Chili to Last Through the Winter


The three of you who were reading my blog last year at this time may recall that I am not a fan of winter.  “What?” the rest of you ask, “and you from Montreal?”

Well, I’m here to tell you that being born in a certain place doesn’t automatically predispose one kindly toward the weather of said location (nor does it predispose one to winter sports; in other words, no, that’s not a tatoo on my rear, but a lingering bruise from a skating accident back in 1981).  To me, the ideal climate would be temperate, neither too hot nor too cool (I’m thinking between 68 and 80 Fahrenheit, or 20 and 22 Celsius), with sun about 95% of the time (just enough rain to ensure there’s no drought) and terrain surrounded by lush, grassy, fragrant forests with treetops that sway and quietly rustle in the breeze, like Hawaiians doing the hula. Oh, and no bugs.  And no snakes.  Or spiders.  And, what the heck, may as well throw in a yellow brick road, while you’re at it.*

But here we are, too far into November to deny the imminent crystalline entombment, and I must face the fact: it will be winter soon.  And what is there to do?  Generally, when I’m feeling down, my options fall into two categories:  1) food-related; and 2) dog-related.  As I write this, The Girls are sleeping off their early walk with the HH; and so, it seems, the next step is alimentary, my dear.

While baking is always my first instinct in the kitchen, I do enjoy cooking as well.  These days, it’s rare for me to spend any more time than necessary making dinner (read: 20 minutes, tops), but yesterday, I felt the need for the extended, meditative experience of slow cooking. In the morning, I loaded the dutch oven with dried beans and water; and by 7:00 PM, we were feasting on my age-old, many-times-refined, much-tweaked recipe for chili with mixed beans and “ground turkey.”


[Seems I still haven’t quite mastered the focus on my dandy new camera, but you can still make out the meaty-looking crumbles in there, can’t you?]

When I was a kid, I used to think chili acquired its name because it was meant to be eaten in cold weather.  While it’s true that this soup-cum-stew is best served in cool weather, it wasn’t until I began to read up on Indian cuisine that I discovered the name actually referred to a spice blend often used in the mix. Trusty Wikipedia tells me that Chili con Carne is the official dish of Texas; and that particular bowlful, it turns out, is the version made without beans.  Most of us, I’d wager, still think of beans when we think of chili, however.

I also think of chili as the chameleon of stews: years ago, a friend who’d just returned to Canada from three years in Mexico served me mole, another form of chili; the notion of sharp spices with just an undertone of bitterness seemed immensely appealing (don’t be alarmed at the coffee and chocolate in this version!).  And a recipe once given to me by a former student from India featured simmered, pulled beef and a variety of curry spices with lentils.

I first cooked chili when I was an impoverished graduate student living in Windsor, Ontario.  The recipe developed over the years, and what was once a fairly basic vegetarian chili has morphed over the years into my own version of the dish.  I include frozen tofu that’s been defrosted and crumbled to resemble ground meat (in fact, the first time I made this for the HH, he assumed the tofu was ground chicken. Perfect for skeptics!). The HH and I also both agree that chili should be more of a stew than a soup, so I simmer mine until almost all the liquid is absorbed and the beans are suspended in a kind of spicy tomato sauce.  If you prefer yours thinner, simply cook a bit less or add a bit more water.

Eventually, my own additions became so numerous that even my enormous dutch oven was barely adequate to hold the stew, and I had to stop adding ingredients.  As a result, this makes a huge batch, and enough to freeze in single-serve containers that will sustain you through the winter.  While you slurp it up, just imagine that you’re somewhere warm, and green.

Oh, and with all these legumes in here, I thought this would be the perfect submission to My Legume Love Affair, the monthly event started by Susan at The Well Seasoned Cook and this month hosted by Simona at Briciole.

Update, October 2010: I’ve also submitted this to The Texas Star Chili Cook-off hosted by The Country Cottage. Enjoy!


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*That’s right, mate, it’s no coincidence that my dreamscape is pronounced “OZ.” (Well, except for the spiders and snakes.  Darn.)

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  1. I live in an EXTREMELY cold climate, and despise winter as well. My body does not tolerate the cold very well, so I practically die every year, haha 🙂

    I love how you describe chili as the “chameleon of stews” – very poetic!!

    ….and I also love that it’s thick, spicy, and filling – in other words, perfect!!

  2. YUM! I love soup and stews… and the frozen tofu is a great addition

  3. Mmm that chili looks hearty and warm! I’m with you on the winter thing, although thankfully it doesn’t get too cold in Atlanta. 🙂

  4. I’m very much a winter person and very much not a summer person and winter comfort food is definitely my favourite! Sadly I left my freezing cold winters behind last year when I moved 🙁

    It’s heading into summer here right now but I’ve bookmarked this amazing sounding chilli for when the weather starts cooling down!

  5. If you ever find a place that matches your ideal climate description, let me know–I will be there in about 2 seconds! I especially love the part about no bugs (I am from MN where the mosquito is our state bird…) :o)

    That chili sounds great–I love that it has coffee and cocoa powder in it…I have never used those in my chili recipes, but have read it in many, so I am excited to try it!


  6. I’m so glad I live in Texas where winter is very brief. It’s been gloriously sunny and 80 degrees lately and seems it will stay that way another week at least. So, no chili for me for a while! And though it’s true that real Texas chili is all meat and no beans, this Texas girl likes nothing but beans in her chili. Your chili looks marvelously spicy good. I wish I could send you some Mexican oregano for some extra special flavor.

  7. We really need to change Texas’ signature dish, huh?

    I’ve always wanted to live in San Diego, where (I hear) the weather stays around 75 degrees. Plus, it’s California, so I’m guessing it’s a lot more vegan-friendly than my current place of residence!

