Brianna’s Nirvana California Chili

(Continuing with my series of cooking posts designed to distract myself from the recent election debacle.)

I have always dreamed of entering a chili cookoff. I almost did once–but the entry fees were more than I could afford at the time. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  

My other dream is that someday I will bottle my “famous” (famous, meaning, in my own mind) chili, and package it under the name “Brianna’s Nirvana California Chili.”

Although I’m blowing my own horn here, the truth is everyone who tastes it loves my chili. Or they all lie to me. But I prefer to believe the former. I’m simmering a big batch in my crockpot right now, while outside, the wind howls and the rain is starting to fall. I’d ladle you out a bowl if you were here. But since you’re not, I thought I’d share my recipe with you instead.



  • Two pounds of one or more of the following types of meat, if you’re an omnivore: ground beef, ground turkey, ground chicken, bulk sausage, pork shoulder, stew beef (or TVP or another meat substitute, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan)
  • 1 24-oz can of diced, crushed, or whole stewed tomatoes–any variety (garlic, basil, Mexican flavored, etc.)
  • Any or all of the following types of canned beans:  pinto, black, garbanzo, kidney, white
  • One large yellow onion (place in the freezer for 20 minutes before cutting)
  • A bit of red wine (drinking wine or cooking wine)
  • 5 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder, or a clove or two of chopped fresh garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cayenne pepper (optional)
  • A tablespoon of cooking oil, preferably olive
  • Garnishes of your choice, such as minced red onion, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, or whatever else you love

Optional, for special “dark” variety: 2 tbsp of ancho chili powder, 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa, 1 tsp cinnamon, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce


  1. Take the yellow onion out of the freezer. That short period of cold will make its vapors less, well, vaporous. This is the only technique I’ve found that will prevent burning, streaming eyes while cutting it. Cut off both ends, then cut it in half. Now, it’ll be super easy to peel. Once you’ve removed the skin, place the flat sides down on the cutting board (best way to avoid it slipping around) and dice it into small squares–roughly one half-inch in diameter.
  2. Heat your oil in a large-ish saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced onion. Stir and cook until translucent and slightly golden.
  3. If you’re using ground meat, break it up and add it to the pan with the onion. If you’re using beef or pork, cut into one-inch cubes, then add it to the pan with the onion. Cook the meat until it’s brown.
  4. Pour in the can of tomatoes; stir.
  5. Add the can(s) of beans–sometimes I’ll add one or two varieties; other times all four. It’s all up to you. Include liquid from two of the cans. Stir.
  6. Add the spices, then stir. TASTE it. See what you think. Does it need more chili powder? Go for it.  Want it spicier? Add cayenne. Taste the saltiness. Like more? Add it. Same with pepper. This is all about you, buttercup.
  7. Add about a quarter cup of red wine. Stir it all again.
  8. Cover the pot, turn the heat to medium-high. When it begins to boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer (slow, steady, small bubbles).
  9. If you’re using ground meat, you can cook for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally to be sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot. If you’re using pork or beef cubes, you’ll have to cook it for a minimum of 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally. This is the amount of time it will take for the meat to fall apart easily when pressed with a fork or spoon. Can’t rush this. It’s worth the wait.
  10. When the meat is done and the flavors are blended, you’re good to go. Ladle into bowls, top with the garnishes of your choice, and await the rave reviews. Send me a love note.

For a more intense, spicier chili with a hint of Mexican “mole” taste, make the following modifications:

  1. When adding the spices, add the ancho chili powder, cinnamon, and cocoa powder.
  2. With GLOVES ON (trust me on this one), chop one or two chipotle chilis VERY FINELY and add to the pot, with a little of their adobo sauce. These chilis are very hot, so be conservative. [Please don’t be a cowboy/girl and decide to chop these without gloves. The oil sticks to your fingertips. You’ll probably end up getting some in your eyes, nose, or mouth, and then you will be VERY sad. It will burn for a long time! If you do accidentally make this mistake and find your skin burning, use rubbing alcohol to remove the oil, then coat your skin with oil or full-fat yogurt. Do not use rubbing alcohol on any mucous membranes! If you get chili oil in your nose or mouth, try butter or full-fat yogurt. Apparently, the capsaicin (spicy stuff) is soluble in fat. Do not use water or ice water–it will make it worse! If you get chili oil in your eyes, flush with water. You’ll probably have to just wait it out from there. Sorry. But I did warn you. You’ll never do that again now, will you? Be a good boy/girl and use gloves next time!] 

Let me know how it turns out!