Christmas Tree Chili

Kidney Beans

Kidney Beans

by Cat, Nov 2008 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Includes: 1. About Chiles; 2. Cat’s Christmas Tree Chili

See also: 1. Texas Chili with Ancho Chiles (with or without Beans); 2. Beans & Other Legumes: Soaking & Sprouting


When I was living in Portland, a favorite annual activity was spending a December day driving out into the country to find the right tree farm, and then selecting the perfect Christmas tree for my Victorian home.  I included several friends in this fun activity.  Then after we’d selected our trees, we went back to my house for a batch of my chili.

I started this tradition when I was living a vegetarian life style, and I still prefer my chili without meat. 

In the early days or my Christmas Tree tradition, I used canned kidney beans, but in later years, I’d learned how to sprout and cook the dried beans.  Now I like to use a mix of beans, including kidney and pinto, and whatever else interesting I can find.

I also like to use LOTS of chili powder and cayenne.  I like it so hot it makes my eyes cross.  But in the recipe presented here, I’ve been moderate with these; you can add more as desired.

In the winter, its hard to find good fresh tomatoes in the northern climes where I live, so I use canned chopped tomatoes by Muir Glenn (organic, and the can is lined with ceramic, to protect fro the lead solder.)

An excellent accompaniment for chili is corn bread, with lots of real butter and a bit of raw honey.

About Chiles

Refer to The Cook’s Thesaurus (2,3) for a great description, with pictures, of many different chiles, both fresh and dried.  It also suggests reasonable substitutes if you can’t find a particular chile.

Wonder about the spelling: chili or chile?  See the definitive article in the LA Times: Chili or Chile? Dispute Never Seems to Cool Off (1): “The Los Angeles Times spells the vegetable “chile” and the spicy soup “chili.” The sauce made of chile, onion and tomato? Chile sauce.”

Portland Christmas Tree

Portland Christmas Tree

Cat’s Christmas Tree Chili

(Photo, right, by R. O’Hiser, of Cat’s Christmas Tree in Portland)

This is my own recipe, and makes a small batch to serve 3 – 4, but the recipe can be easily doubled. You can also include black beans and other varieties of red beans.  The more varieties, the better the flavor.

This is a vegetarian recipe. If you want to add meat (ground, or thin slices of steak), brown about 1 pound in the olive oil with onions and garlic, or brown separately in lard.


Ingredients & Equipment:

Soak & cook beans

  • ½ pound dried beans (kidney, pinto, etc.)
  • warm filtered water
  • lemon juice (1 Tbsp per quart of water)
  • ½ Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • ¼ tsp Unrefined sea salt


  • 1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 or more cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 – 2 green chiles (hot or mild), seeded and chopped
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp chili powder (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt
  • 1-2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp baking cocoa (optional)
  • ½ – 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes, chopped (or chopped canned tomatoes).
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne, or to taste


  • large bowl
  • 3 quart saucier or stock pot
  • saute pan


Soak & cook beans

  1. Cover beans with warm water.  Stir in whey or lemon juice and leave in a warm place overnight (24 hours).  The longer they soak, the shorter the cooking time.  Check after a few hours and add more water as necessary.
  2. Drain beans, rinse and put in saucier or stock pot along fresh water to cover by 2 inches.  Boil for 10 minutes (very important, to ensure soft beans, and to destroy a toxin in kidney beans) and skim.
  3. Add ½ Tbsp. olive oil and garlic.  Simmer gently until beans are tender, 1 – 3 hours.  Add more water as needed to keep beans covered.
  4. About 20 minutes before the beans are done, add about ¼ tsp of salt.
  5. At this point, you can keep going, or transfer beans and cooking liquid to refrigerator, to make the chili later.


  1. While beans are cooking (or reheating), chop onion and mince the garlic.  Seed and chop the chiles. Chop bell pepper and set aside.
  2. Warm olive oil in saute pan over medium-low heat.  Add onion and garlic; saute until soft, stirring occasionally.  Add chili powder, salt, cumin, baking cocoa and dried oregano, stirring to combine.  Cook one minute more, then add to beans.
  3. Add tomatoes and chopped bell pepper.  Simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Check seasoning, adding more chili powder, sea salt, black pepper and cayenne as desired.

Serving ideas

  • Serve with grated cheddar or Mexican cheese, or sour cream, and freshly chopped onion or scallions.
  • Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro
  • Accompany with freshly baked corn bread and real butter (or butter whipped with honey)


  1. LA Times, Chili or Chile? Dispute Never Seems to Cool Off (
  2. The Cooks Thesaurus:  Dried Chiles (
  3. The Cooks Thesaurus:  Fresh Chiles (

About Cat

See my 'About' page
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