Secret Ingredient Black Bean Chili

When the weather is cold and snowy, I find comfort in a big pot of bubbling chili and hot-out-of-the-oven cornbread with lots of butter. It almost makes the latest snowstorm tolerable … almost.

There are endless variations of and opinions on what goes or does not go into a good bowl of chili. Some think that there is no place for beans in chili. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is illegal to add beans to chili in the state of Texas. Others insist on using red kidney beans and nothing else will do. What I like about all the variations is the assortment of “secret” ingredients. Any chili chef worth his/her salt has a secret ingredient or two in their pot.

In the January/February issue of Cook’s Illustrated, the test kitchen looked into many chili secret weapons, including red wine, peanut butter, cola, prunes, coffee, cornmeal, beer, molasses, cocoa powder, anchovies and mushrooms. They gave the boot to all but beer, molasses, cocoa powder and cornmeal. While I was tempted to try them all (yes, all the winners and losers in the same pot), I refrained and only used a few.

I usually make chili with ground beef. My husband recently made a delicious pot with sirloin steak (coffee is his secret ingredient). Since I had lots of beans in my cupboard, I decided to go the veggie route. I always use dried beans. They do take time, but don’t require much effort.

I use dried beans for several reasons.

-They are more flavorful than canned beans.
-I have fewer cans to recycle.
-They are cheaper. Canned beans are pretty cheap, but organic beans can be around $2 a can. The dried, organic equivalent is about 60 cents.

A big reason I go for dried beans is that I try to avoid cans in general. Most cans are lined with Bisphenol A (BPA). The FDA assures us that it is safe, but I’ve read enough studies to think this endocrine disrupter isn’t anything I want touching my food.

Luckily, if you are in a hurry, there are a couple of options for beans. Eden Foods beans are packed in Bisphenol A (BPA) free cans. Amy’s Kitchen is going to start rolling out BPA free cans this year.

Unfortunately, canned tomatoes are the worst offenders because their acidic nature causes more of the BPA to leach into the food. I have yet to find canned tomatoes free of BPA. Don’t be fooled by thinking that organic canned tomatoes are BPA free, most, if not all are not (I’ve called and asked). Supposedly Muir Glen (owned by General Mills) has BPA free cans of tomatoes on the shelves, but they are being a bit cagey about it. If you buy a can today, it may or may not be BPA lined and there is no way to tell by the date canned. I’m assuming when all of their cans are BPA free, they will send the all-clear signal. Until then, I use home-canned tomatoes in glass, store-bought tomatoes in glass or those packed in aseptic packaging (the waxy-looking box).

My favorite part of chili is all the fixings. Sour cream or plain yogurt, cheddar cheese and raw chopped onions are a must for me. I also like to throw in avocado and cilantro if I have them hanging around.

And, of course, probably the best garnish for chili is a cold mug of beer!

Stay warm!

Black Bean Chili

This is a vegetarian recipe but, if you fancy, by all means, add some meat!

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons molasses
1 large box (26 ounces) chopped tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups vegetable stock
4 cups cooked black beans
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper (more to taste)

For garnish:
Cilantro, chopped
Cheddar cheese, grated
Sour cream or plain yogurt
Onions, chopped
Avocado, chopped


  • In a large pot, add olive oil and onions, sauté over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Add peppers and garlic and sauté another minute.
  • Add spices, cocoa powder, tomatoes, vinegar and stock; bring to a boil. Add black beans and corn.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle a hefty serving into each bowl and top with garnishes.

How to cook dried beans:

  • Decide on the amount you want to cook. One cup of dried beans equals 2.5 cooked. While you are cooking beans, you might as well make extra. You can freeze the leftovers and grab them when you want a quick meal.
  • Sort through the beans, rinse and pick out any little pebbles. Most of the time I don’t find any, but that time or two that I do, my teeth are happy I took the extra step.
  • There is a big culinary debate about whether to soak or not to soak beans. Apparently it is a toss up on whether you save time and reduce the bean’s gas-producing properties. I always soak unless I forget, then I just cook them.
  • To soak, place beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with cold water. If any beans float to the top, remove them (they are too old). Soak for at least six hours, but preferably overnight. I keep them out on the counter.
  • Drain the beans and discard the liquid.
  • Place the beans in a heavy-bottomed pot and cover them with water. Add enough so that there are a couple inches of water above the beans. Bring to a boil, cover and turn the heat to low. Add more water if the water level dips below the beans. Stir occasionally. Cook until bite-tender. This will take one to two hours, depending on the beans.
  • Drain and use now or freeze.

Slow-Cooking variation: Place beans in slow cooker, cover with water and soak overnight. Drain; add fresh water to cover with two additional inches. Cover and cook on low for eight hours.

This post is part of  The Nourishing Gourmet’s Pennywise Platter Thursday and Fight Back Fridays and The Healthy Home Economist Monday Mania.

5 Responses to “Secret Ingredient Black Bean Chili”

  1. Rachel says:

    Hi – I came over from pennywise platter thursday. Yes, those Pomi boxed tomatoes I’m pretty sure, but not positive, do not contain BPA. I just found that has a pretty good price on them and you can find a coupon code that will cover the shipping. Otherwise, I peel and chop whole frozen tomatoes in lieu of canned. I need to avoid the citric acid that they add to canned tomatoes and these have been my solutions. Thanks for the recipe. 🙂

  2. Gail Lloyd says:

    I can’t remember why, but beans taste better and are easier if you do the following:
    after soaking up to 24 hours, drain water, add fresh water, bring to boil & simmer 20 minutes, then put in crockpot on LOW til done.

  3. Hi Kara, I make my chili with 1/2 grassfed ground beef and 1/2 pastured ground pork. I’ve gotten completely away from canned tomato products and now am either making my own sauce or buying Bionaturae in glass jars. Much better taste this way!!! Thanks for sharing at Monday Mania this week! 🙂

  4. Samantha says:

    Pomi is BPA free 🙂 – Love itttt

  5. Diann says:

    This sounds awesome, I can’t wait to try! I’ll probably do half the corn and consider what else to substitute in, Possibly some grassfed ground meat, or I’ll just see what’s available at my next farmer’s market if I’ll be feeding vegetarians.

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