Family Style Chili with Cornbread Dumplings

Next to music there is nothing that lifts the spirits and strengthens the soul more than a good bowl of chili.”

– Bandleader and trumpeter Harry James (1916-1983)

A lot can be said for chili. Among its benefits: it’s economical, nutritious, sustaining, easy to cook – and pretty tough to screw up. This is the kind of recipe that I have made so many times that I swear you can wake me in the middle of the night, blindfold me and lead me to the kitchen and an hour later we would be eating chili. I usually make a large batch and freeze the chili (not the dumplings though) in silicone muffin trays to use whenever there’s a dinner emergency.

You can customize your chili however you like – this is a fairly mild version so as not to alienate the kids. If you like heat then add more spices and some chopped chili peppers. If you want to sneak in some vegetables to make the meal go further, butternut squash cooks down so that it thickens the chili without taking over. The dumplings are fluffy and great for mopping up the food – but you can skip them and make some proper cornbread instead.

  Family Style Chili with Cornbread Dumplings

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 red & 1 orange (or green) bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1½ pounds minced beef
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 14oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 14oz cans chopped tomatoes in juice
  • 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper


  • 1 ½ cups self-rising flour
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup coarsely grated cheddar cheese
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup plus 2 tbsp. whole milk or buttermilk (more if needed)
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan and cook the vegetables, ground beef, garlic, and all spices stirring until the meat is well browned.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients for the chili, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste.
  1. Meanwhile make the cornbread dumplings by combining the cornmeal, flour, cheese and salt in a bowl. Mix the milk with beaten egg and stir them in. If the batter is too dry add a little more milk a tablespoon at a time.
  1. Use wet hands to roll the dumplings and place on top of the chili. Cover the pot and cook for another 15-20 minutes.
  2. Serve with grated cheese, avocado and sour cream or with rice. Freeze the chili, in portions, for up to three months.