Chile Chili con Carne

Chili con Carne with Black Beans and Poblano Chiles

I returned from the cold north land hungry for a warm bowl of chili con carne. It’s not Mexican cuisine, but sometimes we expats need familiar comfort food from home.

Chile, the picante vegetable that has its origins in the Americas, only has one correct spelling in Mexico. Aberrations like chilli and chilie occur north of the border, causing confusion to many and consternation to those like me who are sticklers for correct spelling. Chili con carne, the pot of well-seasoned beans and meat spelled with an “i”, further adds to the confusion. If we go back to the source of the word for the vegetable, to Nahuatl, the language spoken by the people of the Mexican Highlands when the Spanish arrived, we find chili. Confused? Don’t be. Just stick to the contemporary Spanish spelling for the vegetable: chile. And if it’s a pot of beans and meat: chili.

Now that the issue of spelling is out of the way, there are two more matters to discuss: whether to soak beans or not, and how to cook them. Mexican cooks don’t pre-soak beans. They just add beans to water and get on with the cooking. No soaking or draining for them. I pre-soak beans, but I’m not always organized enough to think of doing this the day before, so I use the quick-soak method, which means to bring beans and plenty of water to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot and leave the beans to soak for one hour. Then drain and cook with fresh water.

Pre-soaked beans are thought to be less musical and more digestible. And take less time to cook. I’m all for anything that takes less time and fuel. North of the border, kidney beans are preferred for chili con carne, but any bean will make a tasty chili. Today, I’m using a combination of organic black and flor de mayo beans.

Mexican cocineras use their trusty aluminum pots or clay pots for cooking beans. Earthenware clay pots absorb the odors of the foods for which they are used, so savvy mexicanas dedicate one clay pot to beans, another for chicken, one pot just for chocolate, and so on.

Lately, my love affair with the clay pot has waned, and I’ve been using the pressure cooker to make tender beans in thirty minutes. The beans are pre-soaked in a small pot that is then placed on a metal trivet or rack in the larger pressure cooker. Beans can also be cooked directly in the pressure cooker, but care must be taken that the pot does not cook dry and that the beans do not burn, as some pressure cookers have thin bottoms.

My pot of chili con carne contains chiles poblanos, one of my favorite chile peppers found throughout Mexico. Thick-walled, rich green in color, and not too hot, they are often used for making chiles rellenos, but can be a stand-in for bell peppers when making chili con carne. This is one of the few times they are not blistered and peeled.

Thanks to a recipe I came across in an issue of Consumer Reports years ago, I learned to add vinegar to a pot of chili con carne. This one addition makes all the difference. Maybe it does nothing more than provide a balance to the sweetness of the tomatoes, but it is an essential taste adjustment.

Chili con Carne

  • 2 tablespoons (60 ml.) olive oil
  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) range-fed lean ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large poblano peppers ( or 1 large bell pepper) chopped
  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) finely chopped tomatoes (or 1 16-oz. can)
  • 4 cups (1 liter) cooked beans
  • 1-2 tablespoon (30-60 ml.) chile powder, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoon comino (cumin)
  • 1 cup (8 oz/.25 liter) water
  • 1 tablespoon (60 ml.) cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • crushed tortilla chips and chopped cilantro for garnish
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat.
  2. Cook meat, onion, garlic and poblano until tender and meat is no longer pink.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients, except vinegar and salt. Simmer 30 minutes.
  4. Add vinegar and simmer 15 minutes.
  5. Salt to taste.
  6. Serve garnished with crushed tortilla chips and cilantro.

Vegetarian version: omit meat and add two more cups of cooked beans. This beany chili con frijoles was a favorite during my vegetarian years.

Bean Notes:

Large Mexican grocery stores are stocking more and more organic foods. A common organic label in our part of Mexico is Aires de Campo. They are certified by BioAgriCert America, an organization based in Bologna, Italy, which controls and monitors organic foods in the Americas, Japan and Europe. Aires de Campo sells organic beans and brown rice, as well as other foodstuffs like preserves, agave syrup and honey. My packages of black beans and flor de mayo beans (a pink bean also known as mayflower bean and nightfall bean) include the information that they are from the state of Zacatecas and certified free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and toxic residues. It is so great to have organic beans and rice available, that even if they cost a little more, I’m more than happy to support this market.

Flor de mayo is a tender bean with a delicate flavor that is not well known north of the border. South of the border, it is a common bean that is greatly preferred in the central areas of Mexico. It can be purchased on the internet from native seed companies.

It is so easy to reach for the can opener and have beans or refritos on the table in minutes, but like so many other familiar foods, canned does not compare to freshly cooked. Yes, it takes more time, but once you make a few pots, you will see how easy it is and how much better they taste.

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27 thoughts on “Chile Chili con Carne

    1. I always use bottled water. Purchased by the 5-gal. bottle, water is cheap. I prefer bottled water for beans because they could more quickly in soft water. So little water is needed to soft- or hard-boil eggs that the cost is negligible.

