Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thick & Hearty Diner-Style Chili ~ A Satisfying & Healthy Recipe Makeover

It's snowing again in Boston. Yesterday, the sky was robin-egg blue and the sun was bright. You never know what the weather will be like here. It changes daily, sometimes hourly.  When we first moved here, I sat behind a woman on the bus telling her friend she wanted to move back to Florida because the weather was more predictable there. The friend replied, "You must learn to dress in layers. Get a couple of good pairs of long underwear for the winter". I took that advice to heart. 

The recession brought us here. With a zero balance in our savings account and our car attached to a U-haul truck, we drove from Philadelphia to Boston in a snowstorm. Two weeks before leaving, I got the flu and a squirrel died in an unreachable crawl space inside our apartment walls. I had to fight an increasing array of negative thoughts from trampling my hope. We arrived here at three in the morning, passing many car accidents and massive piles of snow on the way. On that first night, I was sure I wouldn't like Boston. My mood matched the weather, dark and somber. Starting from scratch in a new city can be tough. I prayed hard. But coming here turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My husband loves his job. I found a job suited to my personality. Things started looking up.

After regaining our emotional and financial stability, we began exploring our new home. We drove past Julia Child's home in Cambridge. We shopped at Savenor's Market where her autographed picture still hangs on the wall. We drove to the ocean. We took deep breaths and long walks around lakes and ponds. We had delicious Italian dinners in the North End. We saw the ballet and visited museums. We lit fires and watched the snow fall. We strolled the beautiful Back Bay streets. We put our financial fears behind us and vowed to enjoy life more fully. 

This reproduction of the painting, La Japonaise, is of Claude Monet's wife, Camille. The original is hanging in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I fell completely in love with it at first site. Monet painted her wearing an embroidered red kimono. Camille was his muse. I read she loved to embroider. He had great reverence for her needlework. Monet even painted her while she was stitching. I love to embroider too. So this painting speaks to me on many levels. I love this painting so much that I bought a giclee print of it and framed it in gold. She watches over her shoulder from the dining room as I cook in the kitchen. We have an open floor plan, so she's visible to me from the kitchen. She inspires me every day.

Almost every day, I try to get outside and walk my beagle around one of the many fresh ponds and lakes in this area. Beautiful blue water surrounds us here. I always follow the advice I overheard when we arrived, wearing long underwear in winter and dressing in layers. Before heading out today, I prepared a big pot of thick and hearty diner-style chili. I'm no Texan. I'm sure anyone south of the Mason Dixon line can can teach me a thing or two about chili. But I must say that this is the best chili I've ever made! It surprised me with its blue-plate-special taste and texture. It gets better as sits. Rich, homey and supremely satisfying, it tastes great after a long walk in the cold air, bringing comforting warmth to my body and soul. My husband said I must put this recipe on the blog and fast. He loves chili. I hope you enjoy it too!  

Diner Style Chili Recipe

Some Notes: 

The wonderful folks at  Pomi Tomato Company kindly sent me samples of their products, asking me to try them in my recipes. If you've read this blog long enough, you know that I'm finicky about the products I recommend here, especially the tomato products. I highly recommend using their tomatoes in your recipes. They're fresh tasting, contain no preservatives, made of 100 % pure Italian tomatoes. A wonderful product! I will be creating many more recipes with their tomatoes! Here's the link: http://www.pomi.us.com/ChoppedTomatoes.php

The spices I use give the chili pleasant smoky notes. Cumin is present but not overpowering.    

Beer also adds to the layers of flavor. I use an amber ale.

Corn lends a pleasant sweetness against the beef, black beans, jalapeno and spices.

You can use any type of bean you like. I happen to love black beans and corn in this chili.

The secrets to making this chili tastes like the kind you get at a down home diner are twofold. First, simmering the sauce separately, before adding the ground beef, helps to avoid overcooking the meat into dry hard morsels. Second, stirring masarepa into it toward the end of cooking thickens the sauce, giving it lots of body. The masarepa will ensure a foolproof, delicious result. It gives the chili the familiar, hearty texture found in all good diner-style chili. I find it in the Latin section of my supermarket. Masarepa is precooked corn flour used in empanadas. It's the key to successful chili. Here's the link: http://www.goya.com/english/product_subcategory/Regional-Specialties/Central-South-American      

If you want to make it vegan/vegetarian, I think it'll work. Just bump up the beans/corn and leave out the beef(naturally). I tasted the chili before adding the beef and it was delicious. You may need to use more masarepa to thicken it.

