Recipe: My favourite chilli

Smoky beef and bean chilli recipe

My recipe for chilli (chili) con carne has changed and developed over the years – no doubt it is far from anything you would eat in Texas (I know tomatoes and beans are frowned upon!), but as long as it tastes good, I’ve decided not to worry about strict Texans taking me to task about it.

Over the years, under the influence of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I swapped out minced beef for something a little more chunky and have added chocolate at the behest of Nigella. Recently I’ve discovered the attraction of using different kinds of dried chillies and Mexican oregano, and had a wonderful time stocking up my cupboards with all sorts of exciting ingredients. Nothing I like better than new (to me) ingredients – I’ve been getting mine from Sous Chef and the Cool Chile Co. I like adding ancho and chipotle powders to my chilli to give both heat and a smoky flavour.

Chilli 1

Smoky beef & bean chilli

  • Servings: 6-8 portions
  • Print

  • 500g of dried beans soaked overnight
  • 1kg beef cut into 3cm chunks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 red onions finely chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp ancho chilli powder
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 heaped tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 350ml passata
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 350-500ml liquid – this can be stock (beef or chicken), the cooking liquid from the beans, additional passata or water, or a mixture of these
  • 2 tsp treacle, molasses or dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • Juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper too taste

Recipe notes:

  • The choice of dried beans to use is up to you, I use a mixture of black beans and kidney beans, pinto beans are also a good choice.
  • This is quite a meaty chilli – feel free to use less meat if you’d prefer.
  • You can use leftover cooked beef for this recipe – just omit the browning stage, and cut into 2cm chunks. Don’t worry if you don’t have a whole kilo of cooked beef left (that would be madness!), the chilli will still taste great, there just wont be quite so much of it. You could always add more beans to compensate. My favourite chilli is the one we make after Christmas with the leftover beef rib from Christmas day – amazing flavour, although probably the most expensive chilli we ever eat!
  • Chuck or brisket are great cuts of beef to use. The brisket will need a bit longer to cook, and so you will probably need to add a little more liquid as you cook.
  • Heat in a chilli is definitely a matter of taste and what you are used to! In my opinion, this recipe makes a medium hot chilli, certainly not a blow your head off version. However, you might not agree, so feel free to start with less, you can always add more spices at the simmering stage. Increase the cayenne pepper for more heat.
  • Like a lot of meat stews, this always tastes better if you make it the day before you need it and reheat. It also freezes and reheats brilliantly.


  1. Put the soaked beans in a large pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer until tender. If you are using kidney beans remember to boil hard for 10 minutes to destroy toxins.
  2. Whilst the beans are cooking, brown the chunks of beef. I use a heavy based frying pan, heated until just smoking, and quickly fry the beef in small batches of 6-7 pieces until they have good seared edges and look very appetising (not like grey lumps!). Transfer the meat to large bowl once it is browned.
  3. After you have browned the meat, turn the heat under the pan down low, and deglaze the pan with a couple of tablespoons of water, or stock (or red wine if you have a bottle open). Put the liquid in then pan and scrape all the toasty brown bits off the bottom of the pan – continue scraping until all the liquid has evaporated.
  4. Put the olive oil in the pan, increase the heat a little, and when the oil is hot, add the onions and fry until very soft (about 10 minutes). After about 5 minutes add the garlic. Stir from time to time so that the onion doesn’t over-brown or stick.
  5. Whilst you are frying the onions, measure out the ancho chilli powder, chipotle powder, ground cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper and Mexican oregano into a bowl, and when the onions are softened, add the herbs in spices in one go and stir.
  6. Add the passata, tomatoes, 300ml of the liquid, the treacle and cocoa to the onions and spices. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5 minutes or so.
  7. Transfer this sauce to a large pan, and add the beef and the drained beans. If the mix looks pretty dry, add more liquid at this stage.
  8. Simmer the chilli for at least 1 hour, adding more liquid if you need to. After about half an hour, taste and add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the lemon juice. You can also add more spices, or a little extra sweetness (brown sugar or molasses) if you feel the chilli needs it, at this stage. After an hour, check to see if the beef is tender, if it is still rather firm, feel free to simmer for however long it needs, adding more liquid as necessary.
  9. Serve with your favourite accompaniments. I love some sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh coriander/cilantro and some tortilla chips for a real treat.

Chilli 2

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For more recipes do visit my directory of Very Berry recipes.

2 thoughts on “Recipe: My favourite chilli

    1. Hi Lucy – I have made this without meat – it’s very good! I added a couple of red peppers chopped small and some mushrooms too. I also included half a can of smoked chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and cut down a bit on the cayenne pepper (the chipotles are quite spicy!).

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