10 Healthy and Hearty Chili Recipes

 by Ariane Resnick

When winter weather strikes, chili saves the day: It’s comforting, filling and has enough spice to warm you from the inside out. This collection of chili recipes caters to a full spectrum of dietary needs, from vegan to paleo, with selections to satisfy an array of tastes and preferences.


When winter weather strikes, chili saves the day: It's comforting, filling and has enough spice to warm you from the inside out. This collection of chili recipes caters to a full spectrum of dietary needs, from vegan to paleo, with selections to satisfy an array of tastes and preferences. They should help you let go of the idea that chili needs to be greasy to be good! These recipes are full of interesting veggies like celery root, nutrient-rich and unusual cuts of meat like beef shanks, and beans you may not have tried before. My go-to cooking oil in some of these recipes is not vegetable oil, but algae oil; this is because its neutral flavor won't interfere with the hot, sweet and fresh ingredients. Additionally, algae oil contains the highest level of monounsaturated fat (one of the "good fats") of oil options: One tablespoon of algae oil has the same amount of MUFAs as an entire avocado. I also recommend using jarred tomato products, not canned. The flavor of jarred is better, and the high acid content of tomato products can cause them to pick up more of the "canned" taste.

1. Paleo Creamy Chicken Chili Verde

The concept of using root vegetables to thicken a sauce isn't a new one, but this may be the first time the idea is employed in chili. Here, a velvety chili verde has the unusual additions of celery root, parsnips and rutabaga. Left in pieces, they work as an alternate source of carbohydrates for a chili that contains no beans, and one set of chopping works for both applications. The tomatillos contain niacin, potassium and vitamin C. The chicken is cooked on the bone for flavor's sake as well as gelatin content; if you prefer breast meat, use bone-in chicken breasts instead of legs and follow the same process.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

2. Slow Cooker Beef Shank and Black Bean Chili

Beef shanks are an inexpensive cut of meat that becomes incredibly tender when cooked in liquid. It is an "on-the-bone" cut, meaning you cook it with the bone intact and remove it later. This gives you the health benefits of the bones, such as gelatin and collagen, without having to make bone broth separately, and it provides enough flavor that you can cook in water instead of stock. The algae oil adds richness, which is needed since shanks are lower in fat than other parts of the cow. A single serving of black beans contains 100 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for folate and 14 grams of fiber.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

3. Paleo-Vegan Cheesy Butternut Chili

A cheesy chili with no meat, no cheese and no beans? Yes! Through a combination of spices and nutritional yeast — which provides a hit of both B-6 and B-12 vitamins — the sauce of this vegetable medley takes on a cheddar cheese-like quality. Turmeric adds additional orange color while lending a boost of antioxidant power. The use of dried garlic and onion instead of fresh is intentional: In simple, vegetable-based recipes, dried vegetables bring out a great "commercial" food flavor that deepens the overall taste of a dish. Feel free to add fresh onion and garlic in addition, but don't skip the dried versions here. The roasted squash gives the chili a thick texture, plus lutein for eye health.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

4. Chipotle Chorizo White Bean Chili

Chorizo is typically a heavy, fatty sausage, so I've decreased the oil content of this chili to compensate. The heat of chipotle, or smoked jalapeno, is fairly intense. If half a teaspoon seems like too much, reduce to your taste; I've added a good bit of it because the spiciness helps speed up your metabolism to counteract the fat in the chorizo. Conversely, if the chipotle powder doesn't seem like enough heat, you could use an entire chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. Chipotles contain vitamins A, K and C, iron and potassium. Often the only place we see pork in chili is as a chili verde (green sauce), but the way it combines with red tomatoes can be enjoyable too.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

