Several cans of beans (variety; avoid soy of any type--it makes it bland)
Spices you like: paprika, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne...
5 jalapenos if you like it hot
Large can tomatoes
Grated chedder (optional garnish)
Hot sauce (optional garnish)
Fresh garlic (optional) and onion (mandatory!)
I start with onions, sauteed in a little olive oil with whatever mexican spices I have on hand (chili powder, cumin, paprika!, a little cayenne).
I may or may not add fresh garlic, depending on mood.
I add a large can of diced tomatoes. Then I add several different types of canned beans (I'm not adept at cooking dry ones) - usually about 5 cans. Add the water from the cans along with the beans. Cook it til it looks like a thick soup. I may add some tomato paste to get it to start thickening.
I like my chili spicy, so at this point I add 4-5 chopped fresh jalapenos and about the same number of serranos chopped, along with a coarsely chopped bell pepper.
Then turn down the heat to low, because peppers taste better slightly crunchy (to me, anyway). I let it simmer about 10 minutes like this - the peppers are still bright - and I taste. I might add garlic powder and/or onion powder at this point if I think it needs something extra. It may be still like a chunky soup when you dish it into bowls, but I add a little grated chedder on top of each serving; it adds a nice flavor and seems to thicken it a bit.
Overnight your leftovers will thicken and it will seem less like bean soup and more like chili. Try to make enough so you can have it the next night (leftovers taste sometimes better!)
I bring extra hot sauce - Malinas - to the table in case it isn't hot enough.
That's it! For me, the main ingredient is beans.