Gringo Chili for a Crowd with Sour Cream Cornmeal Muffins

Saturday November 28, 2015

Sounds amazing, but the thick heat and meat stew called chili con carne, or chile with meat, is as American as apple pie.  It is a traditional homespun dish displaying the qualities of creativity and originality of its cooks born and bred in the borderland desert of the U.S. and northern Mexico. Chili smacks of the colorful, fiery, nutritious, festive, and addictive qualities that characterize neighboring Mexican cuisine, but it is not a Mexican food.

Chili, spelled with an “i” at the end not an “e” (tipping off the reader that it is about chili the dish not a chile pepper), is a wildly popular dish all over the country.  It is also one of the premier reasons to own a slow cooker.  Most cooks make chili first in their new cookers and it is great party fare, as well as a simple dinner for lunch for the kids.

Chili is characterized by a flavor and color combination of spicy-hot red chili powder and southwest herbs like oregano and cumin, even accents of cinnamon and cloves.  For a mild chili, there are pinches of this and that.  For the chili heads, there is plenty of everything plus hot sauce, jalapeños, some pure red chile powder, and cayenne.  While chili has a reputation for inducing uncontrollable perspiration, lip burning, runny noses, and tears, you can most certainly make a mild chili where all the individual subtle flavors are discernible.

While most chilis are served with warm fresh corn or flour tortillas, there are versions that are served with biscuits, sopapillas, little fried bread triangles, and of course, all manner of cornbreads, cornsticks, and, like we have here, cornmeal muffins, a natural pairing.

Sometimes you need a really good meat and red kidney bean chili to make for a crowd.  Here it is, as basic and American as it can be, based on a recipe attributed to an actress popular in the 50s and 60s, Polly Bergen, probably served at many a Hollywood Superbowl buffet or outdoor summer BBQ. You wont believe how fast it is to prepare. This is a crock pot recipe.

Serve right out of the crock (left on Keep Warm or Low) with steamed hot long-grain white rice, and, of course, the myriad of wonderful toppings in individual bowls, letting guests do their own thing. Leftovers? The chili keeps for days, for those bowls to qualm the late night munchies, and freezes perfectly. This chili promises to be one of your favorites. Kids love it too, not just your celebrity friends!

Cooker: Large round or oval
Setting and Cook Time: LOW for 9 to 12 hours
Serves 12 to 16


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 pounds lean ground beef or chuck
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 medium-size green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • Four 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (I use Eden brand)
  • Three 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, with their juices, crushed with your hands
  • Two 6-ounce cans tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup chili powder or pure New Mexican chile powder, or to taste
  • 3 pinches of cayenne pepper
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt to taste

  • For serving:

  • Shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • Shredded sharp Monterey jack cheese
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce
  • Sliced ripe black olives
  • Strips of roasted green chile peppers
  • Tomato wedges
  • Sliced radishes
  • Sour cream
  • Guacamole
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Lime wedges


1. In a very large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, then cook the ground beef and garlic until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up any clumps; drain off the fat. You may have to do this in two or three batches.  Place in the slow cooker.  Add the onions and bell peppers to the skillet and cook, stirring, until tender; add to the cooker.  Add the celery, kidney beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, cayenne, cloves, bay leaf, and vinegar to the cooker and stir to combine.

2. Cover and cook on LOW for 9 to 12 hours, stirring occasionally.  The last hour, season with salt.  If the chili is too thin, leave the lid off and cook a bit longer or thicken with masa harina mixed into a paste with some water; if it is too thick, add a splash of red wine.  The longer you let it simmer, the better it gets.  Serve with toppings on the side.

Sour Cream Cornmeal Muffins

What’s a bowl of chili without some cornbread. Here are muffins for piling into a big basket and let people serve themselves.

Makes 12 standard-size, 24 mini-sized, or 6 over-sized muffins


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal, fine or medium grind, preferably stone-ground
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream


1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.   Grease 12 cups of a standard muffin tin, 24 cups mini-sized, or 6 cups over-sized.

2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

3. In a medium-size bowl, stir together the oil, eggs, and sour cream.  Mix into the dry ingredients just until evenly combined.  Take care not to overmix.  The batter will be lumpy.

4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling cups almost to the top.  Bake until golden around the edges, the tops are dry, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 18 to 23 minutes for standard muffins (12), 10 to 14 minutes for mini-muffins (24), and 25 to 30 minutes for over sized muffins (6).  Let stand 5 minutes before turning out of the cups to cool.  Serve hot, warm, or room temperature.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Entertaining, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2007, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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