A hearty and easy way to feed a crowd, chili is an ideal addition to a Super Bowl party. But to add interest to this savory winter staple, we reach for an ingredient from the baking world.
This recipe from our book “Cook What You Have,” which draws on pantry staples to assemble easy, weeknight meals, has all the usual suspects: ground meat, beans, cumin, chili powder, tomato and onion. But it also has one unconventional ingredient — cocoa powder.
At least, it’s unconventional in most of the country. In Cincinnati, cocoa and other warm spices, such as cinnamon and allspice, are common components of chili (as is spaghetti, but we skipped that this time). Just a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder adds surprising depth and complexity —without making the dish taste like chocolate. Because cocoa is a fermented product, it adds a subtle richness that builds on the umami of a generous amount of tomato paste.
To create a flavor-packed chili using just eight ingredients, we’re not shy about the seasonings. In addition to the cocoa, we add ¼ cup of chili powder and a full tablespoon of cumin. We also cook the tomato paste until deeply browned, a trick that develops rich, concentrated flavor. Another trick is mashing half the beans to thicken the sauce without needing extra time simmering on the stove to reduce it.
Since chili loves garnishes, be sure to offer bowls of any combination of sour cream, cilantro, pickled jalapeños, shredded cheddar cheese, hot sauce and tortilla chips.
Eight-Ingredient Beef and Bean Chili
Start to finish: 40 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
¼ cup chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound ground beef OR pork OR turkey
Two 15½-ounce cans pinto beans OR red kidney beans, drained but not rinsed
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
¼ cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped, plus more, finely chopped, to serve
¼ cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
In a small bowl, stir together the chili powder, cumin and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine the beef, 1 tablespoon of the spice mixture and ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons water. Using your hands, mix well; set aside.
In a large bowl, using a potato masher, mash half of the beans to a coarse paste. Add the tomatoes with juices and mash until they are broken down. Stir in the remaining whole beans; set aside.
In a large Dutch oven over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften and brown, about 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add 2 cups water and bring to a simmer over medium-high, scraping up any browned bits. Add the meat mixture and cook, breaking it into small bits, until the meat is no longer pink, about 1 minute. Add the bean-tomato mixture and cocoa, then return to a simmer. Reduce to medium and simmer gently, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the chili has thickened, about 30 minutes. Off heat, taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with finely chopped onion for sprinkling.
Optional garnish: Sour cream OR chopped fresh cilantro OR pickled jalapeños OR shredded cheddar cheese OR hot sauce OR tortilla chips OR a combination
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap