It’s a great summer cookout dish. It’s warm and cozy comfort when there’s a blizzard outside. It’s hearty perfection on game day. It’s a quick, easy fix on busy weeknights. Basically, it’s never a bad time for chili.
Best of all, with a few smart ingredient choices, it can also be an incredibly healthy one-pot meal, packing in protein, produce, and fiber. From traditional combinations to unique twists, meaty classics to vegan updates, we’ve found 24 ways to enjoy a bowlful of chili. Ladle up!
Is there a better way to get game-day ready than emptying a bottle of beer into your chili? Not only does it add surprising complexity to the Mexican-inspired dish, but most of the alcohol evaporates in the four-hour slow-cooking process, and there are plenty of healthy ingredients like fiber-filled beans, protein-packed skinless chicken breasts, and vitamin-rich tomatoes to balance out the booze.
Some chili recipes require hours in a slow cooker. This one cooks up in just thirty minutes, but sacrifices none of the depth of flavor thanks to infusing the turkey with heart-healthy spices like cumin and chili powder, and steeping it in bold barbeque and hot sauces.
If half an hour is all you’ve got, but you prefer chicken to turkey, try this white chicken chili, which gets its sweet 'n' spicy addictiveness from the combination of Vidalia onions and jalapeños. Mild white beans balance out the heat and add some complex carbohydrates and iron to the protein-heavy dish.
It’s not often you see greens in chili, but this one manages to sneak in some in the form of the vitamin K-packed, chock-full-of-calcium superfood kale. Using extra-lean turkey to provide protein with minimal fat, this chili isn't just delicious to serve up on football Sunday—it’s a smart choice any day of the week.
A handful of pantry staples go from mundane to mouthwatering when they’re left to simmer in a pot for half an hour: Watch as cancer-fighting ingredients like diced tomatoes, garlic, and onions soak in (what else?) hot sauce, then swathe the chicken and beans in a concoction that’s as sumptuous as it is straightforward to put together!
This looks like your basic chili—until those hints of sweetness and that subtle tang suggest there’s more simmering in that mixture than just lean meat and spices. Apple cider vinegar heightens the flavor profile and the antibacterial properties of the dish, while antioxidant-rich dark chocolate adds a mole-like twist that further proves anything involving cocoa is always a good idea.
Beef, Pork, and Other Meat-Based Chili
It’s all about the meat in this beanless chili, where good old ground beef (choose a lean version to avoid too much saturated fat) takes center stage, accompanied by a supporting cast of spices and chopped veggies. With less than ten total ingredients, it’s simplicity at its finest.
Give the all-American classic a twist with Thai-inspired ingredients. The addition of coconut milk to the stock gives it a unique creaminess. An unconventional (and anti-inflammatory!) spice source in the form of red curry paste stands in for the traditional peppers. Anti-inflammatory activities of red curry paste extract on lipopolysaccharide-activated murine macrophage cell line. Tuntipopipat S, Muangnoi C, Chingsuwanrote P. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 2010, Aug.;27(4):1873-1244.
You’ll find most of the traditional chili flavors in this simple stovetop recipe, but a few simple, healthful swaps and additions take it slightly off the beaten path. Using pork instead of beef provides plenty of cell-nourishing thiamin, while a dash of turmeric boosts the chili’s antioxidant content, and the slices of bok choy give it an extra oomph of color and calcium.
Beef up (pun totally intended) your chili, not just with the lean ground stuff, but with a few extra servings of vegetables and some unconventional spices. Carrots and collard greens balance out the meat, not to mention provide some blood pressure-controlling benefits, while harissa—a yummy North African chili paste you can easily find at your grocery store—lends a distinct heat that sets this recipe apart.
If the heat of chili is just too much for you, there’s an easy way to tone it down without it ending up overly bland: Add a cupful of chopped pineapple (the bromelain enzyme in the fresh stuff has some major cardiovascular and anticancerous benefits) for some zesty sweetness that perfectly complements the chili powder. Let it all hang out together in a slow cooker for a few hours, and the result is a melt-in-your-mouth combination of savory, spicy, and sweet.
Seafood in chili? It works—and spectacularly well—in this creation that uses antioxidant-rich shrimp as its protein source. Eat with rice to make the most of its stew-like consistency, or pair with cornbread for a more traditional chili feel. Either way, it won’t disappoint.
By no means is this your run-of-the-mill chili recipe. Ditching tomatoes and beans, it’s all about cooking down grass-fed beef, root veggies, and spices until what’s left is a dark, rich bowl. Go a step further with the addition of coffee and cocoa powder (you read that right!) for extra flavor, along with their mood-boosting methylxanthines.
Complex carbs from the sweet potato and beans, lean protein from the beef, healthy fats from the avocado—the macronutrient gang’s all here in this Crock-Pot-ready meal. But this recipe isn’t for the faint of heart, calling for a whopping five tablespoons of chili powder! Sure, the stuff may help you live longer, but if you can only handle so much heat, feel free to cut down to taste.
If you’re looking for a way to bulk up chili without meat, quinoa may just be your answer. Soaking into the spicy, tomato-based mixture, it gives the dish a thick, hearty texture and a source of complete protein to keep you full for hours.
Low-maintenance (thank you, slow cooker!), and including all the spices of the classic version, this may just become your go-to recipe for a meatless chili. A cup of diced walnuts is thrown in for a welcome punch of brain food and cholesterol-lowering protein. Effects of walnuts (Juglans regia) on learning and memory functions. Haider S, Batool Z, Tabassum S. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 2014, Jun.;66(4):1573-9104.
Tired of beans? Sub them out for lentils! Not just for soups, these legumes are also high in iron and protein, but not as commonly seen in chili as say, black or kidney beans. Even better, they’re quick to cook, so there’s no need for a slow cooker to have this dish ready to ladle up in less than an hour.
This chili goes south-of-the-border while staying all-American, thanks to the combination of chipotle peppers and good ol’ fashioned bourbon in the pot. Canned pumpkin balances out those sweet and spicy flavors, not to mention ups the chili’s cancer-fighting capabilities with its beta-carotene content.
Add this to the seemingly endless list of ways you can use tofu! Paired with mushrooms, the soy effortlessly soaks in the spices, while giving chili a meaty bite and plenty of protein and calcium. Even if you aren’t feeding vegans, this may get put on your regular rotation anyway, as a simply awesome plant-based meal.
Don’t knock it until you try it: Peanut butter (go for the all-natural, no-salt-added type) adds decadent but healthy fat to the otherwise-standard chili recipe, taking the gravy to a whole new level of yum. If you thought vegetarian chilis weren’t filling enough, the stick-to-your-ribs effect of this nut butter-based version might just change your mind.