The Healthiest Chili Recipes You’ll Ever Make

When trying to eat well, your menu can quickly become nothing but chicken cutlets and salad. It’s hard to get excited about such a boring menu, though, especially when cooler weather leaves you wanting something more substantial. The best way to rescue yourself from this sad situation is to whip up a batch of chili. That might sound like an odd suggestion, but it’s easy to make the stew into a nutritious meal by using plenty of veggies, beans, and lean meats. As long as you don’t get too carried away with mountains of cheese and sour cream, these versions are some of the healthiest chili recipes out there.

1. 3-Bean and Beef Chili

Beef and bean chili

Beef and bean chili | iStock.com

Surprised to see beef on this list? Don’t be. As long as you opt for ground meat that’s 90% lean, it’s a great choice. This recipe from Food Network‘s Ellie Krieger is particularly smart because it stretches the meal even more by using tons of beans, which are packed with protein and fiber. Make this your new go-to.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 pound extra-lean ground beef
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 chipotle in adobo, seeded and minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

Directions: Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and carrots. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add cumin and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add ground beef, then increase heat to high. Cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until meat is fully cooked. Add tomatoes, water, chipotle, a bit of adobo sauce, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve.

2. White Chicken Chili

white chili

White chili with chicken | iStock.com

If you’re tired of the basic bowl of red, check out this white chili from Cooking Light. It boasts tons of flavor thanks to cumin, oregano, coriander, and green chiles. Best of all, each serving is just 233 calories and will give you a whopping 32.7 grams of protein and 3.4 grams of fiber.

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 (4.5-ounce) cans chopped green chiles
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 (15.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
  • ½ teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ½ cup chopped green onions

Directions: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and grease with cooking spray. Add chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat. Grease with cooking spray, then add onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add cumin, oregano, and coriander and continue to cook and stir for 1 minute.

Stir in chiles and reduce heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes, covered partially. Add chicken, water, beans, and broth. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in hot sauce.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish each serving with cheese, cilantro, and green onions. Serve.

3. Vegan Beer Chili

Meatless chili

Meatless chili | iStock.com

Steering clear of animal products doesn’t mean your meal has to end up flavorless, which this hearty chili from Minimialist Baker proves. With two kinds of beans, it’s substantial enough for any appetite. It’s also completely delicious thanks to a hefty dose of beer and chili powder. If you’re not vegan, a dollop of sour cream makes a nice finish.

Ingredient:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle dark Mexican beer
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can kidney beans, lightly drained
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, lightly drained

For serving

  • Hot sauce
  • Crackers or cornbread

Directions: Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and green pepper, Season with about ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables have softened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add chili powder and hot sauce. Continue to cook, stirring, for about 1 minute.

Add beer and let simmer until reduced by half, about 6 to 8 minutes. Next, stir in tomatoes and beans. Once again, season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium-low heat, and simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally to break up tomatoes, about 30 minutes.

Serve chili with additional hot sauce and crackers or cornbread.

4. Turkey Pumpkin Chili

Pumpkin puree in a glass

Pumpkin purée in a glass | iStock.com

For those who wish every season were fall, this Autumn-inspired stew from Whole Foods Market is the perfect meal. Featuring turkey, pumpkin, jalapeño, and chili powder, it tastes like a southwestern take on Thanksgiving. This dish is also a great way to use up leftover turkey or chicken you’ve cooked for another meal. Just add the shredded meat near the end of the cooking process to keep it from drying out.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground white or dark meat turkey
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Directions: Heat oil in a large pot set over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until veggies are tender, about 5 minutes. Add turkey and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until browned. Add tomatoes, pumpkin, water, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, then add beans. Cover pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Serve.

5. Bison Chili Con Carne

Texas-style chili

Texas-style chili | iStock.com

Some folks insist true chili should never under any circumstances include beans. If you take a similar mentality, try this chili from The Bison Council for a healthier twist on the classic beef version. Using bison as your protein means you’ll end up consuming fewer calories, less saturated fat, and less cholesterol than if you made the same recipe with beef. We also like the clever use of fish sauce to give the finshed dish a super savory flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 4 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 4 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 dried chile de arbol
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 cups frozen orange juice concentrate
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 3 chipotles in adobo
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 pounds bison chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 bay leaves

Optional toppings

  • Chopped cilantro
  • Sliced scallions
  • Crumbled cotija cheese
  • Sour cream

Directions: Place dried chiles in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, flipping occasionally, until pliable and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let cook until softened, about 15 minutes. Carefully transfer to a blender, then wipe saucepan clean.

Add 2 tablespoons oil to pan and set over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, and oregano and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Stir in orange juice concentrate, raisins, chipotles, and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer, then transfer to same blender. Cover, allowing a small vent for steam to escape. Cover loosely with a towel, and blend, beginning on low speed, until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Pat bison with paper towels to dry. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Add bison and spread evenly over surface. Cook until well browned, about 8 minutes. Add chili mixture and stir to release any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until bison is tender, about 3 hours. Season to taste and serve with toppings.

6. Vegetarian Chili with Winter Vegetables

Vegetarian chili

Vegetarian chili | iStock.com

Most of us get into a rut with winter vegetables, making the same roasted side dishes again and again. For something more exciting, give your favorite cool weather veggies a new home in this satisfying stew from The New York Times. The great thing about this recipe is it can adapt to use just about any type of sturdy vegetable, so feel free to add parsnips, turnips, or even sweet potatoes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch simmered pinto beans or 3 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed, canola, or another light cooking oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, diced small
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons mild ground chili
  • 1 tablespoon lightly toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • 1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste stirred into 1 cup water
  • 2 cups diced winter squash
  • Salt
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • Grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese or crumbled queso fresco

Directions: Heat beans on stove in a large pot or Dutch oven. If using canned beans, you’ll likely need to add water to give them enough liquid.

Meanwhile heat oil in a heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chili powder and cumin. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until very fragrant. Add tomatoes and oregano. Season with salt, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring often, until mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste-water mixture and bring to a simmer once more. Season with salt and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, or until thick.

Stir tomato mixture into beans, then add squash. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 30 to 45 minutes. Just before serving, add cilantro. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then ladle into bowls and top with cheese, if desired. Serve.

7. Tomatillo and Pork Chili

Tomatillos

Tomatillos on a piece of burlap | iStock.com

A classic pork chile verde is definitely delicious, but the dish is far from light. For a meal that boasts the same flavors without doing quite so much damage to your diet, make this delicious recipe from Eating Well. It’s bursting with nutrition thanks to lean ground pork and even a bit of bulgur to boost the fiber content. We particularly like the addition of chipotle chiles because they give this dish heat and a slightly smoky flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husks removed, skin rinsed well, chopped
  • 2 medium poblano peppers, chopped
  • ½ cup bulgur
  • 2 tablespoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo
  • 3 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 (14-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can hominy, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Directions: Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add pork, onion, and garlic. Cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until no pink remains, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in tomatillos and poblanos. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add bulgar, chipotle chiles, oregano, cumin, and salt. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, hominy, and beans. Pour in broth and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Keeping pot partially covered and stirring occasionally, simmer until bulgur is tender and stew has thickened, about 50 minutes. Serve.

Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec

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