Healthy But Hearty Beef Chili

April gets an A for effort. Have you noticed the birds starting to chatter back and forth? “Good morning, good morning, good morning!” they chirp cheerfully. And it will be a good morning, because the temperature has already climbed out of the 20’s and 30’s, and you know the sun will be sticking around longer and later today.

Nobody is more eager than the first green bud to break through the surface. Scan the ground for a minute or two longer, and you’ll see two, three, four, five more pointy little signs of spring. Those tulips are thriving and those crocuses are confident…they’ve pushed their way through the snow and they’re already wiggling for elbowroom. They’re encouraging us to dust off the outdoor furniture and lug it out to the front yard [and to pay close attention where we set those chairs down!].

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When the sky is clear, it truly is warm enough to sit outside. Although it’s a little optimistic to be thinking about tall glasses of lemonade and creamy scoops of potato salad, picnicking isn’t entirely out of the question. We’ll be packing coolers without enough ice and passing around watermelon wedges and pulled pork sandwiches soon enough…and I promise that it won’t be too long until we’re fighting over the extra cheesecake-in-a-jar and folding up the classically red and white gingham tablecloth [without quite shaking out all the crumbs].

But for now, while we wait for spring to arrive and slip into summer, spread a fleecy blanket across your front stoop and situate yourself in the sun. There’s something awfully nice about tilting your face up and listening to the snow melt. It’ll be even more glorious when you have a warm plate of chili cupped in your hands [which, if you’re strategic, will also make your thighs nice and toasty].

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This is a beef chili costarring much of the customary crew [ground beef, beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic, assorted spices], but there’s a distinct lack of shredded cheese, sour cream, bacon, and the dozens of other things Google swears people like on their chili.

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I was really going for a hearty & not unhealthy, thick & not soupy chili to dress up my brown rice. With that being said, I’d think you were totally brilliant if you thought a batch of cornbread would make for a better Act II.

Since I was having something of a less-than-brilliant day, I stuck to 93% lean ground beef, positively poured in the red kidney beans, and used up all of the on-their-last-legs vegetables cluttering up the fridge [this time around: Roma tomatoes, yellow heirloom tomatoes, baby Bella mushrooms, jalapeños].

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The spices were something of an immeasurable adventure, with lots of input from the most discerning palate I’ve ever encountered [how can he know that the amount of cumin needs to be tripled with a single sniff, or that paprika is the missing flavor after just a tiny taste?]. We settled on the following, and adjusted the ratios more times that I could count: chili powder, ground cumin, red chili flakes, paprika, oregano, salt, pepper, and a Penzeys Spices adobo seasoning [a heady mix of garlic, onion, Tellicherry black pepper, Mexican oregano, cumin and cayenne red pepper].

Our end result was quite spicy, but not so much so that the subtler spices got lost. Think heat with flavor. This isn’t the kind of chili that will have you pausing every other bite for sips of water, and there probably won’t be any beads of sweat to wipe away from your forehead.

A bowlful will, however, warm your heart and ease the interminable wait for spring. I’ve found that chili tastes the best when it is cooked low and slow, so let it simmer for as long as you can stand.

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Recipe [Serves 8]


1.5 lbs. lean ground beef [10% or less fat]

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 [28-ounce] can crushed tomatoes

2 Roma tomatoes

4 heirloom yellow tomatoes

6 baby Bella mushrooms

2 sweet onions, chopped

3 medium carrots, chopped

1 jalapeño, minced

2 [15-ounce] cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

2.5 tablespoons tomato paste

Spices [suggested: chili powder, ground cumin, red chili flakes, paprika, cayenne red pepper, oregano, salt, pepper]


Cook the ground beef and garlic in a Dutch oven, breaking apart the meat with a spoon, until browned.

Drain off any fat and add desired spices.

Add the tomatoes [all], mushrooms, onions, carrots, jalapeño, beans, and tomato paste to the pot.

Cover and cook for 4-5 hours [or until flavors are blended] on low to medium-low heat.

Adjust seasonings to taste.

Recipe adapted from Weight Watcher’s Cook It Quick Classic Beef Chili


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