    Your bowl is so cute; do you remember where you got it?

  8. I HATE THE COLD! I move from Illinois to Arizona and then back so I’m like dying right now.

    Good thing I have some chili to keep me warm 😉
    I loove chili.

  9. I like the idea of adding the crumbled frozen tofu – must try that! I grew up with ‘chilli con carne’ which always had beans, corn and tomato so I am quite surprised to hear of traditional chilli without beans!

    And I wonder at your ideas of average temperature of 20-22 in Australia – maybe we get that in Melbourne at this time of year (although I managed to get a little sunburnt last weekend) but in summer the temperatures soar way beyond – and are most uncomfortable! But I agree that some sunshine does enhance the mood!

  10. that looks super delish! what a great way to stay warm.

  11. ineedastrawberry says

    Except for the spiders and snakes… and the bugs… and the drought… and the temperature… and the forests… 😉

  12. I love chili so much – I tend to have various versions of it, sometimes just beans & spices, and sometimes more like your version – but I’ve never tried to put coffee in mine. Looks like a new idea!
    And I’m with you! I grew up with sub-zero windchills, frozen Lake Superior, etc. but I was happiest (weather wise) on the Mexican border!

  13. the chili looks delicious and I also love the colorful and playful bowl.

  14. I made the pumpkin butter myself but I’ve seen it at Whole Foods too. It is so delicious =)

    Wow, your chili looks even better the 2nd time haha

  15. Oh my gosh, I totally agree about hating on winter…. Toronto was so spoiled this last week but today’s bone-chilling drizzle really reminded me that it IS november! Nooooo…. only 5 months till spring!

  16. I love winter and snow… for the first couple of weeks, then I’m ready for springtime again!
    Cocoa powder and coffee in chili? Very intriguing and adventurous! Awesome!!

  17. I have been looking for a good chili recipe and have yet to create a masterpiece! I will test this one out because it looks different and delicious!

  18. We have already had our first major snowfall. That was enough for me. I’m ready for spring now.

    Awesome recipe. I’ll definitely give this one a go!

  19. you should move here, we get summer for about 6 months per year. that, plus I’d get to have a bite of this every time I’d fancy. if you let me, of course.

  20. I hear you about winter. And spiders and snakes. (And can we please include NO mosquitoes in the perfect place?) Sometimes I think I should have been born a bear so I could hibernate.

    My husband is making the chili to take to a meeting. I’ve put chocolate into my chili before but not coffee. Can’t wait to try it. He’s going to use a slow cooker for the beans.

  21. I used the recipe from Happy Herbivore which uses a crockpot but there is also an quicker recipe on the Bittersweet blog.

  22. ah winter… i was spoiled in philly, so mild. this one should be interesting– how quickly we adjust to temperatures!

    interesting technique with the tofu, I’ll add it to my ever-growing list of things to try 🙂

  23. wow this looks scrumptious.i love me some chili!! and don’t worry, you aren’t the only one who hates winter. i rebel by wearing shorts every day haha

  24. This looks truly amazing Ricki! I must make some chilli soon and I think I will be adding a few new ingredients to my next batch 🙂

  25. Ah, and here I absolutely adore winter! I love everything about it; the snow, the holidays… And I’m sure I would love this chili, too!

  26. This sounds amazing. I love hearty chili, and how awesome is it to have some pre-made and ready to go after a quick thaw? Even though I live in Hawaii, I grew up in Pittsburgh and it is ingrained in me to begin eating thick and hearty foods at this time of year – this chili looks perfect.

  27. Thanks for the comment on your blog. I found myself agreeing with so many of the points you made in your post, especially about the fact that living your whole life in cold climates DOES NOT necessarily mean you love the weather. I am definitely in the same boat. I’ve been trying to sell my boyfriend on a move to San Francisco, but to no avail. However, I do love cold weather because it lends itself so well to that slow, theraputic cooking you were talking about. That’s definitely the kind of cook I am. I never do things quickly, which can irritate my boyfriend. I love really focusing on my sense and on doing small tasks with purpose. It sounds lame but it is so relaxing to me.

  28. This sounds so incredibly hearty and filling! Great recipe. Chili is the perfect fall/winter meal.

  29. Darn, I was hoping I could buy one. It’s my favorite colors. Gotta love those dollar stores!

  30. I grew up in Northern Ontario and I am no fan of winter either. This is certainly a good dish to warm the soul.

  31. i love this recipe. the combination of different beans (chickpeas!) looks great!

  32. veganhomemade says

    That looks so good! The tofu really does look like ground meat, crazy. I haven’t made chili yet this year and just so happen to have a block of tofu in the freezer. Hmm….

  33. You’ve been tagged. See my blog for details.

  34. Looks absolutely amazing Ricki. I love the addition of cocoa powder and coffee! Great minds think alike; I just posted a chili recipe too! Though, I think I’ll add the cocoa and coffee next time to mine 🙂

    You are a culinary whiz!

  35. hello lunch

  36. Ricki,
    I am so excited that you brought over your wonderful Vegetarian Chili to the Texas Star Chili Cook Off at The Cottage. It looks so good I can almost smell it, we are going to have so much fun!
    Thanks for coming over!

  37. Love this Chili, I replace the Tofu with your meat crumbles.


  1. […] of an appetite, but I thought a protein kick might help me recuperate and decided to make a pot of this wonderful chili to keep me warm in the snow. (There isn’t much snow yet, just enough to make winter seem […]

  2. […] 7.  Chili to Last Through the Winter from Ricki Heller […]

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