften them up in boiling stock, hit them with the stick blender and voila, chile paste. Not hot enough? I've got some cayenne pepper and some hot sauce.

  5. What else do I have that I can throw in here? Leftover steak? Awesome. A container of corn? Why not?! A few pickled jalapenos leftover from taco night? In they go.

  6. Towards the end of cooking, I'll throw in some corn flour, cornmeal or grits to thicken it up. Heck, I could even use crushed tortilla chips.

    And that, my friends, is chili.

The Best Chili Pot - You Can't Make Chili Without One!

Lodge EC6D53 Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven, 6-Quart, Emerald Green
Lodge EC6D53 Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven, 6-Quart, Emerald Green

What you're looking for is a deep, Dutch oven. It should have sturdy handles and be made of heavy gauge metal that will hold the heat and cook evenly. Cast iron is the way you want to go. Since acidic ingredients can react with cast iron cookware, it is best to get an enamel-coated cast iron pot. The all metal construction assures you that it will be equally at home on the stove top and in the oven.

 

Crock Pot Chili? - Why Not Crock Pot Chili?

Chili is basically a stew or a braise, and a crock pot is made for low and slow, moist cooking. If you have one stashed in the back of your closet because you couldn't bear to get rid of it after Aunt Sadie went to the trouble of buying it for you as a wedding present back in 1979, by all means, pull that puppy out and make some chili!

Cuisinart PSC-400 Stainless Steel 4-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker
Cuisinart PSC-400 Stainless Steel 4-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker

The rectangular shape of this guy makes storage easier. Plus, you can make a gallon of chili at a time. The Cuisinart PSC-400 also comes with a handy 24-hour timer not to mention a cook book!

 

Books that Explain the Science Behind the Recipes - If you understand the "hows" and "whys" the "what's" will come!

While these books do contain recipes, their main focus is the explanation of cooking methods, techniques and the science behind cooking. You will find yourself referring to them over and over. I know I do.

So You Wanna Make White Chili - Lose the red ingredients.

Thanks to Closet Cooking for the photo. Visit Kevin's Closet Cooking Blog here

Sometimes, we're just in the mood for a lighter chili. One with brighter flavors than the deeply, darkly mysterious red chili. Do you really need a recipe for that kind? What do you think I'm going to say about that?

In order to make a white chili, you need to know that white chili is green. And, you'll have to lose the red ingredients. So, goodbye:

chili powder/chili pastetomatoes (I don't normally use tomatoes, but there's no law against it)red beansred meat

Now what? What to use in place of these goodies?

cumin, cilantrofresh chiles and tomatillosno beans or white beans/white cornturkey/pork/chicken

And there you have it: white chili

Here's how to do it:

  1. Sweat onions and garlic in oil

  2. Add fresh pork shoulder/dark meat turkey or chicken. If using leftover meat, add it later.

  3. Deglaze the pan with beer/chicken broth/vegetable broth

  4. Add fresh chiles and cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Throw in that bottle of green salsa you've been wondering what to do with.

  5. Add more broth and any beans/veggies/cut up cooked meat

  6. Simmer until wonderful.

  7. Thicken with masa, corn flour, tortilla chips or even some leftover cornbread stuffing (hello, post-Thanksgiving meal)

  8. Adjust seasonings, add fresh cilantro.

  9. Eat.

    If you want it hot, make sure you add in diced or even pickled jalapenos, serranos or some hot sauce/cayenne pepper.

    Enjoy your White Chili a la You!

Burn Your Recipes--The Culinary Motto for the 21st Century - The Gospel According to Chef Todd Mohr

See--I'm not the only one out there championing the cause of intuitive cooking. Check out all of Chef Todd's Cooking Coarse videos here

Stuff You Need to Make Chili - No Matter What Kind You're Making

Just because I say that you don't need a recipe doesn't mean that there aren't some ingredients that are vital. Having an array of dried chiles close at hand could be the difference between making chili and taking a pass. The poster is a great reference for Scoville units.

Links to Sites and Lenses on Chili

Check 'em out!

Intuitive Chili Options - A Menu for Your Perusal

Thanks to Ryner12 for the pic. See the photostream here

Coming up short on ideas? Fear not, friends. Check out ingredient options by category.

