Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 23, 2015

National Chili Month: Chipotle Black Bean (or What You Will)

This is one of our favorite times of year in the Under Western Skies editorial offices: it’s National Chili Month. It’s time to continue our years-long tradition of featuring a few more recipes for that quintessentially American dish. As longtime readers know, we’re going to cook vegetarian chili.

At the end of last weekend, with clouds hanging low on a breezy late afternoon and the temperature plunging into the 50s (it’s southern California, after all), we decided it was a perfect evening for chili. With temperatures hovering near or above three digits (F) for many weeks past, it’s hardly been chili-eating weather. We hadn’t done any shopping, so we took on the challenge to make chili from what we found on hand. The potential problem: we were lacking the one key ingredient every chili (and we mean that) must have: chiles. We settled for some excellent ground chile, rooted through the pantry and the refrigerator (plus a trip out to the herb garden), discovering enough ingredients to create Chipotle Black Bean Chili (or What You Will).

The ingredients we came up with: olive oil, 1 onion, 2 garlic cloves, a large carrot, half a yellow bell pepper, a 28 oz. can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes, 14 oz. can of black beans, 2 tsp lemon juice, 1/2 tbsp Penzey’s ground chipotle pepper, 1 tsp ground cumin, salt and ground black pepper to taste. If you don’t have or don’t prefer the smoky flavor of chipotle, regular chili powder is fine, but then you no longer have Chipotle Chili.

In addition, we picked enough basil to equal about 1/2 cup or so in order to make a pesto, requiring olive oil, part of the garlic and a few finely chopped almonds.

Get cooking.

Get out your big heavy bottomed chili pot, heat it up and put in the olive oil. Sautee the onions, 1/2 the garlic, carrot, bell pepper and anything else you think should be in there. After the onion’s translucent (5-10 minutes), add the tomatoes and spices, pepper and salt, if you think you need it (we added no salt). Let it simmer steadily for about 30 minutes. If it starts to dry out, add some water; only you know how wet or dry you like your chili. After that, add the beans, stir it all together and let it go another 15 minutes or so.

If you’re doing the pesto, you can chop your basil (or cilantro or parsley or whatever), garlic and almonds fine with a knife or use your blender/food processor.

Serve. Eat!

We put our chili on a delicious portion of polenta The Counselor made, having learned the art from her Italian grandfather. She doubts that Bernardo ever had chili with polenta, but grazie, Bernardo, just the same; your polenta lives on. After spooning chili over the polenta we scattered the pesto on each dish and ecco: Chipotle Black Bean Chili.

Chipotle Black Bean Chili with Pesto Over Polenta

Chipotle Black Bean Chili with Pesto Over Polenta

If you find (as we did) that you’ve overdone the ground chipotle, a dollop of nonfat yogurt helps balance the heat (I’ve adjusted the recipe above to be milder than we made it).

With a dab of yogurt

With a dab of yogurt

We’ll have another recipe or two before the month is out. What chili are you making? We’d love to hear about it. Leave us a comment. Or, if you try one of our recipes, we’d like to know what you thought of it. You can find all our National Chili Month recipes from over the years by clicking on “Food” under “Categories” over in the right hand column.

© Brad Nixon 2015, 2019


  1. Wow. Now you’ve done it. I released the brake on the VW camper and kick started it going down the mountain from Mt Adams. Cincinnati Chili was the nearest parlor but I was Jonesing for a Gold Star cheese Coney with onions and a four way. As you recall that’s spaghetti, chili, cheese and onions. Lucky for you I can load up a case and FedX it to you in the land of sand, cactus and every morning is a new near death experience. I hope I can make it past Graeters Ice Cream. Bob wants to know if you’re a yuppie convert and wear an apron in the kitchen.


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