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What are Chili Beans?

Bowl of chili with beans and ground beef.
Assorted beans.
Tofu can be used as a meat replacement in vegetarian versions.
Ground coriander seeds are often used to season chili beans.
Kidney beans, which are often included in chili.
Cilantro is often used to flavor chili.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
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Chili beans are beans that have been prepared in a spicy sauce of Latin American origin. Traditionally, they are prepared with meat, although it is perfectly acceptable to leave them vegetarian or vegan if desired. This dish can be eaten on its own; served over rice, cornbread, and other starches; used as a dip; added to burritos; or used as a sauce for things like nachos and hot dogs. These beans are especially popular in the American Southwest, where it is possible to encounter a number of purists who have very firm ideas about what does and does not belong in chili.

This dish is closely related to chili con carne, a traditional Latin American dish made by simmering ground meat in a rich, spicy sauce. Chili con carne is often made with beef or pork, and the seasonings vary, depending on where one is. Onions, garlic, hot peppers, tomatoes, cumin, and cilantro are common additions to chili. The slow cooking process breaks the meat down and infuses it with flavor from the spices.

In some regions, beans are added to chili con carne, although some people think that beans do not belong in chili. Chili beans are basically chili con carne with a focus on the beans, rather than on the meat. Any type of beans can be used, including kidney beans, black beans, white beans, and pinto beans, and some cooks like to use a blend of beans to enhance the flavor and make the dish more interesting.

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When preparing chili beans, the first step is washing and soaking the beans. Soaking beans helps them keep their shape during the cooking process, and it also encourages them to cook thoroughly, reducing the infamous gastrointestinal effects associated with bean consumption. Many people like to soak them overnight, and they should definitely soak for at least eight hours.

Once the beans are soaked and drained, onions, peppers, and garlic are fried in oil in a heavy stockpot. Cooks may also add bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and other ingredients. As the vegetables start to turn translucent, spices like hot pepper powder, cumin, ground coriander, salt, and pepper are added to taste, or a pre-made chili mix can be stirred in. Then, the beans are added, and the dish is covered in water or stock and allowed to cook until the beans soften, a process which make take one to three hours, depending on the beans. Some cooks like to add corn and freshly chopped bell peppers at the very end of the cooking process for some crunch.

The imagination of the cook is the only limit with chili beans, and cooks can play with ingredients until they develop a recipe which works for them. If meat is going to be used, it is usually sauteed before the beans are added. Tempeh, tofu, or seitan can be used as a meat replacement in vegetarian versions, with seitan being a particularly good choice, because of its texture. Common garnishes include sour cream, grated cheese, and fresh cilantro.

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ceilingcat
Post 11

@SZapper - That's a good suggestion, especially about the bagged beans. They are a lot cheaper than buying beans in a can. The only thing is, you can just start cooking with canned beans. With the bagged beans, you have to go through the trouble of soaking them overnight.

SZapper
Post 10

@vigilant - I usually don't have any trouble finding low sodium beans at the grocery store to use in my black bean chili recipe. However, if your local regular grocery stores don't carry them, maybe try a health food store. Health food stores usually have tons of low sodium options for everything.

You could also just buy beans in a bag instead of in the can. I'm pretty sure they don't add anything to beans when they come in the bag, and it's also way cheaper. Next time you go to the store, look on the bottom shelf in the section with the beans.

profess
Post 9

I participate in our town's chili cook off every year. I have won it twice, but even when I don't win I have a lot of fun and get to try a lot of great chili. We have some pretty clever cooks in our town and you would be surprised at how much variety there can be in a pot of chili.

I am pretty partial to spicy chili recipes. There are usually at least a few jalapenos in my chili and I have even experimented with habaneros.

vigilant
Post 8
I like chili beans, but they are always so salty. I don't recall ever seeing a low sodium variety in the grocery store. Does this exist? Where can I buy them?
Ivan83
Post 7
I always keep a couple of cans of chili beans in the cupboard because they are so tasty and so versatile. You can add them to a whole range of dishes to make them more filling and also more healthy.

One of my favorite quick suppers is to cook up some peppers, onion, and frozen corn, mix in some chili beans and serve it over rice. It is delicious and you can make the entire dish in under 20 minutes.

ddljohn
Post 6

@burcidi-- Do you make your own chili? If you do, there are several things you can do to decrease those side effects of having chili beans. First is to boil the beans well like the article said and throw out the water you boiled them in. Always rinse the beans and never use the same water you boiled them to cook the chili. Most of the substances that cause the gas is in that water. You need to add new water to make the chili.

Second, add some fresh or ground ginger into the chili while cooking. Ginger is a great ingredient for preventing gas. I saw this tip in a chili beans recipe once.

Chili beans are really healthy and beneficial. It's too healthy to just stop eating because of flatulence. I think you should be able to eat them again if you follow these tips.

burcidi
Post 5

I love chili beans but I can't have them because they just give me too much flatulence. The bloating and the gas is unbearable, not to mention embarrassing if I have to be around other people.

SteamLouis
Post 4

I think most of the chili that we see at the salad bar of grocery stores and at restaurants is made with kidney beans right?

I've never seen chili with black beans or navy beans in them. And when I think of chili, I always think of a thick, spicy, stew with tomato paste, kidney beans and ground beef. My experience with chili is really limited though. I've never had Southern food and I've never been to Latin America so I'm sure the chili I've had so far hasn't been very good.

Any recommendations for good places in the US to have chili? Which type of chili bean should a top notch chili have?

anon122251
Post 3

There are two trains of thought on this one. First of them being commercially canned "chili beans" which are generally red or pinto beans in a gravy made of chili powder(s) and seasonings which can be used in chili and other recipes.

The other being beans which are added to chile con carne (dried peppers with meat). This is a reddish stew type dish which generally would use red, black and/or kidney beans, or it can be chile verde (green chile) which is generally made of poultry or pork (the other white meat) fresh green peppers and would use white beans such as navy or great northerns. both generally also contain cumin, onions, and garlic.

leiliahrune
Post 2

@mendocino - Most definitely a good source of zinc! The good thing about chili is its versatility. Many soup companies make a heartier and more soup like version which is better for the type of eating that you're describing. It's really good as a simple dish with crackers and cheese sprinkled on top. The best thing is that chili doesn't have to be spicy either.

mendocino
Post 1

A good food to enjoy at any time, but particularly on cold winter days. Beans are filling and healthy. They contain zinc, a mineral that helps keep us young.

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