Proteins

Chuck Roast

Pork Shoulder

Ground Beef

Diced sirloin

Lamb shanks

Lamb shoulder

Ground Bison

Rabbit

"Meatloaf" blend ground pork/beef

Bacon or pancetta ( more of a flavoring, really)

Chorizo

Dark Meat Chicken

Dark Meat Turkey

Duck

Goose

Pheasant

Diced, pre-cooked white meat poultry

Vegetarian-friendly Protein Options

Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP)

Seitan

Firm Tofu

Beans Beans Beans

Chile Options for Bulk

Fresh versions of:

bell peppers

Poblano

Jalapeno

New Mexico

Cubanelle

Arbol

Anaheim

Chile Options for Heat/Flavor

Fresh or dried/smoked/ground versions of:

Serrano

Arbol

Chipotle (dried or in Adobo sauce)

Jalapeno

Habanero

Cayenne

Ancho

Paprika

Smoked Paprika

Red Pepper Flakes

Vegetables

Onions

Garlic

Celery

Bell pepper

Tomatillos

Corn

Any kind of fresh beans

Any kind of dried beans

Tomatoes (there is a lot of debate about this. I say, use 'em if you want to)

Carrot

Salsa (Well, it's a mixture of vegetables)

Liquids

Beer

Vegetable broth

Chicken broth/stock

Beef broth/stock

Any other broth/stock (lamb, veal...)

Tomato juice (again, use it if you like it)

Herbs and Spices

Mexican Oregano

Cumin

Chili Powder (a blend, usually of ground chiles, salt and some cumin)

Salt and pepper/white pepper

Basil

Sage

Thyme

Bay leaf

Coriander

Cilantro

Poultry Seasoning (for white chili)

Sneaky Flavoring to Make People Wonder Why Your Chili Is So Good

Cocoa powder (don't go crazy)

A bit of unsweetened chocolate

Cinnamon

Your favorite hot sauce

Tequila

A splash of vinegar

Lemon or lime juice

A hint of clove

Mole Sauce

Ground nuts or seeds (like pumpkin)

Thickeners

Corn meal

Ground up corn tortillas

Masa

Corn flour

Crushed Tortilla chips

Crushed Fritos

This is a pretty complete list, but please feel free to add some extras in the special Ingredient Guest Book!

Should You Put Beans in Your Chili? - If You Like Beans, yes. It is Intuitive Chili, after all!

Two of the big fights in the chili world are tomatoes versus no tomatoes and beans versus no beans. Check out one chili cook's take on the bean issue.

Chili Ingredients to Have on Hand - The Raw Ingredients

Maybe you want to make intuitive chili, but you don't have any ingredients to start with. No matter how intuitive your chili, you can't start if all you have in the house is Kit Kat Bars. Seriously.

Organic Italian Cannellini Beans (Fagioli Cannellini) 1 lb.
Organic Italian Cannellini Beans (Fagioli Cannellini) 1 lb.

Perfect for white chili, Cannellini beans are very creamy and lend a nice texture to a chili.

 
Arriba! Fire Roasted Medium Variety Pack (2 Red Salsa & 1 Chipotle Salsa), 16-Ounce Jars (Pack of 3)
Arriba! Fire Roasted Medium Variety Pack (2 Red Salsa & 1 Chipotle Salsa), 16-Ounce Jars (Pack of 3)

Yes, you can dip tortilla chips in it, but it makes a heck of an addition to chili, as well.

 

Chili Makin' Tools You'll Need - You at least need a pot, right?

I'm not advocating purchasing a fancy enamel-coated cast iron chili pot for a billion dollars, but there is some stuff you'll need.

Hamilton Beach 33134 3-in-1 Slow Cooker with 2-, 4-, and 6-Quart Crocks
Hamilton Beach 33134 3-in-1 Slow Cooker with 2-, 4-, and 6-Quart Crocks

What a great deal this is: one slow cooker, three different sized crocks! I love it. And don't scoff at the slow cooker--it has its uses, and cooking a killer chili is one of them.

 
OXO Good Grips Large Wooden Spoon
OXO Good Grips Large Wooden Spoon

Get back to your roots with the OXO Good Grips Wooden Tools. Made of solid beech wood, these sturdy Wooden Tools are comfortable and durable. A natural oil finish coats the wood, leaving a clean, dark glaze. Safe for non-stick cookware and comfortable to hold, the Wooden Tools are handy for a host of cooking tasks.

