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Anytime, Anywhere Chili From My Mom, Pantry & Usually Freezer, Too

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My mom's a fierce, capable woman who can’t be bothered with finicky recipes or friends, and a savvy, no-nonsense cook who seeks efficiency and convenience at absolutely no expense of flavor. If she cares about you, she’ll feed you the best meal of your life. This chili has been in constant rotation for decades. Any questions?

Sheri's Shortcut Chili
Sheri's Shortcut Chili

Look into my freezer right now and you’ll find deli containers of chili my mom made me the last time she visited. She made it when I was at work one day, in my ungenerous kitchen, and was pissed because she couldn’t find the kind of salsa she likes to use in the recipe. (I can’t tell the difference, happily shoveling it with scrambled eggs for breakfast, all on its own dinner after dinner.)

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Head to my 90-year-old grandma’s house and you’ll find the same chili in her freezer: It’s one of the few things she’ll still eat, her body and mind duking it out—and both losing. Making chili is one of the few ways I think my mom can still feel helpful.

Or ask my don’t-cook, can’t-cook relatives, Brian and John: Even they've learned how to make the chili, somehow following my mom's texted, shorthand instructions. Simmer. Eat.....


This chili has stuck around because it's the product and rescuer of real life. It would never have survived Mom's bullshit meter if it involved chocolate or stout or even chile peppers. It’s made with stuff she stockpiles in her pantry so that she’s always ready for chili duty: any sort of canned tomato, salsa, hot sauce, and ketchup. Plus beans, meat, spices, and garlic and onions. That’s it. She says the ketchup makes the chili have the right consistency no matter how little time you have to simmer it, and the salsa and hot sauce bring the heat and smoke in a form that you can purchase nearly anywhere.

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But don’t expect her to wax on about it. When I asked her what’s the wackiest place she’s made it or the randomest person who’s asked for the recipe, she reminded me that cooking, not words, is her preferred language:

So just make the damn chili, people, will you?

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Sheri's Shortcut Chili

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Serves a family
  • Olive oil, to coat the pan
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey or chicken (or beef, or pork)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 16-ounce can any kind of bean (garbanzo or kidney in my house), drained and rinsed
  • 12 ounces jarred salsa (I like Trader Joe's Salsa Autentica; Mom likes Pace)
  • One 28-ounce (or thereabout) can/jar/carton of your favorite tomato stuff (chopped, crushed, sauce, strained, diced))
  • A bunch of dashes of your favorite hot sauce (or around a tablespoon)
  • 2 long squirts of ketchup (maybe around 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, or more to taste

What's always lurking in your freezer? Tell us in the comments below.