Make Ahead

Slightly Smoky Mixed-Bean Chili

December 29, 2010
8 Ratings
Photo by Ryan Dausch
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Quite simply, this is the dish my children request most frequently.
This chili was based originally on a recipe from a Sunset Magazine Vegetarian Cookbook for Layered Chili. At the time, 3 cans of prepared beans were adequate for my small family. Later on, I encountered Deborah Madison's version for Black Bean chili, which called for toasting spices and whole dried peppers and grinding them to lift the flavor. Being rather lazy, I simplified those instructions quite a bit, simply adding my blend of spices to the sizzling mix of onions and garlic already in the pan. As my family grew, I added more cans of beans to the preparation, till the cost in terms of cash outlay and the effort of opening 8 or 9 cans in the rush to get dinner on before the school bus arrived (as I said, I'm lazy) outweighed the flavor benefit. So I experimented with the more lazy, leisurely approach of soaking and cooking a mix of dried beans--big pillowy kidneys, black turtle, small Adukis, pictorial Anasazis and pintos. It is I suppose more effort, but can be done in stages. I don't bother soaking overnight, a few hours will do. Don't skip the yummy garnishes. They freshen up the flavor of this rich stew. Serve with: rice; guacamole; yogurt; sliced scallions; shredded cheddar; lime wedges; salsa; shredded lettuce. —creamtea

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Creamtea is a longtime Food52er who loves the movie Babette's Feast. She lives in New York.
WHAT: A deep, complex chili that's wonderfully hands-off.
HOW: Cook your beans (whichever you've got!). Sauté your onion and garlic, add your beans, tomatoes, orange, and spices, and simmer for around a half hour.
WHY WE LOVE IT: We love how creamtea's recipe calls for whatever beans you have around; it makes it easy to throw together whenever the mood strikes. The orange provides that hit of acid that chili needs, and the combination of herbs and spices gives it a complex smokiness. Plus, it's vegetarian (and, depending on your garnish, vegan)! —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • For the beans
  • 5 cups assorted dried beans, such as Anasazi, pinto, black, adzuki, pink and red, sorted and rinsed well, soaked in ample salted water for 3 or 4 hours or overnight
  • 1 small whole onion
  • 3 fresh bay leaves, twisted along their spines to crack them slightly
  • For the chili
  • 1 large (or 3 small) Spanish onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground chili, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and then pounded in a mortar and pestle
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 large can fire-roasted tomatoes. (I use Muir Glen). Otherwise, you could use whole, diced, or petite-diced, according to your preference
  • 1/2 naval orange, skin and pith removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Rice as an accompaniment (see my brown-rice pilaf within my recipe for Sephardic Megedarra -- if you start it at the same time you saute the aromatics here, it will be done just about when the chili is done)
  • Guacamole (see my recipe for Plain and Simple Guacamole and maybe increase by 1 avocado + extra lime juice and garlic)
  • Plain or goat's milk yogurt
  • Sliced scallions or minced white onions
  • Shredded cheddar
  • Fresh mild goat cheese, crumbled
  • Lemon or lime wedges
  • Refrigerated-type salsa (or homemade: chopped tomatoes, fresh jalapeno, seeded & minced, diced onion, minced garlic and a squeeze of lime)
  • Chopped fresh tomatoes (optional)
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce (optional)
  1. For the beans
  2. Drain beans of their soaking liquid and place in a large kettle with whole onion, and bay leaf. Fill pot with fresh filtered water to more than cover the beans—1 to 2 inches above the surface of the beans should do. Season cooking water with salt—enough that you can taste it. Bring the water gently to the boil, stirring occasionally. When water boils, turn heat to medium low and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Older beans will take longer. You will probably have to top off the beans with more water as they cook. You can remove a few beans from the pot and cut through the center with a sharp knife to test for doneness.
  1. For the chili
  2. In a heavy-bottomed pan, sauté onions until slightly softened; make an opening in the sautéing onions and add a little more oil and the minced garlic, allowing it to sizzle a bit before stirring into the onions. Sauté mixture until onions are translucent. Quickly add the spices and herbs and stir once or twice into the onion mix to bring out the fragrance then remove from heat before they scorch. Add to the pot of beans along with the canned tomatoes (squeeze over the pot to break them up before adding if they are whole), and orange pieces. Simmer mixture for 1/2 hour or so until flavors blend. Taste for salt and seasoning and adjust. May be made a day ahead for best flavor.
  3. Serve over rice with choice of garnishes: guacamole, yogurt, scallions, minced onions, shredded cheddar or creamy goat cheese, lemon or lime wedges, chopped tomatoes and lettuce.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Denise
  • Laurenzim
  • Fiona Dunnett
    Fiona Dunnett
  • Kukla
  • EmilyC