 
LamsonSharp 8-Inch Wide Forged Chef's Knife
LamsonSharp 8-Inch Wide Forged Chef's Knife

Hardened and tempered high-carbon stainless steel from Solingen, Germany / One-piece full tang blades / Handles that are triple riveted with nickel rivets

 
Round HotSpot Silicone Trivet, Black
Round HotSpot Silicone Trivet, Black

This silicone trivet offers a resting spot for hot pots to keep Formica or Corian safe from melting or blistering. However, it also protects counterops from scratches; prevents mixing bowls and cutting boards from sliding during use; and functions as a pot holder, jar opener, and garlic peeler. Measuring 8 inches round, this trivet provides a smaller surface to cover the bottoms of round pots or bowls. The silicone material is heat-resistant to 675 degrees Fahrenheit so heat won’t transfer through the cover and a patterned surface keeps the trivet from slipping or sliding on any counter surface. This counter cover is flexible enough to roll up and store compactly in a drawer or has a hole in one corner to hang from a hook. This product comes in a rainbow of different colors and is dishwasher-safe. --Cristina Vaamonde

 
OXO Good Grips 10-1/2-Inch x 14.5-Inch Utility Cutting Board, Red
OXO Good Grips 10-1/2-Inch x 14.5-Inch Utility Cutting Board, Red

Quality kitchen tools can easily turn tedious meal preparation into a fun culinary experience. OXO's Good Grips utility cutting board has all the makings of a top-notch cook's aid. Crafted from thick polypropylene, the surface is durable, nonporous, and odor resistant; it is also impervious to deep scratches and maintains the sharp edges on kitchen knives. A juice groove around the perimeter of one side keeps liquids contained, and soft handles at either end make it easy to transport and keep it from slipping on the counter. The cutting board is designed to be used on both sides, doubling a cook's work capacity without adding bulk. Measuring 10-1/2 inches by 15 inches, this versatile size handles medium to large jobs. It is available in a range of handle colors and goes safely into the dishwasher between uses. --Kara Karll

 

I'd love it if you could leave your favorite chili ingredients here for me and visitors. If you'd like to leave a general comment, please leave it in the guest book towards the end of the lens. Thanks!

My Other Cooking Lenses - Enjoy!

Although I have many interests, my real passion is cooking and baking. Here is a list of those lenses. I hope you will stop by and take a look!

Have a favorite style of chili? Just want to stop in and comment on the lens? Feel free--can't wait to hear what you think!

A Growing List Of Chili Ingredients - Please, let us in on your secrets.

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    • rewards4life info profile image

      rewards4life info 6 years ago

      Love your style I'm exactly the same. I love chilli and change the way I cook it depending on what's in the fridge and cupboard, little bit of this and a little bit of that. Genius. Love your page and way of cooking.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Love chili! Growing up, my mom used those chili bricks. They were full of fat and probably awful for us but it was so delicious chili!

    • profile image

      nelabai 7 years ago

      well done! Chili for life! :)

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Yum. Well done! (I'm holding out my bowl to try some of that white chili please.) :)

    • profile image

      seedplanter 8 years ago

      I am in love! This lens has captured my chili-lovin' heart.

      I agree; making chili without a recipe is an adventure. I love adding this and that, and trying new ingredients. We don't like ours too spicy, so I skip the really hot stuff.

      You have a real knack for creating lenses that are unique. Who would've thought a chili lens could be this much fun to read? Great work here, Jenni! (If your chili is this good, I can only imagine what that pastry is like....!)

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      Recipe? I think I have one somewhere, but if I followed the recipe it would turn out the same every time. I'm a firm believer in following a recipe ONCE. After that its fair game.

      Great lens

      Lizzy

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      This is a great lens, Jenni! I'm set for making chili for the rest of my life - Thanks :) 5 Stars!

    • Sarunas profile image

      Sarunas 8 years ago

      Ou, YES ;D

      This is really great site. 5* and favorited.