  1. Mido

    Hi! Your recipe looks great, before I try it I have a small question. Does the type of vinegar matter? I’ve got different kinds and not sure which to use (i.e. white, balsamic, red wine and rice vinegar) Or is cider vinegar a must? Thanks.

  2. john s markoeta

    after reading your recipe i control the ingredient and process, as i always do because i am cooking in the Netherlands. here there is a problems with authentic ingredients. mostly i must create the condiments. anyway i can not find any translation of the word chili to vegetables. i the translation an old Mayan or Aztec or what ??

    PS i just received a set of clay cookware so i want to learn to cook in them. therefore i was here.

    1. Hello John,

      The word “chili” (it is spelled in Mexico and in Spanish, with an “e” at the end) is from the Nahuatl language, a branch of the Aztec language and still spoken in parts of Mexico today. The word has been corrupted by English to be spelled with an “i” at the end. This spelling with the “i” can indicate a pot of seasoned beans and meat. My chili con carne recipe calls for “chili powder”, which is dried, ground chile peppers. This is a spicy, hot seasoning. I hope the two spellings do not confuse the issue for you further. Please write again if you need more clarification.

      You will enjoy using your new clay pots. Mexican cooks say clay pots add a distinctive flavor to foods.

  3. Welcome back!! I love chili con carne and anything that has my beloved poblano is right up my true, we toss in the beans and let them cook..glad you’re back, we missed your posts!


  4. this recipe looks delicious!
    i’ve just discovered your blog and I have to say I love it!
    mexican is one of my favourite foods … i have never been to mexico unfortunately, but I used to stay in Texas for a while, there I met a lot of mexican people, so i had the chance to try authentic food and i loved it more then ever…. I’ll keep on following you and I’ll try your recipes very soon! thanks

  5. Hello Kathleen,
    I am having some fun reading your posts. You are very right, we do not soak our beans. Just clean them and drop them into the pot. Better yet, the pressure cooker. Sometimes, I use the crock pot. But lately, busyness is my last name. :)

    Chili is one of the beloved soups in my home, of course I top my with jalapenos.


    1. Even though Mexican cooks do not soak the beans first, they are always tender and tasty — a lesson to us that this step may not be essential.
      Mmm … jalapeños. Maybe you mean pickled jalapeños, en escabeche.

  6. We have a very similar family recipe — we call it Mexican Chili Beans ;) Made with chile colorado (chile pods) and chorizo. Ohhhh so yummy!

    Your photos and recipe now have me craving some warm hearty chile/chili.

    Welcome back amiga!

  7. I always love your posts, with all the info and delightful recipes. I did think it was funny that you got the recipe from Consumer Reports. :D It sounds good though! I feel the same way about soaking the beans, I try to do it ahead, but usually end up the quick bring it to a boil…turn off…set for and hour way. I thought of getting a pressure cooker, but didn’t know if I would use it enough. I never use kidney beans in my chili, usually pinto or pink beans and sometimes black beans. I also never use “Chili” powder. I usually get my chili powder…not from McCormick, but from a health food store or in the Latin section and get a certain kind like New Mexico Green chili, or poblano, chipotle etc. or you can use the dried chilies and grind it yourself. I can get all kinds of those too! I feel the same way as you I like to control all the seasoning and salt level that goes in my food.

    Welcome back! BTW I don’t really have an Indian connection…like trying different local cuisines, and things that are new to me. I love Indian food…and Asian food…and Mexican and Latin food and am excited to learn more regional foods! Oh and I made your champandongo…I will post it soon and link it back to you, thanks!

    1. Consumer Reports magazine used to review different processed foods — maybe they still do — and at the end of their review on canned chili con carne, they said that if you really want the real thing, make your own. The review concluded with a recipe for the best chili con carne I have ever made. Apparently, I am not the only one who remembers this recipe, as it is now all over the internet.

      I’m glad you tried the champandongo recipe from Like Water for Chocolate. I look forward to seeing your version.

  8. Great work clarifying the spelling issue. I still get it mixed up nearly every time. This entry made me want to cook up some chili!

    One thing you might want to add is that there is a distinction between chile and chili powder; in the States, people make chili with chili powder, meaning you don’t need a lot of the other spices. In a lot of areas it is actually hard to find pure chile powder.

    1. I thought of mentioning the chili powder available in the States, but I didn’t know enough about it. I don’t use chili seasoning powder, as it can contain a number of different ingredients, sometimes including cumin, and I like to control everything that goes into my recipes. But since you brought it up …

      I checked on line and read that McCormick chile powder contains “chili (sic) pepper, other spices and salt”. These “other spices” also include silicone dioxide and garlic powder, two ingredients I like to avoid.
      For this batch of chili con carne I used Bueno brand red chile powder from New Mexico — pure red chile powder with no other ingredients. I think most people in the States use something like McCormick chili powder when making chili con carne, but by using pure chile powder, one is able to add cumin, garlic and salt to taste and avoid chemicals.
      Marie, thanks for bringing this up. It is good information for any chili con carne maker to know.

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