To bean or not to bean, that is the chili question | WHIDBEY RECIPES

Yes, I know Shakespeare is spinning in his grave, and I’ve been playing fast and loose with that quotation, but it was just too much fun to pass up after I read about the momentous decision made recently by The International Chili Society.

“To bean, or not to bean— that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous chili purists, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, throw in the beans, and by opposing end them.”

Shakespeare, “Hamlet’

Yes, I know Shakespeare is spinning in his grave, and I’ve been playing fast and loose with that quotation, but it was just too much fun to pass up after I read about the momentous decision made recently by The International Chili Society.

Never mind all the Romney/Obama, Inslee/McKenna, Biden/Ryan debates; let’s talk about a truly important debate that’s been going on for decades, if not centuries. The subject of that debate? Chili. That’s right, chili, or to be more accurate, whether or not chili should contain beans.

Chili purists insist, and have since chili’s creation, that true, authentic chili never contains beans, which they consider nothing but “filler,” and up until about a month ago, the International Chili Society so decreed. Each year, when the world championship chili contest was held to see whose chili reigned supreme, any chili containing beans, any kind of beans, was automatically eliminated. Until this year.

This past month, members of The International Chili Society (who are these people, anyway?) agreed to add a “bean-optional” category when it held the 46th world championships in Charleston, W. VA. on

Oct. 5, 6 and 7. It’s a huge event among chili-heads and thousands of entries make it a very difficult judging situation. And the winner this year? Bob Plager, who took home $25,000 for his superlative (said the judges) pot of red chili. Not a bad return on a pot of chili, right? I’ve not yet been able to view his winning recipe, so can’t tell you whether or not it contained beans of any sort. However, I suspect not.

Personally, I like my chili with beans, preferably dark red kidney beans and/or black beans, but one of the best chili recipes I ever had, and I have far too many, was for a Texas style chili, no beans. I’ve mislaid the recipe, but it will turn up, I’m sure. In most of the southwest, however, including Texas, adding beans to a pot of beef chunks in a sauce made from chiles and spices is sacrilegious. And, during all of our travels in Mexico, where chili is a staple and beans are a part of virtually every meal, never did we find the two together, never a bean in a bowl of chili.So, chili lovers, it’s obviously a personal choice, to bean or not to bean, but isn’t it comforting to know, finally, that the great bean debate is over and that The International Chili Society has decreed that it’s acceptable to bean?

(Insert a sigh of relief here, please.)



This first recipe is for our no-beans-in-my-chili purists, from Tom Tyler of Mesquite, Texas, who in years past has competed (and often won) in chili contests across the country, including The World Championship Chili Cookoff. This is a north Texas recipe, a favorite of a few members of my family who also believe chili should have no beans. According to Mr. Tyler, “the secret to great chili is good meat and good spices, and no beans allowed.”



2½ lbs. boneless chuck roast, diced

1 T. vegetable oil

4 cups water

½ cup diced onion

2 t. garlic powder (I use fresh, minced garlic; several cloves), divided (see instructions)

1 t. salt, or to taste

½ to ¾ t. red pepper (depending on your desired heat level), divided (see instructions)

4 whole jalapeno peppers

4-6 T. fresh chili powder, divided (see instructions)

4 t. ground cumin, divided (see instructions)

¼ t. ground oregano (or ½ t. fresh minced)

1 bay leaf

2 beef bouillon cubes (or

1 T. beef flavor base, my preference)

1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce


Brown the chuck chunks in hot vegetable oil in a Dutch oven. Add water, onion, 1 t. garlic powder, salt, ½ t. of the red pepper and the jalapeno peppers. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hr. Add water as needed to keep liquid ½-inch above the meat throughout cooking.

Remove jalapeno peppers; strain liquid from the peppers, pressing on them to extract juice and discard the peppers. Add jalapeno liquid to the pot, along with 2-3 T. chili powder, 2 t. of cumin, oregano, bay leaf and bouillon cubes. Stir well and simmer, uncovered for 1 hr. and 30 min.

Remove bay leaf; add remaining chili powder, red pepper, cumin and tomato sauce. Stir well and simmer 15 to 30 min. Adjust seasonings to desired heat level; serve. Serves 4-6 depending on serving size.

Note: I add about 1 T. brown sugar or honey and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to the final simmer; I think it brings out the flavor even more. This is excellent with corn bread.


Ah, but what’s a poor vegetarian to do? Live life without chili? Never mind what the purists say, there are

alternatives. You can, of course, make a pot of chili with all the sauce as in the above recipe, but using only beans, three or even four kinds. This would be called, by they who do not acknowledge beans in chili, a “bean side dish.” However, you could also consider using lentils, which

I happen to like very much and which are very good for you. Try this lentil chili and, trust me, you won’t miss the meat.



2 strips bacon, diced (optional)

2 cups diced onion

1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (use more if you want it hotter)

1 T. minced garlic

¼ cup tomato paste

1 T. each chili powder (if you can find ancho chile powder, use it), cumin and dried oregano

1 t. ground coriander

1 t. celery seed

1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes in juice

3 cups V-8 or tomato juice

3 cups hot water

2 cups dry brown lentils, rinsed

1 T. chopped semisweet chocolate (or use chips) (see note below)

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Sour cream and/or avocado, for garnish

Cook bacon in a large pot over med.-high heat until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel; set aside.


Sweat onion, bell pepper, jalapeno and garlic in the bacon drippings (or use 2 T. olive oil if not using the bacon) until onion begins to soften, about 5 min.

Stir in tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander and celery seed; cook until paste begins to darken, about 1 min., stirring constantly. Add tomatoes, V-8, water and lentils. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to med.-low and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender, about 40 min. Stir in the chocolate until it melts, 2-3 min. Add lime juice and bacon (if using). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each serving with a small dollop of sour cream and diced avocado. Makes about 10 cups.

Note: You probably already know, but if not, chocolate should be no surprise. Chocolate and chilies are often combined and chocolate is frequently a “secret” ingredient in prize chili recipes.

And finally, a recipe for old-fashioned, everybody recognizes it, chili with beans, but this one is super easy because you just throw it all into your good old crockpot before you take off for work and it’s ready for dinner when you are.



1 lb. lean ground beef

1 cup chopped onion

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed a bit

4 t. chili powder (more if you prefer)

1½ t. salt, or to taste

¼ t. ground pepper

½ t. dried oregano

1 t. ground cumin

1 can (16 oz.) diced tomatoes

1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce

1 can (15 oz.) red kidney beans, well drained

1. Brown the meat in a hot skillet. Drain off fat and put in crockpot with all remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hrs. Serve over rice or polenta, or just in bowls sprinkled with shredded cheese or garnished with a dollop of sour cream and diced avocado.


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