A bit of chili history
Did you know that chili is such an essential dish in America that we have a national chili day? That right, it is the fourth Thursday in February. Chili is also the state food of Texas and a popular choice for cook-offs. There are lots of yarns about where chili comes from and a debate about its connection to Mexico. What is true is that in the U.S., this thick, comforting stew was essential to Southwestern frontier cuisine beginning in the early to mid-1900s.
Chili is “an expression of the cook’s personality rather than codified chow."Cheryl and Bill Jamison in Texas Home Cooking (2011)
Originally called chilli con carne—meaning chili with meat—local chili peppers and tomatoes were cooked with whatever protein was at hand: beef, venison, pork, etc. As with any well-loved dish, there are vociferous traditionalists insistent that chili is best made their way (I am looking at you Texas, and your no-bean thing!).
Indian Chili ~ A happy Indian Mexican mashup
This recipe is one of my favorite chilis. The Indian and Mexican combination is so flavorful, beginning with the overlapping of cumin, coriander, paprika, onion, tomatoes, and chilies. From India, I borrowed cinnamon, allspice, and ground Kashmiri chili powder for this zippy, hearty stew. I have some surprising ways to thicken the broth if you think it needs it. For more information than you ever wanted to know about chili, take a peek at the website What is Cooking in America for their chili history article.
Here is what’s to love:
- Big, bold flavors
- A comforting cold-weather one-pot meal
- Healthy, gluten-free, and dairy-free
- Easily made vegetarian or vegan
- Simple to make
- Beans or no!
- Even better made ahead
- Freezes well
- A tempting twist to a traditional chili
- Serve with cornbread, tortilla chips, chopped, onions and cheese
- Perfect for entertaining ~ have a chili party!
Indian Chili Ingredients
There are endless chili possibilities. Go vegetarian, chili verde (green chili), or white chili made from chicken or turkey, white beans, and the requisite green chili peppers. This recipe is closest to the traditional white chili.
The spice mix
Besides the usual cumin and coriander combination, I’ve folded in the often-used Indian spices of cinnamon, allspice, and Kashmiri chili powder.
While I’ve used chicken thighs; cubed turkey, your favorite ground meat, pork, or firm tofu will all be great in this recipe. If you need a weeknight shortcut, use some shredded rotisserie chicken
Chilies ~ Hot or Not!
Both fresh green chilies and ground red pepper give Indian chili its zip. There is much flexibility as to which chilies to use. Small Indian chilies, Serranos, and jalapeños are perfect options, but just be sure to know how hot the chilies you are working with are. On the dry side, if you don’t have Kashmiri red ground chilies, use one-quarter to one-third cayenne pepper. Ancho chili powder would be a good addition too.
While I call for corn, feel free to add other vegetables as you wish. Before this recipe, I never added corn to chili before, but I love the random sweet pops of texture and flavor corn brings to this stew. However, any zucchini, squash, or pumpkin would be great additions too.
To bean or not to bean:
While Texan chili traditionalists would be horrified, Indian chili is all the better for the earthiness and heft of beans. Some white beans are great Northern beans, pinto beans, chickpeas (garbanzo), navy beans, or cannellini beans. If you have another favorite bean, use it. I can’t imagine a bean that wouldn’t work but I think a mix of two or more beans would also be fun.
I call for chicken broth but use any broth you like or even water. There are so many other flavors in this chili that you will still have a delicious stew in the end.
Some lemon or lime juice is essential to pull all the flavors together and balance out the spices. A teaspoon of mustard also adds some pungency that adds even more savoriness to this chili.
How to make Cozy Indian Chili
The beauty of this stew is that it versatile and even better made a day or two ahead. Begin by putting together your spice mix and prepping your chicken.
Make the soup. Cook the cubed chicken in a bit of ghee. Set aside and sauté the aromatics. Add the spices and stir them briefly to bloom them.
Pour in the tomatoes and simmer into a vibrant flavor base. Add the chicken back into the pot, along with the beans. Simmer and then add lemon juice, mustard and adjust the seasonings.
Serve. Top this stew garnished with some or all of the suggested garnishes below in the recipe card.
I grew up eating cornbread with chili. It is a match made in heaven, in my opinion. Certainly, tortilla chips or corn chips make a satisfying pairing as well. A favorite salad would also be welcome to round out the meal.
FAQ: Cozy Indian Chili Questions
Chili is generally a thick, hearty soup, so if you want to add heft to yours, here are several ways to thicken the broth:
o Use an immersion blender to puree half the mixture. Or remove a cup of the soup, blend, and stir it in to thicken the broth
o Take 8 to 10 tortilla chips and powder in a blender. Add to the soup and allow the powdered chips to soften and thicken the soup; about 5 minutes.
o Make a slurry with a tablespoon of cornstarch, potato starch, or flour and 2 to 3 tablespoons of milk or water. Gradually stir into the chili.
Stir in masa harina starting with two tablespoons.
Absolutely! Swap out the chicken for firm tofu or more beans, watch the toppings you use for garnishing, use vegetable broth, and oil for sautéing.
This recipe is low-fat, full of protein, gluten-free, and has a good dose of fiber too.
Yes, but you will have five servings of chili instead of six.
While I call for corn, feel free to skip it or add other vegetables as you wish. Chopped bell peppers, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, carrots, or celery would be great additions. Keep in mind you may need to pre-cook them depending on how much time they take to cook.
Diced onion, minced fresh chilies, shredded cheese, sour cream or yogurt, scallions, chopped avocado, and cilantro are all popular.
The joy of chili
Besides playing with your essential ingredients, the garnishes are where the fun is. Chips—tortilla or corn—avocado, cheese, sour cream or yogurt, chopped onions, hot sauce, and fresh or pickled chilies are favorites.
Indian chili is a comforting weeknight dinner option that will please your whole family. Feel good serving this flexible, healthy, and flavorful stew. Play with your favorite ingredients and toppings to make this recipe your own.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Some other soups you might like to make
Recipe Card 📖
Cozy Indian Chili
Indian chili spice mix
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. More or less to taste.
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes ~ To taste, I ground whole Kashmiri chilies
- 3/4 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ I wind up using another 1/4 teaspoon; use twice the amount if using Kosher salt.
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala ~ Buy or make
- 1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs ~ Trimmed and cut into 1/3 (.85 cm) to 1/2 (1.25 cm)-inch cubes
- 1 cup onion ~ Minced, one large onion
- 1 tablespoon garlic ~ Minced, 3 medium cloves
- 1 to 3 small Indian green chilies ~ Minced, or serrano or jalapeño pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon ghee ~ Divided in half. Homemade ghee or oil
- 5 teaspoons Indian spice mix ~ Above, divided (4 and 1 teaspoons)
- 15 ounces tomatoes ~ See Notes below
- 1 1/2 cup broth ~ Or water, more if needed
- 1 cup corn ~ Optional, fresh or frozen
- 15 ounces white beans ~ See Notes below. More if you are in a beanie mood.
- 1 teaspoon Djion mustard ~ Or 1/3 teaspoon ground mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice ~ Or lime juice or cider vinegar
Optional Garnishes and Sides
- 2 tablespoon yogurt ~ Or sour cream
- tortilla chips
- grated cheese
- minced red onion ~ Or scallion
- 2 tablespoon cilantro
- Measure out all the spices and mix in a small bowl. Set aside.
- In a large pan over medium-high heat add 1 1/2 teaspoons of ghee or oil. Stir in the cubed chicken and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat behind. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of ghee.
- Add the onion and cook until translucent; about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the garlic and green chilies. Cook for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, or just until the garlic no longer smells raw.
- Mix in 4 teaspoons of the spice and stir for 1 to 2 minutes to bloom them in the oil. If they are sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a teaspoon or two of water.
- Pour in the tomatoes and simmer uncovered for 8 to 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened and is slightly darker. Stir in the broth and simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Add in the chicken pieces, corn, and beans and simmer over medium-low for 10 minutes uncovered. Add lemon juice, and taste the chili for more spices. Add some or all of the remaining 1 teaspoon of the spice mix if you think the stew needs it. Taste for seasonings adding more acid, chili powder, spices, and salt as your taste dictates. If you want a thicker chili, see the Notes below for some ideas on how to do this.
- Serve with any of the optional garnishes listed above. This stew will be even better the next day so don’t hesitate to make it ahead. It also freezes beautifully in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
- Thicken the broth:
- Either use an immersion blender to puree half the mixture or remove a cup of soup and blend it.
- Take 8 to 10 tortilla chips and powder them in a blender. Add to the soup and allow it to soften and thicken the soup; about 5 minutes.
- Make a slurry with one tablespoon of cornstarch, potato starch, or flour and 2 to 3 tablespoons of milk or water. Gradually stir into the chili.
- Stir in masa harina starting with two tablespoons.
- Beans: Some white beans are great Northern beans, pinto beans, chickpeas (garbanzo), navy beans, or cannellini beans. If you have another favorite bean, use it because I can’t imagine a bean that wouldn’t work. Even a mix of beans would be fun.
- Tomatoes: Outside of tomato season, I reach for canned crushed tomatoes. Canned tomato sauce works but avoid diced tomatoes as they have an additive that helps them keep their shape. Certainly, use fresh tomatoes in season; otherwise, go for cherry, grape, or plum tomatoes because they typically have more flavor.
- The chilies:
- Fresh green chilies: There is much flexibility as to which green chilies to use. Small Indian chilies, Serranos, and jalapeños are perfect options, but be sure to know how hot the chilies you are working with are. If you want chili flavor without much heat, remove the seeds and ribs of the chili.
- Dry chili: if you don’t have Kashmiri red ground chilies, use one-quarter to one-third cayenne pepper. Ancho chili powder would be a good addition too.
- The veggies: While I call for corn, feel free to skip it or add other vegetables as you wish. Chopped bell peppers, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, carrots, or celery would be great additions. Keep in mind you may need to pre-cook them depending on how much time they take to cook.