6 Layer 4 Bean Chili
This is one of my favorite recipes and one that I prepare all the time – especially when the weather turns cold. It combines each of the 5 aspects of flavor: Salty, savory, sour, spicy, & sweet. It also has a great variety of texture and color and a good balance of bases and acidity.
To prepare this meal, you will need a Crock Pot, a Cutting Board, and a good chef’s Knife.
Herbs & Spices:
Black Pepper (medium grind), Bay Leaves, Cilantro (dried), Cumin (ground), Garlic (fresh minced), Garlic Powder, Lime (juiced with pulp), Olive Oil (extra virgin), Onion Powder, Red Pepper Flakes
[some of these spices are used multiple times, so amounts are given in the main body of the recipe]
2 – 3 lbs 80/20 Ground Beef (regular or coarse grind)
Black Beans (1 can, 15oz), Dark Red Kidney Beans (3 can, 15oz each), Light Red Kidney Beans (1 can, 15oz), Pinto Beans (1 can, 15oz)
1 medium Bell Pepper (any color – green are bitter; red, yellow, and orange are sweet), 1 Habañero Pepper, 1 Jalapeño Pepper, 1 Red Onion (medium)
Shoepeg White Corn (1 can, 15oz), Petite Diced Tomatoes (2 cans, 30 oz each), Tomato Sauce (2 cans, 30 oz each)
Layer 1: The Spices
Turn Crock Pot on HIGH and cover bottom with thin layer of ground Cumin (about 2-3 tablespoons). Sprinkle on about 2 tsp each Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, and Black Pepper. Scatter in a generous pinch of Flaked Red Pepper.
A note on using Cumin instead of Chili Powder: I am a huge believer in making your own spice blends to achieve the flavors you really want. Cumin is the primary ingredient in good chili powder. But Chili Powder also contains Paprika, a sweet pepper, and often sugar. In this recipe our fresh veggies, corn, and tomatoes are providing all the sweetness we want.
Allow the spices to continue sitting in your hot crock pot while you brown your beef. The heat will activate the spices making their flavors more up front and bold. This is the primary base for both the savory and spicy aspects of your chili.
Layer 2: Seasoned Meat
Brown 2-3 lbs of 80/20% ground beef with a tbsp of ground cumin and a pinch of red flaked pepper. Using the cumin and flaked pepper while browning the meat imparts a huge burst of flavor so that you never bite into a chunk of plain, bland beef while eating your flavorful chili.
Drain beef well and turn pan on high. Toss drained beef back into the pan to further flash-brown. Layer evenly over the top of your spices.
Layering the beef in on top of the spices serves two purposes. One it keeps the truly liquid ingredients from mingling with the spices prematurely and diluting them. You want them to keep roasting. The meat also slow-drips a layer of fat into the spices, creating a paste that will help carry the flavor of the spices into your chili when you do finally stir things up.
Ground meat in chili really imparts a nice texture to the meal. One of many, to be sure, but a key texture to any good chili. It also provides, along with the beans, a good base against the acidity of the tomatoes.
Layer 3: Fresh Salsa-ish
Except for the fact that it lacks fresh tomatoes, this layer is my recipe for fresh salsa.
Finely dice one jalapeño and one Habañero pepper. Then dice the equivalent of one large Bell Pepper (I use about a quarter each of red, yellow, orange, and green bell peppers and slice the rest into strips and refrigerate to use for salad the next day) and chop one medium Red Onion. Mix all your veggies together with the juice from one Lime and two tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Add in a tablespoon (or three) of minced Garlic and sprinkle on a teaspoon of dried Cilantro (fresh cilantro makes a great garnish after cooking, but in cooked dishes dried is better).
As you can see from the picture, this is where all your great colors are coming from in this dish, and it is also, with the tomatoes, a primary source of sweetness for your chili, balanced by the savoriness of garlic and the spice of your jalapeño and habañero.
Layer your veggies on top of beef.
There is no special reason to make this layer your veggie layer, except that the veggies should go in the middle somewhere – above the beef but below the tomatoes.
Layer 4: Beans & Corn
Here comes the rest of your color as well as an amazing array of texture, flavor, and substance. This is the layer that is going to stick to your ribs.
Drain your beans and corn together (I use 3 cans of dark red kidney beans and 1 can of each of the other beans with 1 can of corn – all 15[ish] ounce cans) and toss in the strainer until everything is well blended and lay out on top of your fresh veggies.
The location of the beans within the layers is also unimportant so long as they go above the meat and below the tomatoes.
Layer 5: Tomatoes & Sauce
Drain your diced tomatoes in a colander and spread over your bean mixture. Then add your tomato sauce on top. You’re almost done. (I use 2 cans of each – all 30[ish] ounce cans)
The overlaying base of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce is providing the bulk of the sharp acidity that cuts through and carries all the great flavors you are blending together in your chili.
Layer 6: Back to the Spices
Sprinkle liberally with a final layer of cumin (1 tbsp), dried onion (1 tsp) and generous pinch of both black pepper and red pepper flakes, finishing with 3 Bay leaves in the center.
The spices roasting on top of the sauce infuse it with a wonderfully sharp flavor, making it thick and rich and savory.
Put the lid on your crock pot and continue roasting on HIGH for 1 hour.
Blending the Layers
Well, this is a chili recipe, after all, not a casserole. So, at the end of the first hour, lower the temperature to the LOW setting and remove your Bay Leaves. Then stir all of the ingredients together to blend your flavors.
Cook on LOW for 4-6 hours longer.
Chef’s Note: Recipe gets really good if you refrigerate overnight and heat on low in the crockpot the next day. Allow 2 hours on low to heat through to the center.
Serve with your favorite chili toppings. Suggestions include diced onions, fresh diced tomatoes, tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, and sour cream.
Serving Size 1.5 Cup
Total Calories per Serving: 300
Total Calories from Fat: 117
Total Fat: 13g
Saturated Fat: 4.9g
Polyunsaturated Fat: .9g
Monounsaturated Fat: 5.3
Trans Fat: 0g
Total Carbohydrates: 31
Dietary Fiber: 10g