Chili Beans Aren't Just for Chili

January 07, 2015 Chili

I'm sure this has happened to you. (It's certainly happened to me.) You attend an event where your neighbor's entrée or side dish has that indefinable je ne sais quoi. You follow her around the rest of the night, begging for the secret, promising to keep quiet if she'll share. Only to learn that the mystery ingredient is sitting in your pantry right now. A delicious little moment that ends with you asking yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?"

I'm going to share one of my favorite "secrets" that you can incorporate into your regular repertoire of recipes today: chili beans. That's right, the can of beans sitting in your Lazy Susan is the answer. Like their name says, they're absolutely killer in chili, and they're amazing in so many more recipes. Plus, canned chili beans are a huge time-saver. No more painstaking cleaning, overnight soaking and careful seasoning — they breathe life into everyday meals in seconds, as demonstrated by the following tips.

Chili beans breathe life into everyday meals in seconds.

Try 'em white. Good old-fashioned chili is the obvious use for chili beans. Mix it up and try them in a white chili. This savory recipe is a fan favorite in my house. I love it because it comes together in 30-40 minutes, start to finish, and everybody customizes it to his own taste. I offer all sorts of toppings, and we all take our selections very seriously. My husband covers his in extra roasted chilies. I like a simple dollop of sour cream. My boys crush tortilla chips right on top. White chili night is truly an event for us.

Bake 'em up. Smash chili beans into a surprisingly perfect "sauce" for individual pizzas. They're a great way to kick-start the imaginations of everyone eating. It calls for fresh tomatoes, spinach and sautéed onions, but you should also try adding roasted peppers, shredded sweet potatoes and finely sliced greens. Trust me, with melty cheese and easy assembly involved, you can get kids to eat just about any vegetable!

Keep 'em cold. No doubt I blew your mind with this one. It seems crazy to eat chili beans cold... until you try them that way! This salsa uses white chili beans and is the ultimate way to get the attention of every taste bud in the room. Perfect for girls' nights in, impromptu guests and neighborhood get-togethers, this one actually may be a secret you want to keep for yourself. Have a batch of salsa chilling in your fridge at all times, or stir it together in minutes and be the hero every time you serve it.

Keep 'em classic. I can't keep gushing about chili beans without sharing with you a recipe for classic Texas chili. Regional recipes like this one are what have landed cans of chili beans in your Lazy Susan in the first place. Enjoy a rich and flavorful bowl as-is with a hunk of cornbread. If you're feeling more adventurous, use it as part of a bigger recipe. Spoon it over a roasted potato garnished generously with Greek yogurt and chopped onion. Stir it into homemade macaroni and cheese for a stick-to-your-ribs, cold-weather supper. Ladle it over crispy hash browns and top it with a fried egg for a to-die-for Sunday brunch.

One taste of any of these chili bean dishes, and your big "secret" will be in high demand. Relish the reaction you get from serving something new. Spend all the time you save using canned chili beans planning your outfit for the next party.