I never thought I’d be the bean soaking type until I tried it. I loved the result so much that I recreated my favorite three-bean chili recipe to include this step. When beans are the star attraction (particularly a variety of them), starting from dried and letting them soak overnight is indeed worth it. Their texture and flavor are simply better than canned. The key to any good chili is a long, slow simmer allowing the flavors time to bloom and blend. This recipe is all about that. Sometimes greater things do come to those who wait.
Three-Bean Off-Script Chili
- 1 lb. mixture of at least three varieties of medium-size dried beans like black, pinto, and garbanzo (navy, Great Northern, and small red beans also good)
- cold water (for soaking the beans overnight)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 1.5-2 lbs. ground meat and/or bulk Italian sausage of your choice (I like a 50:50 split of ground turkey thigh and bulk spicy Italian turkey sausage)
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced
- 3 tsp. kosher salt, divided
- 6 large or 9 small garlic cloves, minced
- 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably San Marzano)
- 6 c. low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 tbsp. chili powder
- 1.5 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. sweet or smoked paprika (your choice, not too spicy)
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. granulated sugar
- 3/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 3-4 corn tortillas, cut or torn into pieces (see TIP A)
One: Soak the Beans Overnight:
Briefly rinse the beans under cold water and pull out any that are misshapen or discolored. Transfer them to a large bowl and cover with about 2 inches cold water. Cover the bowl and set it in a cool, dry place or the refrigerator for the beans to soak overnight (at least 12 hours).
Two: Brown the Meat:
When ready to prepare the chili, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Add the ground meat and gradually break it into small chunks as it lightly browns (about 6-8 minutes). When the meat is fully cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pot. Set the meat aside in a medium bowl and reserve any fat in the pot.
Three: Cook the Onion & Peppers:
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pot and bring it up to temperature over medium heat. Add the diced onion, red bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook until the onions turn slightly translucent (about 3-5 minutes).
Four: Add the Garlic, Soaked Beans, Tomatoes, Broth & Seasoning:
Next add the minced garlic to the vegetable mixture and cook over medium heat for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile drain and rinse the beans. Add the beans to the pot along with the diced tomatoes and broth. Turn up the heat beneath the pot to bring the mixture to a gentle boil. While heating, add all of the seasonings (chili powder through cinnamon) and the remaining 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Once the mixture reaches a boil reduce the heat to low and let the ingredients simmer covered for 20-25 minutes. Check and stir occasionally.
Five: Add Back the Meat & Cut Corn Tortillas:
After the initial simmer, add the browned meat back to the pot along with the cut corn tortillas. Stir again and re-cover for an additional 35-40 minutes or until the beans are fully cooked and the tortillas piece have completely dissolved into the broth. Check and stir occasionally.
When done, serve the chili with a variety of toppings including avocado slices, sour cream, whole-milk yogurt, tortilla chips, chopped scallions or chives, cilantro, and shredded or crumbled cheese. See TIP B for notes about making ahead and freezing.
TIP A: You want to be sure to use 100% white or yellow corn tortillas (not wheat or flour blend), and the drier, the better. Corn tortillas with too much lard or fat content do not break-down as easily in the chili. Also, make sure to use high-quality corn tortillas as this step is mostly about adding a rustic, authentic masa taste.
TIP B: Chili is the perfect make-ahead and freeze-for-later meal—particularly, this chili because the cooked-from-dry beans hold up well through the freeze and re-heat process. I recommend defrosting the chili overnight in the refrigerator or for few hours at room temperature. Then gently warm it over medium-low heat.