Three-Bean Chili (and nachos, too)

With the Super Bowl quickly approaching, I have a pressing question for you: Do you ever do the menu visualization trick when you’re in a restaurant that isn’t, well, a fine dining establishment? 

You know, the dive-y, pubby places where you just know that the kitchen staff cuts the package open, pours it into the Fryolator, and sends it out as your meal? The type of place where one might go to watch a Big Game, but not to have a big culinary experience?

While we’re likely to watch the game at home or at a friend’s house, thus avoiding sports bar or pub food on the big day, I did recently practice The Art of Junk Food Visualization while out for lunch with JR and his brother. It went something like this:

Nachos. Cue the thought bubble: Hmmmmm. Nachos. Towering pile of oversalted chips, lots of melted processed cheese food, tasteless, flaccid sliced olives…okay. Pop. The bubble has burst. I’ve just used the word “flaccid” in describing a possible meal.

Boneless chicken wings. Pensive look, forefinger and thumb on chin: Now why do they bother to call them wings? Everyone knows that once they’re boneless, they’re called fingers. Do I trust frozen boneless chicken wing-fingers to taste like actual chicken? No. Probably not.

I was becoming agitated, as evidenced by the fidgeting in my chair, plus my eyes had gone all squinty and were darting nervously across the menu. Would I ever find a meal here that passed muster? One by one, little fried food thought bubbles burst, exploded, or simply evaporated. Poof.

This went on for about 20 minutes. My options had dwindled, waitstaff was starting to wonder about the floating bubble remnants near my head, JR and his brother were famished – so was I – and I had to pull the trigger to stop the hunger pangs.

Calamari with hot peppers. Back to the thought bubble: How bad could these be? They’re already breaded, everyone in the known universe of Pubdom is using the same type from the same calamari-in-freezer-bag vendor, right? If nothing else, at least they won’t be flaccid. 

If only that were the case.

When I was about two bites into the calamari, JR looked over at me and asked, “Well? How are they?”

I put my napkin up in front of my mouth to prevent the rest of the patrons from reading my lips, and replied in a hoarse whisper, “These are the absolute worst calamari I’ve ever had in my entire life.” 

Entire life?”

Entire life. They taste like calamari porridge.”

They were flaccid. And mushy. Even the hot peppers lacked crunch.

Calamari porridge. What’s that conjure up in your head? Yeah. Trust me. They were that bad and then some.

Add to that, my junk food craving had not been sated. 

The thought bubble reappeared as I drove to the grocery store a few days later: Three-bean chili. On nacho chips. With real cheese. Yum.

It was a done deal. And it’s now been done six weekend days in a row. What? Why are you looking at me like that? It’s football playoff season. It requires game food. Even on the non-game weekend before Super Bowl. 

And if we’re going to have game food, let’s make it good game food, shall we? Thankfully, this chili fits the bill.

It’s fab as a stand-alone chili, and when the thought cloud comes out for 3-Bean Chili-topped nachos, nary a nasty thought can be found within the cloud. In fact, I think the bubble is extra-sharp cheddar cheese-lined, which has got to be better than silver lined, right?

Quick Three-Bean Chili (and nachos, too)


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from the chiles packed in adobo)
  • 1 pound ground beef, turkey, or pork
  • (1) 15.5 ounce can pinto beans, drained
  • (1) 15.5 ounce can kidney beans, drained
  • (1) 15.5 ounce can black beans, drained
  • (1) 28 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (you can use regular diced or crushed tomatoes. I've tried all 3 and prefer the fire-roasted diced, but it's all about what you like best)


  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion has softened and has become translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cumin, chopped chile, and adobo sauce, and stir to combine.
  2. Add the ground meat and cook, stirring frequently, until it is browned. Add the pinto, kidney, and black beans, then add the tomatoes, and mix the whole batch up well.
  3. Cover and let the chili simmer for at least 20 minutes before serving it forth. And when you do serve it forth, perhaps you'd enjoy it with sour cream, grated cheese, green onions, and cilantro. Or maybe with additional chiles.
  4. Or then, there's always the nachos-at-home option. Mound the chili in the center of a baking dish, surround the chili mound with your favorite tortilla chips (so as to avoid mushy/flaccid tortilla chips, which is what happens when they're placed under the chili), then grate a couple of ounces of cheese (or so) over the pile. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese melts and the chips start to brown, approximately 15 minutes.

Mmmmm. Melted Cheese. Mmmmmm. Toasty Tortillas. Mmmmmm. Chili. Mmmmmm.

9 Comments to Three-Bean Chili (and nachos, too)

  1. Sunny says:

    You just made game day that much more delicious! Thanks Amy.

  2. Kimmy Bingham says:

    I have to admit that every time we make a batch of chili, we always save some for a huge batch of nachos the next day… that we… umm… will eat for dinner with beer. Yup, I said it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Amy, I love your posts and enjoyed your book. Please post more often. I look forward to reading them!

  4. teryll says:

    Yum yum, I’d like this for lunch NOW!

  5. I don’t know what’s better, your photos or your prose.

  6. Amy says:

    Thank you, Sunny! Too bad that the game outcome wasn’t better. I hope to see you soon!

    Kimmy, *nothing* wrong with that at all!

    Anonymous, thank you so much for the kind words! I promise to do better about posting in 2012!

    Teryll, me, too! For lunch everyday!

    Christine, thank you! I love this coming from you – all these years after AP English with Mr. Bennett!

  7. CJ @ Morsels of Life says:

    that certainly looks like some tasty eats! and a multi-tasker too. love those!

  8. Mother Rimmy says:

    I don't know anyone who doesn't love a plate of spicy chili. The best thing about chili is you can please the meat eaters and the non-meat eaters with just a few adjustments to the recipe.

  9. Mike McQueen says:

    Thanks for sharing the Three-Bean Chilli recipe.

    Mike @ Gourmet Food

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