52 Reviews

Miruna.P.Burk September 26, 2020
This is a new family favorite. Kid and grown ups all loved it. We are looking for more veg recipes and this was satisfying. My daughter loved it. My husband felt sated and we all look forward to making it again.
creamtea September 26, 2020
Hi Miruna: I'm so glad to hear your family liked my recipe. Thank you for trying!
KarenP December 31, 2017
Wondering if butternut squash would be a good addition?
creamtea January 1, 2018
Sure, it's worth a try!
KarenP January 2, 2018
Served it on top of roasted cubed butternut squash. Delicious!
creamtea January 2, 2018
Thanks for the feedback--what a nice alternative to rice! I like this idea.
Kathleen November 2, 2017
Are you able to adapt this recipe to an Instant Pot?
creamtea November 2, 2017
Hi Kathleen. I'm the originator of this recipe. Although I personaly don't have an instapot, I think you could adapt it per the manufacturer's directions. I have used a pressure cooker for the preliminary cooking of beans. If the instruction manual tells you how to cook beans in your instapot then by all means. Once they are pre-cooked in water as in the first part of the recipe, you can add the seasonings per part 2.
Kathleen November 2, 2017
Thank you so much! I’ll give it a try. The recipe sounds fantastic.
Claudia October 29, 2017
This recipe is absolutely phenomenal. I made it for dinner tonight, and oh my, I don't think there is any other chili recipe that will ever be able to top this. I do have to admit that I added 1 1/2 tsp of cocoa powder, but other than that, I followed the instructions religiously. What a gem of a recipe.
creamtea October 29, 2017
Thank you so much for your comments, Claudia! Cocoa powder is a fine addition! Thanks for trying.
Jennifer N. April 17, 2017
Just a warning not to use Indian chili powder. Yogurt will be a welcoming cooling agent and I love spice! Thanks for a great recipe. I used adzuki, black and black eyed. Added a bit of kale to use up and butternut sqaush. Yum!
eveross May 27, 2015
Excellent! I added a bit of chili in adobo sauce, and it was excellent! Thank you!
creamtea May 27, 2015
I will try that! Sounds like a great addition.
Denise February 26, 2014
Made this last night, with the addition of 2 red bell peppers and one jalapeno. Excellent. Thanks!
creamtea February 26, 2014
I'm glad you enjoyed it, danisse.
ceeteebee February 7, 2014
By large can of the fire-roasted tomatoes, do you mean a 28 oz can? (Just wanted to make sure before I start cooking).
creamtea February 26, 2014
Yes, ceeteebee, 28 oz. can.
Laurenzim February 7, 2014
I have been making vegetarian style chili for years now and this one is my absolute favorite!! I could eat it for every meal!! The only change I made was using chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (chopped) instead of the chipotle chili powder since I did not have it. CONGRATS & THANKS!!!!!! ;)
creamtea February 26, 2014
Thank you so much, Laurenzim! I too sometimes use canned chipotles in adobo. Appreciate your pointing out that possibility.
Pegeen February 1, 2014
This sounds so delicious! And congratulations!
creamtea February 2, 2014
Thanks, Pegeen!
Fiona D. January 30, 2014
Do you drain the beans from their cooking liquor after boiling and before adding the onion/ tomato mixture? Thank you!
creamtea January 30, 2014
Fiona, I usually don't have a lot of liquid left after cooking the beans, so I have never drained them. (As I cook them the water level lowers relative to the beans so I add hot water as needed). I like them ever-so-slighty soupy. There will be plenty left over for the next night, by which time all will have thickened up.
Emily January 29, 2014
I'm just curious what the orange adds to the flavor… tanginess? Zestiness? It's an interesting ingredient for chili and I'd love to know why you chose to use it.
creamtea January 29, 2014
Hi Emily. The idea came from Molly Katzen's black bean soup. I'd been making this chili for years and over time changed things, adding in roasted tomatoes, sometimes using chipotle chili (canned, powdered, whatever was on hand). One day I recalled my first taste of the Black Bean Soup from the Moosewood Cookbook. It was delicious, almost beefy, and one of the "sescret ingreds." was orange. It adds a little sweet, a little tart, and some fruitiness. You can also make it without the orange. We often serve the chili with lemon or lime wedges, so I figured why not add a different citrus into the equation, simmered with the rest. N.B. I grew up with citrus trees in our backyard, so it's natural for me to add it to many different preparations.
Emily January 29, 2014
nice! I'm going to try adding that to my next chili! thanks for the recipe!
Roberta January 29, 2014
I love the recipes at this site, but where are the nutritional values? I really need to know before I cook.
creamtea January 29, 2014
Hi Roberta. This is my own personal recipe; I'm a home cook, so I'm afraid I don't know the nutritional values. I'll quote Merrill's previous quote from another thread addressing this question: "Our recipes come from home cooks, so we don't calculate nutritional info on our site (we believe in moderation and eating fresh, whole foods!). If you would like to calculate the info yourself, this thread may be helpful in figuring out how to go about it: "
creamtea January 29, 2014
Just wanted to add, thank you for your interest in my recipe.
Kukla January 28, 2014
Congratulations on the Wildcard Win!
creamtea January 28, 2014
Thank you Kukla. I'm so thrilled by this!
EmilyC January 28, 2014
This looks great and perfect for right now. Congrats on your WC!
creamtea January 28, 2014
Thank you, Emily!
inpatskitchen January 27, 2014
Congrats on the Wildcard Win!
creamtea January 28, 2014
Thank you!
rsimpson3 January 27, 2014
The beauty of Twitter: the timeline as time machine. I hope this comment thread isn't dead.
I love that it calls for basically whatever beans one has on hand (I nearly always have portions of black, pinto, garbanzo and cannellini in my freezer). Bean recipes are the one dish that I generally exclude from my personal rule of always following precisely the first time I make it. As long as I use the same color of bean called for, I don't feel like I'm disrespecting the author.

