Mom’s Chili for Seniors — Perfect For All Ages Without Being Bland

by Dorothy Reinhold on September 24, 2015

Print This Post Print This Post Mom's Spicy Chili for All Ages | Deeply flavored chili without being too spicy |

My mother, a gifted home cook, has moved into a home for senior citizens where someone else cooks for her. This is unusual, because for 50 years, she has cooked for herself.

While this chef, Julio, has made many delicious meals, the food can sometimes tend to be on the plain and somewhat bland side (probably because of the nature of cooking for seniors), at least to her. She commonly uses a lot of herbs and spices in her own cooking, and longs for more kick and bigger flavors. I think he must be afraid of offending her palate.

My spicy mom, Helen Reinhold

So the other day she fished out her own recipe for chili, hoping to give him an idea of the kinds of flavors and seasonings she was craving. Chili for seniors shouldn’t be bland! She had made it one day when friends were coming over, and was smart enough to jot down what she grabbed from the pantry as she tossed things into the pot.

In went a few kinds of dried ground chiles, in went some allspice, which gives Cincinnati-style chili its distinctive flavor, in went some cocoa powder, common in Mexican moles, some vinegar for tang, some cumin and coriander for a warm spicy feeling.

This is the best kind of chili – use what you have on hand, build layers of flavor, and let it soar.

I just made it for dinner last night, and it is a winning combination! This is a big, bad bowl o’ red, with some complex flavors. It has spice, but is not so hot it will blow the top off your head, if you know what I mean.  My son loved it so much he begged for it again, so I have it on the stove right now, bubbling away. Twice in two days!

The other major benefit of a pot o’ chili is you can eat off it for several days. It’s a great make-ahead and reheat option, for busy weeks.

Julio, take note! Some seniors are spicy senoritas!

Mom's Spicy Chili for Seniors from

Bubbling away in the pot.

Mom's Spicy Chili | Deeply flavored chili without being too spicy |

Mmmmm…cheese garnishing chili is a classic.

Mom's Spicy Chili | Deeply flavored chili without being too spicy |

Recipe: Mom’s Spicy Chili for Seniors

  • 1 pound ground meat (I used ground turkey; use beef or whatever you have. Or try a wildcard like ground bison!)
  • 1 red pepper, chopped finely
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 2  tablespoons chili powder (I used 1 tablespoon regular chili powder and 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander (I used 1 teaspoon)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin (I used 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (I didn’t have this, so I vamped with a pinch of cloves, a pinch of cinnamon and a few grinds of nutmeg)
  • 1/4 teaspoon jalapeno powder (optional, or use a fresh jalapeno chili, finely chopped)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used 1/2-1 teaspoon salt; salt this to your taste!)
  • Few grinds pepper
  • Dash cayenne (optional, depending on how much heat you like)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can Mexican diced tomatoes (I used plain diced tomatoes in their own juice)
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce (or Mexican tomato sauce if you can take the heat)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, optional (Yes, I used this!)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans
  • 1/4 cup caramelized onions (totally optional, this is the wildcard I added because I had some left over)

Garnishes: sour cream, fresh cilantro, and/or shredded cheese (I used Kerrygold Red Leicester cheese)Kerrygold Red Leicester cheese on

In a large skillet or pot with a lid, brown the meat; sauté onions and pepper, and then add rest of ingredients through cocoa powder. Simmer on lowest heat, covered, at least 30 minutes. Stir in black beans and caramelized onions, if using, and continue simmering another 30-45 minutes.

Serve in bowls, garnished with a dollop of sour cream, finely chopped fresh cilantro, and shredded cheese.

Serves 4.

Other meat options

  • I have made this with ground turkey, and it is great!
  • I have made this with ground beef and it is also great!
  • For my third batch of this (third in 2 weeks!), I used ground pork, sopping up the released grease with a paper towel from the skillet before adding onions, and subbed mushrooms for the red pepper. Nom nom!
  • My pal Kathie made it with ground bison and she said they licked their bowls clean.
  • Bottom line: use whatever ground meat suits you.

