Four Bean Chili with Vegetarian Options (Gluten-Free)


I know that there’s a controversy. It ain’t chili if it’s got beans in it, or to some people, it’s chili con carne. Some even balk at adding tomatoes. While growing up in Arizona, we referred to it as “Texas-style chili,”and I guess we assumed that it was the kind of chili that the rancher’s made or something, because it was nothing like our chile verde made with pork, or New Mexico’s famous chile colorado, and it definitely didn’t seem to resemble anything made in Mexico. It was some sort of Americanized chili, and it ended with an “i” instead of an “e.” Puzzling.

Well, as it turns out, the roots of this dish can be traced back to, of all places, Texas, specifically San Antonio, where women who were referred to as “Chili Queens” used to sell the concoction by the cup or bowl on the street corners. Stricter city ordinances eventually put the queens out of business overnight, but the yearning for that special brand of fire was not to be so easily extinguished, so chili parlors began popping up across the city.

Why put beans in it? That’s obvious. It’s an inexpensive and great way to stretch the stew and feed the family. In the border communities of Texas, there was a strong German influence, and the idea of thickening meat stews with flour became popular in border cooking. To thicken chili, masa became the flour of choice, and beans became the elasticity that stretched the dish to last for days.

We can argue over what authentic chili is, but to start off, it should be spelled with an “e.” This recipe is not about that kind of chile. Remember, cooking is an art form, and it is okay to change the recipes. There are no chili police who will come to your door and cite you for doing it in an unorthodox manner (just stay off the street corner with it.) Variety is the spice of life and all that. In this recipe, the spice comes from chili powder. The beans come from cans. It includes tomatoes. I’ve also added fresh vegetables to bring the healthy factor up. Adding masa harina as a thickening agent keeps this recipe gluten-free. It’s pretty darn delicious stuff.  It is what it is, and growing up, like I said, we called it “Texas Chili.” Let the bickering begin.




1 can (15-16 oz.) pinto beans

1 can (15-16 oz.) black beans

1 can (15-16 oz.) red kidney beans

1 can (15-16 oz.) white cannelini beans

2 cans whole tomatoes (approximately 28 oz. cans)

1 package ground turkey (or use 2 cans jackfruit or 1 – 2 packages tempeh for a vegetarian option)

2 zucchinis, grated or sliced in rounds

1 carrot, grated or sliced in rounds

1 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped

1 jalapeno, diced

1 bunch cilantro,  coarsely chopped

6 cloves garlic

chili powder (ancho, New Mexico, unidentified… it’s your choice, or you can use one of those kits, like Carroll Shelby’s or Goldwater’s)

1 – 2 tsp. cayenne pepper (for hotter chili)

2 tbsp. cumin

2 tbsp. Mexican oregano

1 tsp. fennel seed

1 tsp. allspice

1/2  tsp. cloves or 3 whole cloves

1 bay leaf (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

organic masa harina or blue corn meal for thickening

cheddar or other meltable cheese for topping (chunked or grated)



1. Place a large kettle on the stove.

2. Open all of the cans. Empty them into the kettle including the liquid from the beans and tomatoes. Turn flame on and adjust to medium heat.

3. Reserve the 1/2 chopped onion for topping. Chop or slice the remaining vegetables as directed above. Add them to the pot.

4. Crumble the meat up with your fresh-washed fingers as you add it to the kettle. Do not brown it first if you are using turkey. You need all the fat in the turkey (much less than in ground beef) for flavor.

5. Add the spices. Stir everything around until combined.

6. Turn down the flame to a medium-low setting (about ‘2’ on my stove) and cover the pot. Let it cook and cook so the flavors can blend. At least two hours is necessary for optimal flavor. Stir occasionally.

7. You can serve up a bowl when its done, but as it is with most stews, this chili may taste better then next day, once it has been cooled and reheated.

8. Top your bowl of chili with cheese (I place chunks of cheese in mine, then stir them around and watch them melt) and chopped onions. You can also add more chopped fresh cilantro, sprouts to add some healthful crispiness, sour cream or Mexican crema, or anything you desire. I suppose some people like crackers. I never understood that, but fine. It’s your chili to enjoy as you like it.

Serving Suggestion: Make some of our scrumptious Gluten-Free Arizona Blue Corn Muffins and a large green salad to complete this meal.


Note: There are more ways to make chili than there are days of the week and months of the year and planets and solar systems combined, so feel free to leave comments and tell me how you do it. I would love to hear your recipes and techniques. Just don’t do the, “You did it wrong,” thing. We have far more pressing controversies in this world than how to make a good bowl of chili.

I don’t normally cook from cans, but I’m not about to make 4 different pots of beans. When purchasing your canned beans and tomatoes, read the labels to make sure that no strange and obnoxious stuff has been snuck inside – you know, high fructose corn syrup, 700+ mg. of sodium or MSG. Just check and buy with confidence because you did.

Tempeh is now available at most larger supermarkets in the refrigerated vegetarian section, right next to the tofu. Jackfruit is sold in cans, and is available at Indian and  most Asian markets (not Japanese.) Treat tempeh like ground meat. Crumble it up as you add it to the pot. If using jackfruit, just open the cans and dump them in.

If you want to use fresh tomatoes, I am sure you can. Hmmmm… I don’t know why I never have done so with this recipe. Next time.

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