This Is Your Secret Weapon For Making Chili Taste 10x Better
Published on October 16, 2020
Last updated September 14, 2021
By Carrie Havranek
Chilis is a cold-weather classic for a reason: comforting, hearty, and filling. There are so many great, healthy chili recipes out there: maybe you’re a fan of vegetarian chilis — this Lentil and Red Kuri Chili is one of our absolute favorites — or you go for more of a classic chili con carne, one you always eat with warm, jalapeño-studded cornbread. No matter what your chili profile is, we’re sharing a few go-to secrets that can help you make a healthier, heartier, better-tasting chili:
1. Try coffee and/or chocolate to balance the heat
A chef friend of ours has won awards for his chili, which includes both a couple tablespoons of coffee and an ounce or two of dark chocolate. These flavors may seem strange to add to a big pot of chili, but the truth is, they add depth and can round out the fiery flavors. Both coffee and chocolate bring a deep earthiness to the dish, as a way to temper some of the heat. You can use semi-sweet chocolate morsels (although have a light touch with this!), a high percentage dark chocolate, or even a little cocoa powder to add a touch of sweetness and a hit of richness. We also recommend adding a half a shot of espresso or a tablespoon or two of a strong, black coffee. This trick works great in all kinds of chilis, from indulgent, meaty versions to three-bean vegetarian options.
Recipe to try: This Cocoa Chocolate Chili from Robb Wolf without the beef to turn it vegetarian. (And as it’s written, it’s paleo).
2. Rethink your base
The base of your chili is a place to pack in flavor, so level up on the stock. If you usually use regular broth, try bone broth for additional protein and a richer texture. This rule works for everything, from a more delicate white chicken chili to a hearty three-meat chili with Italian sausage . If you’re making vegetarian chili, replacing standard vegetable stock with a savory miso or dashi broth can seriously level up the umami — with just a one-ingredient swap.
Recipe to try: White Chicken Chili from Cooking Classy, and swap out the cream cheese for Greek yogurt to make it healthier without sacrificing creaminess.
3. Add freezer staples for texture and flavor
We love that chili is incredibly forgiving and malleable — you can toss a lot of seemingly random ingredients in there and it will only make things better. That bag of frozen corn that’s just been hanging out in the back of your freezer for months? Pop in a cup towards the last part of cooking a Southwestern-style chili. Have a handful of frozen, pre-cut squash taking up room in the freezer? Sure, add that in, too: It’s an easy way to boost flavor, fiber, and nutrition for a healthy chili.
Recipe to try: Our own Black Bean Chili with Avocado is a fantastic base that lends itself to any number of creative additions.
4. Amp up the umami for amazing depth
A good chili doubles down on those big umami flavors, and there are a few ways to do it: For a savory punch, add a tablespoon of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or an anchovy (don’t worry, it’ll melt in there and won’t taste fishy). Miso, soy sauce, Vegemite, and liquid aminos can produce a similar effect, but keeping it vegetarian, too.
Recipe to try: This Best Ever Vegan Chili from Foolproof Living brings the umami to the fore with dried mushrooms, tomato paste, and soy sauce.
5. Go green for added freshness
Adding greens to your chili is one of the easiest ways to up the nutrition of the dish. At the very end of cooking, remove everything you’re planning to store to a container, then toss in a couple of handfuls of your favorite green before serving. Here’s the thing: they’ll wilt and lose flavor (and nutrition) if you add them too early and become overcooked, but if you add them right towards the end? Gorgeous. Baby spinach is an easy candidate — and wilts in seconds — but chopped kale, collards, or Swiss chard are all excellent, too. And we can all agree that greens are good for us, right?
Recipe to try: The Three-Bean Miso Chili with Spinach from The Forked Spoon is an excellent example — and has that umami-bomb of miso in it, too.