    • profile image

      innkeeper 8 years ago

      Tried your intuitive chili ideas last night and the results were delicious. Along with my usual ground buffalo, onions, celery, garlica and diced tomatoes, I added cocoa powder, sugar, left over chipotles in adobo sauce, a can of beer, and cornmeal for thickening. I've never seen an actual recipe suggesting the cornmeal, but you're right, it works great. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • jfield profile image
      Author

      jfield 8 years ago

      [in reply to Shelly] Sounds great, Shelly! I've often found that my cooking tastes best when I approach it with a Damn the Torpedoes! Full Steam Ahead mentality. I think we'd get along quite well in the kitchen:)

    • jfield profile image
      Author

      jfield 8 years ago

      [in reply to Shelly] Sounds great, Shelly! I've often found that my cooking tastes best when I approach it with a Damn the Torpedoes! Full Steam Ahead mentality. I think we'd get along quite well in the kitchen:)

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hello, saw you in one of Tipi's guest books and came right over for some chili. The best chili I ever had was about 30 years ago. Tipi and I kept throwing in ingredients until the final taste test "perfect'". You have stretched my chili boundaries! A little sugar helps some folks avoid flatulence and it is a nice taste addition. I like to throw in salsa, cajun seasoning, and jalapenos.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Congrats on winning willows contest :)

    • profile image

      KesiaLynn 8 years ago

      LOL...I notice your blurbs about tomatoes and it reminds me of what my Hubby Man always says - "Real chili never met a tomato!" :) Thanks for sharing your insights.

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 8 years ago

      I love cocoa and corn in mine.

    • jfield profile image
      Author

      jfield 9 years ago

      [in reply to NancyOram] Nancy, thank you so much! Now you have a more elegant name for your "dishes that no one recognizes." Before I came up with Intuitive (Fill in the blank), I just called it goo. :)

    • Nancy S Oram profile image

      Nancy Oram 9 years ago

      Love your Intuitive series. I always had less appetizing names for things I felt I threw together. Now I'll give myself credit for creativity in the process. When my mom did that, we always called it "The dish no one recognizes." We have a favorite "intuitive" chili inspired by my married daughter that has red, green and yellow peppers.

    • Thyme2dream LM profile image

      Thyme2dream LM 9 years ago

      yum..now Im REALLY hungry:-)

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 9 years ago

      Very nice lens! The white chili looks like a great rainy day dish. Welcome to Squidoo, and especially to Culinary Favorites From A to Z.

    • jfield profile image
      Author

      jfield 9 years ago

      [in reply to Stinky] I'm so glad you've found it useful--that's why it's here! I am enjoying the cooler weather myself, and intend on eating a lot of different kinds of chili during the season!

    • Stinky LM profile image

      Stinky LM 9 years ago

      Thank you for this wonderful lens on chili. Now that the cold winter months are on the horizon, a hot bowl of chili sounds great!. I really enjoyed your white chili recipe. Have never thought of making a while chili but your ingredient list sounds yummy and it will work for those occasions when having guests who don't eat red meat.

      Five Stars!

    • jfield profile image
      Author

      jfield 9 years ago

      [in reply to flighty02] Think of chili as a way to use up leftovers with only a few simple rules, and you'll be making all sorts of chili! Glad I was able to inspire you, and thank you for visiting:-)

    • Sniff It Out profile image

      Sniff It Out 9 years ago

      What a great lens! I have never had white chilli but I have to try it after having read this! :)

    • Laura Schofield profile image

      Laura Schofield 9 years ago from Chicago, IL USA

      Fantastic lens! I love to see someone else that uses chocolate in their chile. It's a must! 5 stars.

    • jfield profile image
      Author

      jfield 9 years ago

      [in reply to rms] Thank you so much. I've just gone over to your group and submitted it:-)

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 9 years ago from USA

      This is a wonderful lens. I love chili and I'd love to see this lens at my Cabaret Squidoo group.

      www.squidoo.com/groups/best-recipes

    • The Eclectic Muse profile image

      The Eclectic Muse 9 years ago

      I've never tried making chili white. I wonder how it would be with different beans, like navy beans? My favorite chili ingredient: everything fresh and homemade.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 9 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      I need a bowl of chili...looks good! I'm never one to follow a recipe, they are guidelines at best. Nice lens!

    • CrypticFragment1 profile image

      Tammy Winand 9 years ago from McleodGanj HP India

      hi there! followed your twet to see what this is all about... YUM! I love chili, and... I never cook with a recipe. So little did I know I was making intuitive gourmet meals since my early twenties!

      Only 1 suggestion...move the Fresh Squid contest module to the bottom, it detracts from the lens.

      Best wishes!