5. Vegan Three-Bean and Beer Chili

This chili is a nod to those who love the flavor of chili dishes but not the tomatoes. Containing neither tomatoes nor tomatillos, this chili gets its tang instead from lime juice. The beer helps bulk up the flavor, and with only one cup in the whole recipe, isn't much of a health concern. By cooking the beans in epazote, you'll not only bring in a unique Central American flavor, you'll likely digest the beans better. Epazote is used as a carminative (gas-reducing) aid and is commonly added to the cooking water of beans. It's high in folic acid and is used in native cultures to ward off intestinal worms. Calypso beans are available in the bulk section of health-food stores; they have a light potato-like flavor and gorgeous "yin yang" colored patterning.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

6. Buffalo Chicken Mini-Meatball Chili

If you love the taste of chicken wings, this is the recipe for you. With a quarter-cup of Louisiana hot sauce, you get the taste of hot wings without the need to fry anything. Making little meatballs out of ground chicken creates a fun and unusual element, and the cilantro adds a Tex-Mex factor. A small serving of cilantro provides more than half of the RDA for vitamin K and is used in many natural-health communities as a detoxifying agent. For the chicken, you can use ground white or dark meat; I prefer dark meat because it stays more moist and has a bit of extra flavor, but many people prefer white meat. Due to the saltiness of the hot sauce, I don't find it necessary to add any salt to the chili outside of what goes into the meatballs.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

7. Paleo-Friendly Chocolate Habanero Chili

This recipe is labeled Paleo-friendly instead of strictly Paleo because the guajillo chocolate contains sugar, which is not a Paleo ingredient. If you're on a 100 percent Paleo diet, replace it with unsweetened baking chocolate and add a half-teaspoon of guajillo chile powder instead. (Since guajillo isn't a common grocery-store chile powder, I use chocolate that is flavored with it, which is available nationwide.) Generally chocolate is thought of in conjunction with Central American cuisine in the context of mole. Here, it's used as a flavoring tool, without the bread that mole sauce tends to have in it. Habanero peppers are very hot, so make sure to wash your hands well after cutting them and refrain from touching your eyes for some time afterward. The inherent sweetness of habanero pairs deliciously with chocolate and cinnamon, and they all help to mellow out any gaminess in the taste of grass-fed beef, which I highly recommend over factory-farmed.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

8. Vegan Lentil Chili With Olives and Figs

Black lentils are known as the caviar of lentils due to their small appearance and delicate flavor. They are my choice here mostly because I love that they remain intact like a bean when cooked, rather than disintegrating as pink lentils do. Olives lend a meatiness to the chili, and when combined with the monounsaturated fats in algae oil and high fiber content of the lentils and figs make this a heart-healthy dish. The heartiness of this chili belies its simple, whole-food, plant-based ingredients.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

9. Minestrone Chili

Minestrone is a popular soup and makes for a great one-pot meal. I've switched up its Italian flavors for some Tex-Mex ones so it can be enjoyed as a chili instead by adapting a recipe in my book "The Bone Broth Miracle." Bone broth remains the chosen liquid of the dish for its health benefits and rich flavor. By keeping with a minestrone vibe of small pasta and kidney beans, the addition of veggies like broccoli and turnips is less out of place than it would otherwise be in a chili recipe. For pasta, I go the gluten-free route with brown-rice noodles, so that even those who don't eat gluten can enjoy the dish. I've found that no one ever notices they aren't regular wheat noodles, so I don't announce the substitution!

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

10. Lean Two-Bean Bison Chili

Bison is one of those meats people talk about eating a lot more than they actually eat it, usually because they don't know what to do with it. I kept this chili recipe pretty standard to help the flavor of the ground bison blend in with the flavors we expect from chili, as some tend to find the taste of bison a little gamy. It's a lean meat, and I've stuck with that theme by adding only a small amount of healthy fat so that the chili is filling without being too heavy. Bison is lower in calories and fat than most other meats while simultaneously being higher in iron, at 3.42 milligrams per 3.5 ounces.

Related: See Complete Recipe and Nutritional Info

What Do YOU Think?

Which of these chili recipes sounds best to you? Do you have your own special go-to chili recipe? Please leave a comment below and let us know.

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