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Masala Chili

Masala Chili

Adapted from Brent Ridge, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Rose Marie Trapani from A Seat at the Table. Be sure to read the notes before starting.

Course Entree
Cuisine American, Fusion, Indian
Keyword ground meat, vegetarian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings 4 people


For chili:

  • 2-4 T ghee (use less for fattier meat and more for bison or plant-based "meat")
  • 1 Ceylon cinnamon stick (I used Burlap and Barrel's Cinnamon Verum but they are out of the sticks now)
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1/4 t whole black Aranya peppercorns (other black peppercorns can sub)
  • 1 t lightly crushed coriander seeds (I used Burlap and Barrel's and again they are out now)
  • 1/2 t fennel seeds
  • 1/4 t cumin seeds (I am using up my previously purchased cumin seeds but I highly recommend Burlap and Barrel's)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T minced fresh ginger
  • 1 sweet bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 t Pragati turmeric
  • 1 T double strength (or use twice as much) tomato paste
  • 1 t ground Anaheim chile powder*
  • 2 t Deggi Mirch chile powder*
  • 1 t Guntur Sannam Chile Powder*
  • 1 lb ground red meat or plant based ground meat substitute
  • 1 t (heaping, split) Garam Masala
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can (15 oz) chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 t amchur powder**
  • 1/2 t black lime powder**
  • 1-2 t cider vinegar (start with 1 and taste for more at end)
  • 3 small-medium potatoes, I prefer a thin-skinned variety unpeeled, diced
  • 1 T jaggery or dark brown sugar
  • 1.5 t natural cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas

For garnishes:

  • crumbled queso fresco***
  • full fat Greek yogurt
  • chopped cilantro


  1. Heat a medium-large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the ghee, cinnamon stick and star anise. Watch carefully--in my larger pot it took a few minutes but in the smaller pot (remember I was making one vegetarian and one not) it happened fast and I had to throw out burned star anise and start over. Add the black peppercorns.

  2. When the spices begin to get fragrant add the fennel seeds, crushed coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Stir the spices as needed and turn the heat down if they are not browning evenly. You want them a little darkened and wonderfully fragrant.

  3. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and turn the heat up a little, to medium high. Keep water by the cooktop so that if anything starts to scorch or stick you can add a tablespoon or so of water. Cook, stirring as needed, for 10 minutes, until caramelizing.

  4. Add the garlic, ginger and bell pepper with a pinch of salt. Keep stirring as needed. After 2 minutes, add the tomato paste. Cook another 2 minutes.

  5. Add the turmeric and chile powders. Stir into the onions so everything is evenly coated.

  6. Add the ground meat (or vegetarian sub) with a hefty pinch of salt and half of the garam masala. Stir to break up the chunks of meat and brown evenly.

  7. When the meat is evenly browned, add the tomatoes and 2 cups of water. Add another pinch of salt with the potatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to maintain a brisk simmer for 10 minutes.

  8. Add the jaggery (or brown sugar), cocoa powder, amchur powder, black lime powder and cider vinegar and simmer for another 20 minutes.

  9. Check to see if the potatoes are fork tender--this will depend on variety of potato and size of chunk. When they are tender, turn up the heat and stir in the peas. Return to a simmer.

  10. When the chili is hot throughout (after adding frozen peas), add the remaining half teaspoon of garam masala. Taste for more salt or cider vinegar. Remember that you will be adding yogurt and queso fresco which will calm the heat and balance any tannic notes from the chile pepper.

  11. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro, yogurt and queso fresco.

Recipe Notes

*I chose this combination of chile powders based on flavor and heat. If you do not have these exact chile powders, choose bright ones, like cayenne. Before discovering these spices online or in Indian groceries I would often use some paprika also, as we would not be able to eat a meal with 4 teaspoons of cayenne pepper! 

**If you do not have amchur or black lime powder, you can use all amchur, all black lime powder, or lime juice to taste at the end. The lime juice will be brighter, not as earthy, but it will work fine. Keep in mind you may need to re-add to any leftovers as the punch of citrus juice tends to fade.

***I knew queso fresco would work in this because it is mild, kind of like paneer. Normally I would suggest feta as a sub, but if you use feta you might want to use less salt--and report back how it was!