Eat for Eight Bucks: Chili con Frijoles Recipe

Healthy and Delicious

Healthy and delicious recipes from Serious Eats

Eat for Eight Bucks: Chili con Frijoles Recipe

[Photograph: Robin Bellinger]

Shopping List

1 onion: $0.50 1 green bell pepper: $1.32
2 serrano peppers: $0.25 1 cup uncooked lentils: $1.00 1/2 cup uncooked beans: $0.25 2 or 3 canned plum tomatoes (pro-rated): $1.00 Cilantro (pro-rated): $0.50 1 cup uncooked millet: $0.50 2 ounces pepper jack (optional): $0.50

Pantry items: Oil, garlic, ground cumin, paprika or pimenton, dried thyme, dried sage, dried oregano, cayenne pepper, salt, cornmeal, yogurt or sour cream (optional).

Total cost (for 4 portions): $5.82

Despite my pedigree as an enthusiastically carnivorous Texan, I've made plenty of vegetarian chilis in my time, all unremarkable. They got the belly-filling job done, more or less, but this Madhur Jaffrey bean chili is the first non-meat chili I've ever made that was still being enthusiastically eaten on the third day.

Except for the bell pepper and jalapenos or serranos, you probably have on hand all these ingredients. I used some of the pre-cooked beans I keep in my freezer, but canned would be fine, too. A spoonful of yogurt or sour cream makes the meal surprisingly richer; in fact, as long as you have that creamy kick, you won't miss cheese, if you don't happen to have any. And millet may sound like a punishingly healthy choice for serving, but its texture and bulk actually remind me of the ground beef in a chili con carne. If you're skeptical, make rice (or use your extra two dollars and change to buy corn tortillas or chips). Jaffrey says this is also good with polenta and doubles or triples well.

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.

  • Yield:Serves 4


  • 3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 to 2 small, fresh hot green chiles, finely chopped, seeds removed for a milder chili (I used 2 serranos and most of their seeds)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika or pimenton
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crumbled sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 cup uncooked lentils, picked over and washed
  • 1 cup cooked drained beans
  • 2 to 3 canned plum tomatoes, drained and finely chopped (I used about 1/4 of a 28-ounce box of chopped tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus a little extra for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
  • To serve: millet (or rice or tortilla chips), 1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (optional), 2 ounces grated cheese (such as cheddar or pepper jack, optional)


  1. 1.

    Put the oil in a medium pan over a medium-high flame. When hot, add the onion, garlic, green pepper, and hot green chiles. Stir and fry for about 3 minutes, or until the seasonings just start to brown. Do let them start to get some color, even if it takes 6 minutes or 10. Turn down the heat to medium-low and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. Now add the cumin, paprika, thyme, sage, oregano, and cayenne. Stir briskly once or twice and add the lentils, 4 cups of water, the beans, tomatoes, chopped cilantro, and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and cook gently for 50 minutes.

  2. 2.

    Mix the cornmeal with 3 tablespoons water and then pour the mixture into the chili pot. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring now and then.

  3. 3.

    Serve with millet (or rice or tortilla chips), topping each bowl with a tablespoon of yogurt and a sprinkle of cheese and cilantro.