Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chili: ridiculously cheap and ridiculously easy

Chili (shown here on some delicious nachos) is one of my favorite standby meals. Everyone in the household likes it, it keeps for a week in the fridge if it lasts that long, it freezes well, and best of all, it's incredibly easy and cheap to make.

It's easy to make with couponing finds, pantry staples, veggies from Fair Foods, WIC, or your other favorite source. Pretty much all you absolutely need is beans, some sort of tomato product, and seasoning.

My easiest chili recipe is quite cheap, but isn't actually the cheapest recipe I've come up with (which I'll get to later.) Here's what you need:
  • Two cans of beans -- I used one can of kidney beans and one can of black beans
  • One 16-ounce can of diced tomatoes -- can also use one can of tomato sauce, one can of tomato puree plus water to make it about 16 ounces, or two to three fresh tomatoes
  • One onion
  • Spices -- I used Goya adobo plus lots of cumin
  • Peppers with some heat to them, or powdered pepper, or hot sauce -- I used hot sauce
Put everything in a pot. Cook on the stove until boiling, then turn down and simmer on low for about two hours, until it looks like chili. If it needs it, add a pinch of sugar to bring out flavor and help everything caramelize. Add salt, more seasonings, and more hot sauce or other hot peppers if needed. As listed here, it makes about six servings for about $2.50 worth of ingredients (assuming full shelf price). If you coupon, you likely have cans of beans and tomato products in your stash that were somewhere between free and 20 cents each.

If I have time, I prefer to cook chili in a slow cooker. It's less likely to stick and turns out better, but you need to plan ahead. I would at least double the batch if I were doing this.

You can also add veggies to chili. Zucchini and yellow summer squash are my favorites. Corn, yams, pumpkin, spinach, kale, and peppers are all great too. Especially if you're using the slow cooker, I imagine you could add just about any vegetables, since they get really soft and blend together with the other ingredients.

If you want to make the recipe even cheaper, use dried beans. Obviously this method takes several hours, even if you use the stove on high heat. They're considerably cheaper though, since a pound of dried beans is about the same price as a can but will absorb water and yield a whole pot. I don't bother soaking beans when doing slow-cooker chili. My slow cooker is the large oval type, and I generally put a total of one pound of dried beans (usually some combination of kidney, pinto, and black beans to add up to one pound). For a pound of beans, I would use two to three cans of tomato products or several pounds of fresh tomatoes, two to three onions, and a lot more spices.

Where to get inexpensive spices warrants its own post, I think. Stay tuned!

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