Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow day chili with beans and a hint of cocoa

Yesterday it snowed--the first significant snow in a few years here in Northern Virginia. On the tail of the snowstorm came the polar vortex--a mass of cold, hard air as inexorable and weighty as a glacier. Warmth flees before it. And the cold wind blows snow devils into the air, glittering in the sun. It's beautiful, stark, and harsh.

Cold days are good days to make chili. Filling chili, with a touch of warming spice (or a lot, depending on your taste) that satisfies hunger and banishes the cold. Serve it on rice with sour cream, a sprinkling of cheese, and some chopped onion (or any combination that you like).

What's a little different about this chili is the addition of unsweetened cocoa powder. Not to worry, it doesn't make the chili taste like chocolate, but it adds depth to the flavor and a beautiful dark color. And yes, this chili has beans, which I know  is sacrilege in some food circles, but I will gladly offend in this case, ha ha. Beans are incredibly nutritious, full of protein and fiber that will make you feel full for a long time. In this recipe I've used canned beans (organic, of course) for convenience (I know, I'm slipping), but if you are in the mood to cook your own beans, use this no-soak method, which works well for me.

Another nice thing about this chili is that you can switch up the protein: Use ground pork, ground beef, ground turkey, or ground lamb, whatever you have handy. The same is true of the beans. I like a two-to-one combination of white and pinto beans, but you can use any combination of beans.


  • 1 lb ground beef or pork or turkey or lamb (or a combination?)
  • 3 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 15-oz cans of white beans (such as cannelini or Great Northern), rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-oz can of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 28-oz can of ground tomatoes
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1-3 Tbsps chili powder
  • 2 tsps unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp salt (or to taste)


  1. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat (or other large-ish, heavy pot with a thick bottom). Add the onions and cook them until they are soft and slightly brown, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally and adjust the heat as needed so that the onions don't burn.  
  2. Add the ground beef/pork/turkey/lamb and cook through.
  3. Add crushed garlic and stir until you can smell it, about a minute. 
  4. Add tomatoes, beans, chili powder, cocoa powder, brown sugar, and about half of the salt. Stir everything together and let it simmer for at least 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Longer is fine if you want to start it early in the day and just let it stew. If so, keep the heat on the lowest setting, keep the lid on, and stir from time to time.
  5. Before it's time to serve, have a taste and add salt as needed. Then sever it over rice and with any additions that you like. I prefer sour cream and sometimes some chopped onion. Also, if you like it hot, you could always add some sliced jalapenos.   
 Now enjoy the cold weather and keep warm.

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