Chili with Beans? This is often a controversial topic. The mere thought of using beans in a chili dish brings up the ire of a lot of people. After all, chili is often referred to as Chili Con Carne (Chili with Meat) but rarely as Chili Con Frijoles (Chili with Beans). But just as there are chili recipes with no beans, there are just as many recipes that include beans that turn out very delicious.
So where did this “beans or no beans” controversy get started? To find the answer to this we need to take a brief look at the history of the dish.
According to the International Chili Society (ICS) (chilicookoff.com) the exact origin of the recipe is unknown. But many people feel the dish originated in the Southwest.
Reportedly, according to the ICS, there was a trail hand range cook, who would collect wild chiles and garlic along the cattle trail. Then at night he would cook it up with whatever meat was available and serve it to the rest of the cowhands. The “original” recipe may be tracked back to the early 19th century. This recipe contains only meat, onions, garlic, oregano and salt. And certainly no beans!
So if the dish originated with no beans, how did beans happen to end in the recipe? Well if you look around, it is easy to find chili recipes that have chocolate. It is easier to think that beans would end up in a chili recipe than would chocolate. After all, chocolate is for dessert. But I digress…
Chili with beans could have come about during the Great Depression as an inexpensive way to stretch out the dish, because by the 1950’s, the controversy had began.
By the early 1950s the controversy of chili with beans or without beans had become so well known that it became the title of a book. In his 1952 book, With or Without Beans: An Informal Biography of Chili, author Joe Cooper, explored the biography of chili. In it he concluded that in all his accumulated material there was a preference for beans in chili. But in his book, Joe’s provided his preferred chili recipe, which contained no beans!
Also in the fifties, chili with beans was on the mind of infamous columnist Westbrook Pegler. According to the International Chili Society, Pegler wrote, “…chili-con should be made with ground beef, beans, chili powder, tomatoes, onions and garlic…”
And so the controversy of beans or no beans was born and continues to grow to this day.
There are several good reasons why one would not include beans in chili. Tradition notwithstanding, people may not like the taste of beans or particularly the after effects. After all, beans are the “musical fruit” and this could create some uncomfortable circumstances in certain situations. And once beans are put into a chili recipe, they are not easy to remove.
But beans are an inexpensive and healthy addition to any chili dish. Beans are high in fiber, low in fat and have no cholesterol. For those on a tight budget, a pound of uncooked pinto beans is around a dollar or so. They are even less if you buy them in bulk. After cooking, a pound of beans can really stretch a chili recipe into many more servings.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to cook beans from scratch, canned beans can easily be added to your chili. A large can of cooked pinto beans is not much more expensive than uncooked pinto beans.
So whether you fall into the camp of Chili With Beans, or side with the Chili With No Beans crowd, you cannot go wrong with a good dish of chili, beans or no bean.
Here is an easy chili recipe with beans. Try it and see how you like it.
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