Mom's Spicy Chili | Deeply flavored chili without being too spicy | ShockinglyDelicious.comDisclosure: Kerrygold sent the cheese for use in a recipe. 


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Marci Crestani October 1, 2015 at 3:38 pm

I love this aromatic recipe……it’s so perfect for fall too!


Dorothy Reinhold October 6, 2015 at 7:52 pm

Aromatic is my favorite word!


Jeanne @JollyTomato September 26, 2015 at 10:23 am

Love, love, love this – for seniors AND for kids! Oh, and your mom is adorable!


Dorothy Reinhold September 26, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Thank you!


Liz September 25, 2015 at 8:31 am

A lovely recipe. Thank you. I love KerryGold Cheese.


Connie kaiser March 3, 2013 at 5:18 pm

WOW Dorothy! I had a hankering for chili this weekend and remembered your post of your Mom’s recipe. Only tweaks were I had a bag of baby multicolored peppers from Ralph’s so used those and threw in 3 hershey’s kisses because I didn’t want to spend $3 on cocoa powder. Added fresh jalapenos because I had them. Stole your idea of making corn muffins from the mix and added jalapenos to half of those as well. OMG – MY SOUL IS SO HAPPY (as are my husband’s and son’s stomachs!)


Dorothy March 3, 2013 at 10:19 pm

LOVE LOVE your Hershey’s Kisses tweak! Perfect!


Grace May 1, 2011 at 4:43 pm

One last comment. I found out what to do with the black beans as soon as I opened the can. 🙂 In they went, drained and rinsed. I’m not generally a fan of chili but this is excellent. Thank you.


Dorothy May 2, 2011 at 9:00 am

Yeah, some brands have a lot of bean goo; others don’t. In a chili, it won’t matter tremendously, because it all makes a soupy, stewy concoction anyway, but most often I rinse and drain. Glad you liked!


Grace May 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Sorry for being so abrupt. My onions were caramelizing a tad fast. I know how wonderful your Mom’s recipes are. I used to hang out with her on ToH CS board and tried several of her recipes. That’s why I had to try this one.
I made your quick shrimp skillet from this board two days ago and it was such a hit my family wants it every day. Looking forward to trying many more.
Please give your Mom my regards when you talk to her,


Dorothy May 2, 2011 at 8:58 am

Thanks for the compliment on the shrimp! I appreciate it! I will tell my mom you are thinking of her…you’re right…she is a GREAT cook!


Grace May 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm

This is the first ever chili that I’ve ever made. Do you drain and rinse the black beans?


Dorothy May 2, 2011 at 8:57 am

I usually do. In this recipe, it won’t matter tremendously, so you can suit yourself.


Christy April 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm

yummy! just finished dinner and even my husband who is not a chili fan liked it! a keeper!!


Dorothy April 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Yippee! So glad!


Dorothy May 2, 2011 at 9:16 am

Thank you! That is high praise from someone who doesn’t even favor chili!


Nena March 30, 2011 at 9:40 am

I’m still can’t get over you didn’t have allspice in your cupboard. I bought some for the Cranberry Sauce and am trying to use it. I will definately use some in my next batch of Chili. Thanks for all your great recipes.


Dorothy March 30, 2011 at 10:47 am

You’re right! I ALWAYS have allspice. I was just out of it, after using a bunch of it for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holiday cooking. Sometimes even ShockD runs out of a spice!


Lynne @ CookandBeMerry March 27, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Your Mom is beautiful and looks so nice. No wonder you turned out so good. And your chili is delicious, too!


Dorothy March 27, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Thank you for your kind words. My mom IS beautiful, and her chili is awesome, I agree!


Lentil Breakdown March 24, 2011 at 8:52 pm

I can relate to this, as my mother lived in a retirement home and always complained about the terrible food. I ate there a few times, and she wasn’t kidding!


Kathie March 24, 2011 at 6:01 pm

OMG this is beyond delicious–my daughter keeps sneaking tastes while it is cooking. I cannot wait to eat it all up once it is done!! Your Mom is awesome!!!!!


Kate March 24, 2011 at 12:12 pm

She needs to get into the kitchen at this home when Julio is not looking !


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: