American College of Nutrition Certified Nutrition Specialist | Author | Professor of Nutrition


Skillet Chili is Quick, Easy and Delicious

When the days turn cold chili is a comforting meal, like a warm hug in a bowl. Unfortunately my desire for a bowl of chili doesn’t always come with the ability to start cooking hours before dinner. Sometimes I want chili and I want it quick.  Woman holding bowl of delicious chili

This recipe takes 30 minutes from the time you walk in the door until you have chili on the table. Its a quick, easy chili recipe that doesn’t taste quick and easy. Its way better than any canned chili, and almost as simple.

I made a few modifications to Melissa Clark’s recipe for Vegetarian Skillet Chili in the New York Times, so its foolproof. Her quick-pickled onions are what make this chili – don’t skip this step. Its simple and the leftover onions make any sandwich or salad the next day extra special.

Ground meat, or a vegan meat substitute, is optional. It adds about 10 minutes to the cooking time, and I usually don’t add it. The chili is very filling with just the beans. You know your family, so cook what they will eat. I’m just happy you all will get your beans!

Here’s how you make it:

Skillet Chili

(serves 2-4, depending on appetite)

Pickled Onions:

  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced into fairly thin strips
  • Juice of 1-2 limes (depending on their size and juiciness)
  • 1/8 tsp. of salt
  • 1 pinch of sugar

Mix in a bowl and let sit while you make the chili. You want enough lime juice to come about halfway up the onions. The onion needs about 20 minutes to get pickled. Leftovers will last for about a week in the fridge, and are fantastic.


  • 1 TBS of olive oil, a little more if your pan tends to get sticky
  • 1 white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1-2 minced garlic cloves (2 little, one big – to taste)
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 pinch cumin (optional)
  • 2 15-ounce cans of beans, any kind you like (I use 1 pinto and 1 black bean), drained and rinsed
  • 1 14.5 – 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes (no salt added if you can find it)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock, chicken stock or water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  • 1-2 diced avocados
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Fresh tomato, chopped
  • Sour cream or cheese

Put it all together:

  1. Mix the pickled onion ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Stir occasionally while chili is simmering.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet and add the diced onion, cook until softened and translucent.
  3. Add the garlic and spices, and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the beans and the tomatoes with their juice.
  5. Add a cup of stock or water swished around the tomato can to pick up leftover juice.
  6. Add a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
  7. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes break down and get soft.
  8. Taste for seasoning, add more water if the chili is too dry.

TO ADD MEAT: if using ground beef or turkey, add it with the onions and cook through before adding the spices. If using a vegetarian ground “beef” add it frozen to the pan when the onions are done.

Top each bowl with some pickled onions and the toppings of choice. Enjoy!

This is great with a side of cornbread (use a mix and it can cook while the chili simmers), or as a baked potato topping. You can bake the potatoes in the microwave while the chili simmers. If you’re not a Nutritionist you could serve this with corn chips.

We never have leftover chili when I make this, but if we did it would keep for several days in the refrigerator. I’d add it to quick-cook brown rice for a speedy lunch.

You an easily double this recipe to feed a crowd, or freeze the leftovers.

I usually have these ingredients on hand, but if you only have a white onion and not a red one the pickled onions will still be good. If you had a lemon but not a lime, the onion would still pickle. If you didn’t have fresh cilantro, you can still make this chili and it will still be tasty. Any kind of bean will be fine too.

One key strategy to eating more at home is to have a few easy recipes like this in your arsenal, and keep the ingredients for them in the pantry. If you stock up and don’t make the chili, use the avocado, lime, cilantro and red onion to make a fabulous guacamole over the weekend. The canned beans and tomatoes will last forever.

I always try to keep canned beans, canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and something citrus on hand. Also frozen cooked grains like brown rice and quinoa. With these few ingredients I can make so many soups, stews and bowl-combo meals quickly. Add a quick salad or some greens and you have a super-healthy, easy and delicious meal.

Variations on the Recipe

If you want a white chicken chili, use ground chicken instead of beef, white beans instead of the pinto or black beans, and canned green chilies instead of the tomatoes. Add some chicken stock to simmer. Instead of the red chili powder, add cumin, oregano and something hot like a little cayenne or red pepper flakes. Top with cilantro, avocado and the pickled onions – delicious!

Want red beans and rice? Use canned red beans, andouille sausage, add chopped celery and bell pepper with the onions, and use cajun seasoning instead of the chili powder and oregano. Serve over brown rice, add a quick salad and dinner is done.

I hope this technique helps make eating at home easier for you. Its one I rely on weekly. Let me know how you like it!

, , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply