Classic Tomato and Bean Chili

Classic Tomato and Bean Chili

I always look forward to that first incredible fall-like day in Minnesota when the temperature barely hits 55; when I see that first amber leaf high atop the maples lining our St. Paul street; when the smells of grilled meat have been replaced by the unmistakable smell of a cozy fire in the fireplace….and I hear my husband begging for a bowl of my chili.

THIS marks the start of a special season…chili season. It is a season that starts with the first leaf changing color until the last leaf falls off the red maple in our front yard (unless it snows first and the leaves don’t fall…then chili season never ends!).

His wish, and my very willing response, originates from years of tradition…where the warm smell of chili welcomed trick-or-treaters to our door, where a spicy bowl of chili was the main meal at my birthday party (now fondly called ce-Libra-tion among me and my October birthday friends) and where this easy and delicious bean stew was our quick go to when my busy family sat down to a rare family meal on a blustery pre-winter day.

Classic Tomato and Bean Chili

I hope that one day my son, Elliot, can conjure similar memories when it comes to a bowl of this bean-y goodness. This year marked his first Halloween (He showed off his moves as Elvis) and to commemorate it, we made chili. Ok, let’s get real, I would have made chili even if it wasn’t his first Halloween, but it was a good excuse to devour this deliciousness twice in a week (Chad made me make it two days earlier). Even though Elliot couldn’t taste it directly, although I swear he was eating it with his eyes, it represented a continued family tradition to be passed down for Halloweens to come.

I’ve tasted and created many-a-chili in my day, but it’s always hard for me to stray too far from my family’s tried and true version. It is a classic chili with simple ingredients that can be doctored to cater to different tastes, diets and preferences. I’ve made this chili my whole life and it’s probably never been the same twice. You see, tradition in my family doesn’t necessarily focus on the details. Tradition is about the creative process. It is about getting the dish to be better or “just the way grandma made it.” It’s about finding yourself in the dish and putting your mark on it so that future generations will know you through tasting what you’ve created or reimagined. So in that sense I would say that this chili is more of a base with room for interpretation.

Allow your tastebuds to guide you. Maybe you want a meat chili, a vegetarian chili (double the vegetables and add a can of beans), a thick chili (use crushed tomatoes), a thinner chili (diced/whole tomatoes), spicy chili (more cayenne) or mild chili (no cayenne); you can make it happen by altering this basic chili recipe. We’ve had a preference lately for turkey, but I’ve tried and have loved all versions. Also, there’s a secret ingredient. Ketchup. I know. Ketchup? But it’s an easy way to get a well-balanced vinegar/sugar mixture into the tomato base. I would recommend a ketchup with simple ingredients in it, leaving out the high fructose corn syrup.

This is a recipe that I hope you make your own. The ingredients are staples and are usually on hand in a pantry (one of my favorite aspects of this recipe). Not to mention the endless toppings and sides to go along with it. The season is now people! Chili is ON!

Vanessas Chili-4

Vanessas Chili-6

Classic Tomato and Bean Chili

Classic Tomato and Bean Chili


1/2 onion diced

1 small yellow pepper diced

1lb ground turkey/beef

2 cans beans (kidney/canellini)

28oz can tomatoes (diced, crushed, or whole)

chili powder to taste

ketchup to taste

salt and pepper to taste

cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

In a large pot, combine meat, peppers and onions. Saute until meat is cooked through. Stir in beans (with juice) and tomatoes. Add salt, pepper, chili powder, cayenne pepper and ketchup (a couple of tablespoons AT LEAST) to taste. The following five minutes will be a tasting game. Once you get it to where you want it in regards to flavor and spice, let the chili simmer for 15-20 minutes…then taste again. Serve right away with a grilled cheese for dunking or allow to simmer longer for more developed flavors. I hope you enjoy!

Next week…stuffing.

Classic Tomato and Bean Chili




  1. Oh my! Can’t say how proud I am of you right now:) Your Grams is beaming! I’m so happy you’ve grown up with a love for cooking!

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