If you use lean ground beef, ground turkey or ground chicken it's a healthy and filling meal. It made the cut on Healthy Aperture. http://www.healthyaperture.com/author/Jilly%20Inspired/  and Food & Nutrition Magazine's Pinterest Board. Diner style chili and healthy don't usually go together. But believe me, this tastes like the real thing thanks to the secret tips and suggestions.

It may look like a lot of ingredients, but the recipe is pretty easy and cooks in under 30 minutes. There's no need to simmer the heck out of your chili. Trust me on this one.

Eat it with your favorite corn chips (baked or regular) or top a baked potato or baked sweet potato with it for a healthier option.

It reheats well. Serves 6-8, depending on how you serve it.

You'll Need:
  • 2 large onions chopped
  • 1/2 green or red bell pepper chopped. I use green.
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced. Remove the seeds if you don't want it too spicy.
  • 2 pounds ground beef. You can use all extra lean or lean ground beef. Because I was feeling hungry today, I used a mixture of extra lean and 85 percent lean ground beef. Ground chicken or turkey will work too.
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced. I use a microplane zester for this, mincing it directly into the pot. 
  • olive oil for cooking
  • 1/4 cup chili powder. I used Penzeys 3000 Chili Powder Blend.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle powder. I used Penzeys. 
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano. Mexican oregano is very nice.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 12 oz bottle or can of beer. I used an amber ale from Peak Organic Brewing Company.
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons of masarepa white corn meal. I used Goya brand. This secret ingredient thickens the chili brilliantly (see notes).
  • 2 15 ounce cans of black beans, rinsed and drained. I used lower sodium.
  • 1 cup of frozen corn
  • a couple of drizzles of honey to balance the spices and the acid from the tomatoes
  • 1 box of Pomi Chopped Tomatoes which is a little over 26 ounces. You can also use almost all of a 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes. (see notes)
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste. Some chili seasonings contain salt, so be careful.
  • scallions, shredded cheese of your choice, lite or regular sour cream, tortilla chips, baked potatoes and cilantro for serving 

The Rundown:  

Cook the onions, green pepper and jalapeno in a large pot in some light olive oil with a pinch of salt over medium heat until soft. Add the chopped tomatoes, add all the seasonings from the chili powder to the cumin, the minced garlic, beer, 1/2 cup of water, rinsed black beans and drizzles of honey. Adjust the salt to taste and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes.   

As the sauce is simmering, saute the ground beef in a little olive oil with a pinch of salt until it's no longer pink, but brown in a few places. Add the beef, frozen corn and masarepa to the simmering sauce and cook, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.    

Serve with chopped scallions, shredded cheddar, sour cream, tortilla chips and chopped cilantro. Enjoy!

More Recipes From Jilly....

Supremely Satisfying Moroccan Chickpea Stew ~ Healthy & high in protein. Flavored with North African Spices. One of my favorite vegetarian meals.


  1. Very interesting insight into your Boston arrival. Enjoyed it immensely!

    1. Thanks Carol! Sometimes there really is a silver lining. I would have never believed it back then. When we got here, my mood matched the weather...gloomy and gray. Life sure takes us on many journeys. Thanks for leaving the kind comment.

  2. How cool that you have La Japonaise watching you cook in the kitchen! What a lovely painting! And the photo of the pond is so beautiful.

    1. Hey Julia, always so nice seeing you here. Thanks so much! Been meaning to tell you about a food blogger site called Honest Cooking. Have you been? You fill out an application and provide a blurb about yourself. They decide
      which recipies to publish on their site. They won Saveur Magazine's Best Group Blog award last year. Cool place
      to join. Your photos and recipes are beatiful! I think they'd love to feature some of them!