Hearty Chili, Lightened Up

by in Meal Makeovers, January 7, 2009

30-Minute Chili

You just can’t go wrong with chili — it’s easy, cheap, versatile and, yes, good for you. Toss together a few simple ingredients, and in less than an hour, you can tuck into a big bowl. Make a pot for a crowd (perfect for a football party) or to warm up a winter night.

Of course, it’s easy to load up your chili with calories and fat, but here are easy steps to make a pot for under 400 calories per serving.

1) Rethink the star ingredients
Experiment with different types of beans: black, kidney, cannelloni or pinto. They each have unique textures and flavors and are a great way to get some extra fiber. Remember, if using canned beans, always rinse and drain before adding them.

When it comes to vegetables, anything goes. Peppers, onions, mushrooms, whatever you have in the refrigerator. The secret to my chili is potatoes, a clever idea from my mother-in-law. I toss in diced sweet or yukon gold potatoes as a final ingredient, and when they are tender, my chili is done.

If you like meat in your chili, choose ground or diced chicken or turkey breast. For a leaner beef chili, use small amounts of diced lean steak or ground beef that is 90-95% lean. Cubed extra firm tofu or tempeh are great vegetarian options.

To keep the sodium in check, use low sodium chicken or vegetable broth and canned tomatoes without added salt. Tomatoes are also a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant believed to benefit the cardiovascular system and reduce the risk of certain cancers. Not a fan of tomatoes? Try making a white chili. For an extra hearty meal, throw in some whole grains — cooked brown rice, barley or whole wheat couscous — or spoon them into the bowl first and top with the chili.

2) Get spicy
Even if you don’t love hot foods, spices add flavor (without the calories). A little bit of chili powder will give you a simple chili without much heat. Spices such as celery salt, cumin and dried tarragon add depth and freshness. If you’re in the mood for real fire, add ancho chili powder, cayenne pepper or chipotle powder for some smokiness.

3) Top it off
High-calorie toppings can sabotage a healthy pot of chili, but that doesn’t mean you should go without them. Go ahead and enjoy classics such as shredded cheese and sour cream; just add smaller amounts of the low fat versions.

    For some extra freshness and crunch try these:

  • 4-5 tortilla chips – crushed, so there is some in every bite
  • A dollop of creamy and tangy nonfat Greek-style yogurt
  • Sliced black olives
  • Chopped chives or scallion

4) Cook, freeze, chill out
Make a 30-minute chili or try a slow cooker recipe. Chili freezes beautifully, so make large batches over the weekend and freeze some for a no-fuss weeknight dinner.

Any questions? Have your favorite way to prepare a bowl of red? Let’s hear it.

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Comments (425)

  1. jj says:

    the absolute best is chili with mashed potatos. make the mashed pot with chicken broth instead of milk…….mmmm

  2. hoosier says:

    I put rice in my minute rice ,it gives it good texture

  3. Peggy C. says:

    I love to make chili with corn and black beans added — beer adds great flavor!

  4. I add two tbsp. of vinegar to my chilli, it really brings out the flavour.

  5. Linda Calderon says:

    I made ground turkey chili recently and did put it on top of baked potatoes and then added one time – greek style lowfat yogurt and another time I added a dollop of lowfat cottage cheese. Yum!

  6. Linda Calderon says:

    I just kind of thought up my recipe for ground turkey or grnd. chicken chili as I went along. I try to keep the sodium content down so used lowest sod. canned, diced tomatoes I could find that were either Italian or Mexican style and put the liquid in also plus no salt added tomator sauce (4-6 oz.)and of course the fried in olive oil (first) onion, green pepper chopped, and garlic and added canned rinsed and drained pinto bean with lowest salt content. I add no other salt as not needed. I used Mexican seasoning (no salt) and a variety of other dried herbs all with no salt and plenty of black pepper. It was very good. Even tastes better the second day.

  7. lilian Lissauer says:

    my husband and i have some venison, we got it from the hunters who hunt on our property.i need a good recipe.i just got a crockpot for christmas,now i need to make some chili.

  8. Zack says:

    I love to make large batches of chili and freeze some. Nothing is better than coming home from work and having the slow cooked flavor of delicious chili in minutes. Less dishes, and more time with family.

  9. Have clicked on the bowl of chili–no recipe has come up.

  10. Kristine Brabson says:

    I made a pot of vegetarian chili yesterday — no meat at all, three types of beans and then some corn for color/texture. It was really filling. To add more substance, I cooked up a little couscous and mixed that in. De-lish. And now I’ve got lunch for a few days.

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