Ann’s Kitchen: The Comfort of Chili

We all need a little comfort food right now.

When I was growing up, my family considered chili its own food group. I don’t remember following a particular recipe for it. It was the ingredients that mattered, and we adjusted the quantities based on what was in the cupboard and how many were eating. Our version was very straightforward – ground beef, canned chopped or crushed tomatoes, chopped onion, a can or two of red kidney beans, and plenty of chili powder. For garnishes: shredded cheddar cheese, some sour cream and Fritos corn chips. One of the great things about chili is that it’s economical.

Even if you don’t have all the traditional chili ingredients on hand – and especially now when shopping is tricky and many of us are using what we have on our shelves – you can make a pretty tasty chili. And right now, I can’t understate how much solace I’m getting from really basic dishes like this. 

Instead of ground beef, you can use any meat you like – ground turkey, chicken or pork – or no meat at all. You might want to add vegetables like chopped green pepper and corn, and a variety of beans. Another idea: You could try substituting meat with rehydrated dried mushrooms. I like to add a clove or two of garlic. Feel free to add more or less.

Spices are where I like to get creative. Chili powder is of course a must. But I also like coriander and smoked paprika and, for some heat, whatever dried or fresh chiles I have on hand. Sometimes I use crushed red pepper. I’ve also used gochujang, which is a Korean red chile paste. And another component that I think is crucial to chili (and to soups) is a little acid. It balances the flavors and adds more depth. For that component, you can use fresh lemon or lime juice, white or red wine vinegar, or some white or red wine. 

I recently discovered flame cider, which is an organic vinegar infused with hibiscus, ginger, garlic, holy basil, turmeric, burdock root and other ingredients. Some people believe it boosts your immune system. I’ve been using it to make vinaigrettes and love the sweet-sour flavor. I added a tablespoon of flame cider to my my most recent batch of chili and I think it added a bit of welcome pungency. So here is my chile recipe, using some tried-and-true cupboard staples.

Photo by Ann Christenson


1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 whole yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 pound of ground turkey thighs
1 32-ounce can of whole or crushed stewed tomatoes
1 16-ounce can of black beans, drained
1 16-ounce can of pinto (or kidney beans), drained


1 tablespoon chile powder 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon vinegar, wine or other acid

Heat oil in large stock pot on stove at medium-high heat. Saute garlic and onions until translucent. Add the ground turkey and break down the pieces into chunks with a spatula or wooden spoon, cooking for 6-7 minutes. Add seasonings (except for the vinegar) and stir until combined. Next, add tomatoes and beans and continue cooking at medium heat. (If you’re using whole stewed tomatoes, cut them into smaller pieces before adding them to the pot.) Lower the heat to simmer. Cook until hot.

Now, I think chili tastes better the next day, after the flavors have had time to mingle. So I look forward to eating my chili on subsequent days. But it’s still good the day you make it. I top my serving with shredded white cheddar, sour cream and tortilla chips, though I sometimes yearn for Fritos!




Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.