ushering in fall: hearty beef and bean chili

Over the weekend the morning low temperatures dipped into the 50s. Here in north Florida, that typically doesn’t happen until the last weekend in October. In fact, I can usually time the first cool weather snap with three things — Halloween, the Florida-Georgia game, and my husband’s birthday — all of which happen during the final weekend of the month.

The weekend was just stunning, and even though the afternoon temperatures warmed up into the 80s, it was perfect fall weather — for Florida, anyway.

chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper


The cool weather here in northern Florida happens in fits and starts, sputtering in and out for a while. But when it begins to happen, my husband and I start craving big bowls of hearty stick-to-your-bones chili. After a quick meeting of the minds in the kitchen Sunday morning, we decided that it was time. It was time for that first pot of chili.

The recipe we’ve made for the last couple of years has come from The New Best Recipe. I’ve become a little bored with that recipe, so I went with a similar recipe – it may actually be identical, in fact, since the same folks are behind it – from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, and I made some adjustments and adaptations. I had to put my own spin on the chili. What fun would it be otherwise?

unsweetened cocoa powder


I added a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to the spice mix to intensify and add complexity to the flavors. To give the chili a bit of a kick, I added one chopped chipotle pepper from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I was nervous about too much heat, though, so I cut back a little on the chili powder. I wanted the kids to be able to eat dinner with us, after all.

chopped chipotle pepper


I like a higher ratio of vegetables to meat in my chili, so I increased the amounts of beans and tomatoes in the stew. Something about that just seems healthier. Plus, we’re guaranteed to get leftovers when I do that, and chili is just as tasty – if not more so – on the second day.

For my palate, the chili had just the right amount of heat. Madeline ate it with a topping of sour cream and shredded cheese, both of which tamed the heat enough for her. She had fun mixing in the toppings. Oliver, as usual, wouldn’t touch it, but I’m not trusting his food critiques until he’s got at least another year of age on him. My husband, though he complained that he would have liked the chili to be spicier, had a second helping of it. I’m pretty sure that speaks for itself.

Beautiful slanted light in the late afternoons, crisp mornings, goldenrod blooming on the side of the road, pumpkins and winter squash in the farmer’s markets, and the amazing smell of a big pot of chili on the stove…really, could October be any more amazing?

Yield: 8 servings

Beef and Bean Chili

Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I increased the proportions of the beans and tomatoes, and I also added some extra flavorings. If you like your chili a bit spicier, increase the chili powder to 1/4 cup. Note: This chili can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to one month


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/8 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce, chopped [note: don't use the whole can - just one chili]
Kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds (85% lean) ground beef
3 (15.5 ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, rinsed
3 (15.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 (28 ounce) can tomato puree


Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, bell pepper, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, cocoa powder, chopped chipotle, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 15 seconds.

Add the beef and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, breaking up the beef with a spoon, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Stir in the beans, diced tomatoes with their juice, tomato puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes.

Remove lid and continue to simmer until beef is tender, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste prior to serving.

Note: The chili is delicious with a topping of sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, or both.

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21 Responses to “ushering in fall: hearty beef and bean chili”

  1. 1
    Barbara | VinoLuciStyle — October 6, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

    Sounds seriously’s funny as I get older how I like it a bit spicier…so Oliver has some time!

    I made a chili last year for a friendly Super Bowl kickoff; the topping was simply some sour cream with grated lime zest and a bit of lime juice; was just the perfect topping.

  2. 2
    SMITH BITES — October 6, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

    I like my chili like Madeline – sour cream and cheese AND I always, always add more beans/veg to my chili as well! Can’t wait to make my first pot of the season!

  3. 3
    Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite — October 6, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

    Oh yeah, definitely chili weather – I just posted my fave recipe last week too!! It’s everywhere! I like a bit of homemade guac on my chili along with cheese and sour cream! Gorgeous pictures MJ!

  4. 4
    Liz the Chef — October 6, 2010 @ 9:11 pm

    I’ll bet this just tastes better reheated! Happy fall indeed…

    • 4.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 6, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

      Liz – Yep, you’re right. I do think it’s better reheated on day 2. Or day 3. 🙂

  5. 5
    Nancy@acommunaltable — October 6, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

    Hooray that “chili” weather has arrived!! There is seriously NOTHING better than a good bowl of red and a good football game!! It’s a New Year’s day tradition in my family!! I love the addition of the unsweetened cocoa – will have to try that with my next batch of red!!!

  6. 6
    Maddie — October 6, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

    I just found your blog recently, and the rich colors of your photos really drew me in. Lovely! I’ll be returning. 🙂

    I’ll have to try making this chili, too…can you believe I’ve never had a bowl of the stuff? But the thermostat’s dropping, so now’s a perfect time for a first try.

    • 6.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 6, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

      Maddie – Welcome! Yes, you definitely need to try a bowl of chili sometime. It’s pure comfort food. 🙂

  7. 7
    Heather — October 7, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    Heck yeah! Cocoa powder is the ultimate secret ingredient (and key!) in a great chili.

  8. 8
    Flavia — October 7, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

    This looks wonderful, Merry! I love the addition of the cocoa powder. I make chili every year in our household as well–it’s a fall/winter ritual for us.

  9. 9
    Mindy — October 9, 2010 @ 7:49 am

    I make big pots of chili this time of year too. I like to experiment and add interesting things- a little dark chocolate, or chunks of butternut squash. It may not be authentic but it sure is good.

  10. 10
    Vanessa — October 10, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

    YUM I love some good chili! This sounds perfect for the fall weather.

  11. 11
    Chris — October 10, 2010 @ 8:18 pm

    I don’t care if everyone in Texas hates me for saying this, I like beans in my chili.

    • 11.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 10, 2010 @ 9:47 pm

      I’m with you. Beans in chili are fantastic. 🙂

  12. 12
    Sophia — October 11, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    I love chili! Perfect for a cold night! You should really consider submitting this to Recipe4Living’s Champion Chili Recipe Contest! It looks delicious!

  13. 13
    Ines — October 11, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

    Oh I love this recipe. And, I also cooked it this past weekend. What a coincidence!
    This IS a wonderful recipe although I have had to modify a bit the amount of powder chilli (more cumin, less red chilli, no chipotle except for about 2 teaspoons of the sauce that comes with the chipotles, sugar) so my family can eat it. In addition, I roast the tomatoes and that adds lots of flavor, I think. The chocolate is an excellent idea.

    I also like your tweets, which I follow. Thank you.

  14. 14
    ashley — October 23, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

    i made this chili tonight and it was awesome! thanks for sharing!

    • 14.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 26, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

      I’m so happy! Thanks for sharing your results with me, Ashley. 🙂

  15. 15
    Courtney — December 12, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

    Mmmm I want to try this! Love chili!

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