Chili has always been a staple in my diet, ever since I was a kid. We lived on a farm when I was little, and I can remember my mother making huge batches of Texas-style chili to feed all of us, including some of the farmhands. I love the typical beef and bean chili, but it was something of a revelation to discover that there were other ways of making it. As an archaeological intern in Colorado, I visited some of the pueblo feast dances and was fed “real chili”, a thin green or red broth with small chunks of cubed pork, so spicy it would burn my mouth. The chili I had known growing up was considered “gringo chili”. And I was slightly horrified the first time I heard of chocolate chili, but one bite convinced me how wonderful chocolate could be in savoury dishes. It must be a measure of how far I’ve come with regards to chili, since the idea of putting pumpkin in chili didn’t phase me one little bit.
The idea of putting BOTH chocolate and pumpkin together in a chili came to me a few months ago. I was at a Boston Food Bloggers event back in September, hosted at Healthy Habits Kitchen. Healthy Habits is a new sort of food service in Wellesley, MA, that offers semi-prepared healthy meal kits for busy families. They also host food assembly parties, where private groups can take over their kitchen to put together freezer-friendly meals and enjoy a complimentary dinner in their lounge. It’s such an interesting idea, and I was certainly impressed by the execution of the meal kits during our tour. We were invited to bring our own wine and to taste several of the meals while we were there.
Their menu changes seasonally, and the fall menu contained both a Chocolate Chili and a Pumpkin Turkey Chili. Somehow, these two ideas fused in my head and I kept thinking about how to bring them together. Since I’d never made either, I had to do my research to figure out exactly what I wanted. I knew early on that I didn’t want pumpkin puree, as I thought that would get rather lost in the mix with the strength of the chocolate flavour. So I had to buy a pie pumpkin and roast it, so I could have nice cubes of pumpkin in the chili. I also found that most chocolate chili recipes contained both cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate. A lot of them also contained sugar, but there wasn’t going to be any of that in my version, of course, and I really didn’t think it was necessary. I wanted some heat in mine, so I added some jalapeno and chili powder. But as I tasted, I knew it needed some spice that would complement the chocolate, so I added a touch of chipotle powder and cinnamon.
The Results: This is such a great variation on your typical chili, and it has a smoky, chocolatey flavour with a touch of sweetness from the pumpkin. It’s certainly hearty and rich, though, and I found it quite filling. I skipped adding any beans, because they add carbs, but you could certainly add some in the final stages of simmering to stretch it out more.
I had worried that the pumpkin chunks would become mushy when simmered for a while like that, but they didn’t. They were soft but retained their shape nicely and made for a chunkier dish, which I really enjoyed, especially in the absence of any beans.
1 small pie pumpkin
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1 lb lean ground beef
2 14-oz cans diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
Preheat oven to 400F and brush a baking sheet or ceramic baking dish with oil.
Cut pumpkin into 8 wedges and scrape out pulp and seeds. Brush wedges with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until soft, then remove the skin and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Set aside.
In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil until shimmering. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add jalapeno, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, cinnamon and chipotle powder and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink, 7 to 9 minutes, breaking up clumps with the back of a wooden spoon.
Stir in the pumpkin, canned tomatoes, water, cocoa powder, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, until slightly thickened.
Add chopped chocolate and stir until melted. Serve immediately.
Serves 6. Each serving has a total of 15.6 g of carbs and 5.6 g of fiber. Total NET CARBS = 10 g.