Role Reversal: Chili and Corn Chips

by in Expert Chef

A huge snowstorm is headed my way. The weatherman has instructed his entire viewing area to avoid driving tomorrow at all costs. I’ve filled my generator with fuel so I can smugly report to my friends that I’m streaming movies while they’re trying to keep the pipes from freezing. The kids won’t have school tomorrow. Ah, winter in Maine.

My favorite winter activity is stewing something warm and awesome on the stovetop. There’s no better distraction from being holed up in the house than a hearty dish, at least until you find that one magical threat that’ll get your sons onto the porch to clear the snow from the door. In my comfort food world–and on stormy winter days–chili reigns supreme.

Chippy Chili

Chippy Chili / 2 Guiding Stars

Whether it’s meat-based, bean-based or a combination of both, most people agree that the core seasonings–cumin, onion, chiles–give chili its unique identity. There are countless stories of its origins, but they all point to a stew originating in Texas and inspired by Spanish flavors. One version of chili’s history tells the story of Texan explorers pounding dried meat, spices and chiles together into a paste, forming it into blocks and toting them around on the open range as an old-school MRE of sorts. They would simply rehydrate them, so these chili bricks were the ultimate convenience food. While I’m intrigued by this idea, rest assured my recipe won’t have you standing over a stone bowl pounding dried meat (though if you do, please let me know how it goes!).

Many purists will tell you that chili starts with a base of cubed beef, and I like that version very much. My recipe calls for ground beef because if your goal is to get in and out of the kitchen quickly, it’s the key to getting this dish onto the table in about 20 minutes. Just saute the meat and vegetables together, dump the rest in, cover and walk away. If you follow my instructions more carefully–browning and caramelizing the meat, followed by a quick sweat of the vegetables before adding the other ingredients–you will still be done assembling the dish in half an hour and you can move on to something else as it simmers. If you prefer the slow-cooked, “well-watched-pot” experience, simply substitute an equal amount of cubed chuck steak and cook the chili longer, until the meat begins to fall apart when pressed with a fork.

You’ve probably already scrolled through the recipe and wondered why I include crushed tortilla chips in the chili. Well, I have found over the years that crushing chips into my chili somehow makes it taste better–more finished, really–especially when the chili was a quick meal I threw together on a busy night. I’ve surmised that the chips add a depth to the chili–a slightly nutty toasted element–that adds character to the whole experience and helps to thicken the dish. The chip crumbs are an insurance policy, guarding against a hasty preparation that all too often results in a dull-tasting meal. A bit of chopped carrot adds a sweetness to balance the assertive spices.

As a final note, you can prepare a large quantity of the seasoning mix in this recipe to have on hand for added convenience. Simply combine them in an airtight jar and use approximately ¼ c. of seasoning mix per pound of meat. It’s just as easy as the store-bought packets without the added MSG, thickeners and salt, and it’s cheaper to boot.

Chippy Chili

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To get one cup of crushed tortilla chips, measure approximately two cups of whole chips before crushing. Toss them into a plastic bag or put them between two paper towels and roll over them with a rolling pin or crush them with the bottom of a pan. You want fine crumbs, but there’s no need for them to be reduced to a powder.

If you choose to make a larger quantity of seasoning for future use, use granulated garlic rather than fresh chopped garlic. You can also omit the granulated garlic from your seasoning mix altogether and add fresh when preparing your next batches of chili.

Substitute an equal amount of cubed beef for the ground beef if desired and simmer chili until the beef is fork tender.

Servings: 6 (245 G )

Prep Time: 10 Minutes

Cook Time: 1 Hour


  • 1 pound 96% lean ground beef
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • (1) 15 1/2 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • (2) 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup white corn tortilla chips, finely crushed
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic (or 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper


Preheat a large saucepan over medium high heat, and add beef directly to the dry pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring and breaking apart large clumps every minute or two but allowing the meat in contact with the pan to brown before stirring again. Cook beef until it is evenly browned and no pink remains.

Add the bell pepper, onion, and carrot to the pot and stir to combine with the beef. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Bring the ingredients to the simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, for at least 10 minutes but no more than 40 minutes, as very lean ground beef can develop an undesirable texture if cooked too long.

Serve garnished with sliced green onions or any favorite chili toppings.

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