I first shared this meatless chili with chocolate recipe in my cookbook Romancing the Stove: the unabridged guide to aphrodisiac foods. It is not just an aphrodisiac recipe, it’s also my family’s favorite chili recipe. Veggie Chili, or Veggie Chilli as the Brits call it, is really an American dish with Latin American root. My version is most definitely American-influenced but it also incorporates the Mexican use of cacao, or chocolate, in savory dishes.
The history of chocolate in chili
A paste of ground, roasted cacao nibs, sugar and spices is frequently used in dishes from certain regions of Mexico. But the history of blending chile peppers with chocolate predates modern, Mexican cooking. In fact, we believe it was the Aztecs who first used chiles with chocolate, blending the two into an early version of unsweetened, or perhaps honey-sweetened hot chocolate.
Why do you put chocolate in chili?
Chocolate can be used very successfully in savory dishes to add depth of flavor and richness. Using dark chocolate in my chili gives it an earthy note that mellows the tang of the tomatoes and accentuates the flavors of the spices.
Tips for using chocolate in savory recipes
To use chocolate successfully in savory recipes, you have to be careful not to overwhelm the other flavors with cocoa. (If you’re worried that chocolate will make your food too sweet, you can always use unsweetened cocoa powder but I find it is easier to overwhelm the more delicate flavors of a dish when using cocoa.)
You can also buy pre-made Mexican chocolate disks that are made from stone-ground, roasted cacao, sugar. cinnamon and, usually but not always, chiles. These are great for melting into hot milk to make an aphrodisiac version of hot chocolate.
For this easy vegetarian chili recipe I don’t take the time to attempt to create the paste, or use Mexican chocolate disks. I prefer to control the amount of spice in the recipe and you can’t do that with the disks. (Although they are fun for experimenting in other recipes!)
Instead, I use European-style dark chocolate along with the spices in an attempt to recreate the deep, rich flavor of Mexican chocolate in this veggie bean chili. The result is a slightly sweet, gently spiced, earthy flavor that makes everyone who tastes my white bean chili recipe ask for seconds.
Can you make this chocolate chili recipe with meat?
Because a big bowl of chili can be a heavy dish, I’ve omitted meat from the recipe to keep it light. As I mentioned, I designed this recipe for a dinner for two. And lighter meals are best for a romantic evening. In addition, eating more plant-based foods supports a healthy environment.
However, if you really want a hearty chili, you can use ground beef or a combination of beef and ground turkey in place of the vegetable protein. But I don’t recommend making this recipe with just turkey or ground chicken. The lean meat causes both the texture and flavor to be a little bit off the mark.
But I encourage you to try it with the vegetarian protein, just once. Or, if it makes you feel better, try it the first time with half beef, half vegetable protein. I swear the meatless version of this chili is better than a version using meat. I promise, once you’ve tried the vegetarian version of my chili recipe, you won’t want to mess with the results!
For a vegan chili
If you want to make the white bean chili vegan be sure to check the label on your ground soy protein to ensure that it is also a vegan product. You can use tofu instead but I find that it gives the cooked chili a mushy texture. In addition, you will need to check your chocolate to ensure that it is vegan.
But it’s definitely worth the effort. I think you’ll find this to be one of the tastiest vegan white bean recipes you’ll ever try.
What beans should you use in this chili with chocolate?
Lastly, if you’re wondering whether you have use white beans to make this chili, you do not. You can absolutely use any bean you prefer. I’ve made this vegetable bean chili recipe with pinto beans. It also makes a very nice black bean veggie chili.
Adjust your spice level
I recommend adjusting the bean as well as the heat of chile pepper to match your personal taste. Or – better yet – personalize this easy veggie chili to match the favorite flavors of the lucky someone who will join you in enjoying this dish.
Chile powder vs cayenne
The recipe as written makes a fairly mild chili because that’s the way I like it. However, it’s easy to adjust the spice level as you go. This recipe calls for both chile powder and powdered cayenne pepper. The suggestions for the chile powder, (which is a fairly mild spice blend made from a variety of chiles), go from mild, at 2 teaspoons chili powder to somewhat spicy at a tablespoon. But if you don’t feel like that’s enough spice, feel free to add more, using an additional 1/2 tsp at a time until you reach your desired spice level.
With the cayenne, however, I recommend using the amount directed. Cayenne is more than ten times hotter than chile powder and it also has a more earthy flavor. A touch of cayenne is accentuated nicely by the chocolate. A lot of cayenne will make your eyes burn.
There’s a secret ingredient
You might have thought chocolate was the secret ingredient in my chili. But no! Chocolate is in the title. How could that be my secret?
The key to my chili perfection (and as far as I’m concerned, this veggie chili is perfect), is acai berry. I add a touch of acai puree just before serving.
Acai is a super-fruit of the Amazon. In fact, it’s considered one of the finest sources of antioxidants in the world. This super fruit of the rainforest also contains nutrients linked with improved cognitive function and anti-cancerous effects. And acai not only brings this amazing arsenal of nutrients to this healthy vegetarian chili recipe but also enhances the flavor. The addition of acai offers a craving-worthy, subtle sweetness to the final flavor.
Serve this recipe on a winter date night
Chili might not strike you as a date night dish. But I’d like to argue for a healthy chili recipe like this one as a prelude to a night of romance. I fact, I’d say this is one of my favorite vegetarian aphrodisiac recipes.
Why? For starters, there’s the ingredient that gives this meatless white bean chili recipe its name. Chile peppers are considered among the world’s most effective aphrodisiacs. That’s because they raise body temperature and can cause the release of endorphins.
And then there’s my signature ingredient, the chocolate. Chocolate is probably the best-known aphrodisiac food in the world. And while some naysayers insist its power is only in persuasion, chocolate is one of the most complex foods. And it contains a number of compounds linked with mood, heart health and sexual arousal. So, although my meatless chili recipe might not sound like an aphrodisiac, it can be your secret weapon for seduction.
Best ways to serve this vegetarian chili
Because the combination of spices, chocolate and acai makes for an incredibly robust, complex flavor, I prefer to eat this chili straight, perhaps with a side of crackers to tame the spice. But if you prefer, there are a variety of toppings and side dishes that work well with this chile recipe including:
- Finely chopped red or green onions
- Chopped, fresh cilantro leaves
- Avocado wedges
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Sour cream
- Tortilla chips
- Saltines with butter
- Cara Cara orange slices
You can also try it with a side of chips and my Kale Guacamole.
White Bean Chili with Chocolate
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 small yellow onion chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 1 clove garlic finely minced
- 12 oz soy ground meat substitute*
- 2 tsp-1 tbsp chile powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp powdered cayenne pepper
- 1 16 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 16 oz can white beans
- 1 c vegetable broth
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 c pure acai juice or fruit purée (optional)**
- 1 oz darj=k chocolate grated (or chocolate chips)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- salt to taste
- Heat vegetable oil in a large stockpot.
- Sauté onions and celery until soft, about 3 minutes.
- Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute.
- Add ground soy, chile powder, cumin and cayenne and sauté for 1 minute.
- Stir in tomatoes, white beans vegetable broth, oregano, bay leaf and acai juice or fruit purée. Bring to a boil then simmer, covered, for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. If chili gets too thick, stir in water 1/2 cup at a time until chili reaches desired thickness.
- Remove bay leaf and stir in chocolate and cinnamon. Turn off heat and season with salt to taste before serving.
If you like this easy chili recipe, check out the rest of the recipes in Amy Reiley’s award-winning cookbook Romancing the Stove
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