Chilli con or sin carne


Everyone loves chilli. It is delicious, healthy, filling, vaguely exotic and, for our purposes, easy! One of my favourite episodes of The Simpsons is when Homer goes to the town Chilli Cook Off and mocks the mildness of the various Chillis he tastes, that is until he samples Chief Wiggums’ effort which includes, ‘The merciless peppers of Quetzlzacatenengo, grown deep in the jungles primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum.’ If you have seen the episode, you know what happens next, if not, youtube it, it’s hilarious and a masterclass of psychedelic animation. The point of my rambling is to illustrate the variety and strength or heat of various different chilli peppers. There is a world of variety out there but most chillis you will find in an average supermarket lean towards the mild side. You will come across the Bird’s Eye Chilli which is notoriously hot and probably worth steering clear of unless you are experienced with them. This recipe calls for a bog standard red chilli and some hot chilli powder, but it’s still not very hot and would only the distress the most sensitive palate. I constantly try to make my chillies hotter and still usually end up with something that Homer would mock. Probably no bad thing. I have occasionally succeeded in making a chilli so hot it was uncomfortable to eat, but that’s not very enjoyable so unless you and your friends are heat freaks I’d advise you err on the side of caution. You don’t even have to use any actual chilli peppers and instead you can rely on the chilli powder itself for the heat and taste, but I like to add actual fresh chilli. It’s easy to convert chilli to a vegetarian or even vegan dish by simply omitting the meat and adding more veg like potato or red peppers or finely chopped celery or whatever you like.

This recipe will feed 4 hungry adults. Make more rice to stretch it further or you can confidently freeze leftovers to enjoy another time.

Chilli con or sin carne


  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 large onion finely chopped or 2 smaller ones
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 heaped teaspoon hot chilli powder
  • 1 red chilli pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 medium carrots sliced
  • 500 g lean minced beef
  • 350 mls beef stock made from a cube
  • 400 g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp sugar or add a thumb-sized piece of dark chocolate along with the beans instead
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 400 g can red kidney beans
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Plain boiled rice
  • Soured cream and spring onion to serve


  1. Get a middling to large saucepan on the hob and gently fry the chopped onion and garlic to soften them. Add the cumin, paprika, chilli powder and finely chopped chilli pepper and fry for a minute or two. At this point I like to add the carrot and get it coated in the oil and spices. Now up the heat and tip in the minced beef. How lean you buy your beef is up to you. Packaging these days is quite clear about the fat content, 5% being lean, 20% being at the cheaper and more unhealthy end of the scale. If you buy the cheaper stuff but want to get rid of the extra fat you can simply fry the beef in another pan and pour off the excess fat before adding it to the chilli (or any mince dish you might be making).

    So anyway, stir and fry the beef until it is browned and any large lumps are broken up. Add the hot beef stock, the can of tomatoes, the tomato puree, marjoram, salt, pepper and sugar if you’re using it and give it all a good stir. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cover with a lid, leave it to simmer for 20 minutes or so checking occasionally to make sure the sauce isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan or drying out too quickly. If it seems to be drying too quickly add a little water to loosen it up and lower the heat if you can. Stir in the drained and rinsed red kidney beans and if you didn’t use sugar you can add a couple of squares of dark chocolate here, chilli really benefits from having a sweet note in there so do use either sugar or chocolate. Bring up to a vigorous simmer and let it bubble for 5 or 10 minutes. It is recommended that you let chilli rest, off the heat, with the lid on, for about ten minutes as this lets the flavours mingle. Sometimes I do this, sometimes I don’t. I can’t claim I am sophisticated enough to taste the difference but it is helpful if you are hustling friends or family to get to the table while you get your rice ready.

    You don’t need to serve a lot of rice with chilli as the meaty beany sauce is very filling in itself.

    A good dollop of soured cream on the side, topped with some finely chopped spring onions is a lovely, cool foil to the heat of the chilli.

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