Using fire roasted tomatoes sounds like a great idea!
creamtea January 27, 2014
nope, rsimpson3, very much alive. Use what you have, no disrespect taken.
Allison L. March 10, 2013
Can you soak the beans overnight and then cook the in a crock pot with the onion/tomato mixture?
creamtea March 10, 2013
I'd try it, why not? As long as you saute the onion and garlic mixture first before piling it into the pot.
Allison L. March 22, 2013
Tried this yesterday and they were great! But for the crock pot, halve the recipe, as 5 cups is a lot of beans. My kids got the leftovers out of the fridge after dinner & ate them right out of the tupperware, with additional cheese & sour cream.
creamtea April 7, 2013
Glad it worked out in the crockpot!
Joy H. October 30, 2012
Do all the beans get done at the same time if you're cooking different sizes?
creamtea December 23, 2012
Yes, it works! Sorry I didn't see your post before.
creamtea March 3, 2013
although as always it is best to buy from a source with quick turnover; old beans will take longer.
tellmeaboutfood August 26, 2014
I found this to be a problem. 3/4 of the beans were done but the final bean type was still crunchy. I'll stick to one kind of bean in future!
Panfusine February 2, 2012
have to try this, sounds awesome!
creamtea February 14, 2012
I do hope you try it, Panfusine.