This is a staple meal at our house - I make it at least once a month, and it's seldom that I don't have any stashed in the freezer. Since this is more of a technique than a precise recipe, there are few exact measurements, but I come up with about the same amount every time. My slow cooker holds (I believe) 7 quarts; you could easily halve everything for a smaller model. Because it takes a couple of days, it does require some advance planning.. but every time I make it, I feel like I've spent no effort on cooking a hearty dish that will feed us for several meals. It's also very easily adapted to specific dietary requirements: for example, it's entirely gluten free, and both vegan and fat-free until (unless) you put meat in.
48 hours before mealtime:
Soak two cups pinto beans in about 4 cups water with a tablespoon or so of baking soda. I like to do this part while making dinner, or just before bedtime.
24 hours in advance:
Drain the beans. Place them with 8c water in a large slow cooker on low. Add about a tablespoon each of chili powder and ground cumin. I also add one chipotle at this point; we're wimpy when it comes to heat.* Naturally, esteemed reader, you'll have different spice/flavor preferences. Also stir in one chopped large onion and a handful (6-8 cloves) of chopped garlic. Cover and go about your business. Again, I generally do this right before bedtime, with a plan of chili for dinner the next day.
Give the beans a stir. Add about a tablespoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Add crushed tomatoes: I get best results with about a quart (often a 29 ounce can), but have also used lesser amounts successfully. Obviously, more tomatoes means more added liquid; take that into account. I think I managed to burn (yes, in a crock pot!) my earliest attempt at this because of inadequate liquid. If I'm using it, I add a pound of browned meat at this point as well.** This timing assumes you're making this for dinner; it's around 12 hours after the beans are started.
A few hours before serving:
Crush and stir in a double handful of tortilla chips (I've used corn Chex in a pinch). If after a bit it's still more liquid than you prefer, add some more chips. Adjust your seasonings, and eat when you're ready!
We like to serve this with cheese and sour cream, and to eat it with chips or rice.
This is a very flexible recipe; many of the cooking times are much longer than they absolutely need to be, so you could do it in less time. This is how I've worked it into my routine, experiment and see how it works into yours!
Many thanks to my friend Helen who posted the version I adapted this from.
*When I open a can of chipotles, I freeze the lot individually in an ice cube tray, each with a little sauce. Very handy!
**We like stew beef the best, but I often use ground beef. I've also tried ground chicken. Ground turkey or pork would work as well. Or be a rebel and don't use any - it's just as good!