Grab a bowl of this smoky chili with cinnamon and chocolate — just in time for the Big Game

We ditch the beef and the beans in this mole-inspired chili with amazing results

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published February 11, 2023 5:30PM (EST)

Chili (Getty Images/Jennifer A Smith)
Chili (Getty Images/Jennifer A Smith)

Whether you're attending or throwing a "Big Game" extravaganza, aiming to get romantic in a pre-Valentine's Day  moment or have plans to do nothing of the sort, there is one dish that will work perfectly for any of these options: chili — albeit not your average recipe. 

Because I don't like spice and don't eat beef or beans, chili unfortunately often falls off the menu for me, so I wanted to change that.

I always loved the "down-home," comforting, rich and filling energy of a big ol' bowl of chili with a veritable treasure trove of garnishes and toppings. It's an ideal slow-cooker meal and, of course, it's probably one of the foremost at-home "game foods" (after wings) to be enjoyed whilst watching sports.

That said, I am not a spice person. I don't do heat; I tell the server at my favorite Thai restaurant that I want my spice level to be "0" and my brother harasses me regularly because I'm incapable of consuming any level of spice. Also, the next point we must address: I'm also not a bean guy (I know, I know, I have a wonky palate). For whatever reasons, though, beans have just never done it for me.

But in an effort to expand said palate, I used this recipe as a way to embrace the world of fruity, sweet or smoky chiles, of which I've always been fond, by reconstituting some dried chiles. I even opted for some chipotle-in-adobo, which is generally pretty hot for me, as well as some hot sauce in order to further kick it up a notch, as Emeril — a true icon! — would say. 

I wanted to ensure that this chili was a chili, not a mere approximation of a Bolognese with some spices, and incorporating all of these flavor profiles results in a more rounded, complex and dynamic final product. The heat also blossomed considerably; the first bite was great, flavorful, delicious — and then suddenly, a warmth and subtle bitterness began to shine at the back of my palate. When contrasted with the cooling flavors of the garnishes, this was a truly perfect juxtaposition. 

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I also went in a slightly mole-influenced direction, complete with cinnamon and unsweetened cocoa powder, as well as the traditional chili spices. 

To be frank, I impressed myself. I was really fond of this (and even separated some to freeze for later). I hope you have a similar reaction. Perhaps this can become your new cool weather mainstay? 

Smoky, thick, not-too-spicy chili
08 servings
Prep Time
 20 minutes
Cook Time


2 tablespoons neutral oil

1 large white or yellow onion, halved, peeled, trimmed and cut into a fine dice

Kosher salt

3 to 4 Poblano peppers, halved, stem and seeds removed and cut into a fine dice

An assortment of chiles (I used 2 Guajillo and 2 New Mexico)

4 to 6 cups stock, broth or water, divided

1 small can chipotle-in-adobo

1 pound ground turkey, chicken or vegan protein crumbles

8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 bay leaves

28 ounce box or can of crushed or chopped tomatoes

Freshly ground black pepper 

2 to 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 to 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons chili powder (or Ancho chili powder)

3 tablespoons ground cumin 

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons coriander

1 tablespoon ground allspice

3 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon ground sumac

1 tablespoon adobo seasoning

Hot sauce, to taste, optional 

2 to 3 tablespoons masa harina, optional 

Cornstarch, whisked with water to make a slurry, optional

The wide world of chili garnishes: take your pick! (sliced or cubed avocado, sour cream or crema, lime, tomatillo, cilantro, sliced radishes, hot sauce, Fritos, cotija, shredded cheddar, raw red onion, cubed tomato, cornbread croutons and the list goes on and on)



  1. Place your largest pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, add oil and let warm. 
  2. Add onion and a healthy amount of salt. Stir and let cook at least 5 minutes or until the onion begins to turn translucent.
  3. Add peppers and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  4. As the onions and peppers cook, place chiles in a small pot and cover with water, stock or broth. Place over medium-low heat until chiles are pliable and soft. Transfer to blender or VitaMix and puree until fully smooth. (You can also add your desired amount of chipotle-in-adobo at this point, too, if you also plan to puree the chipotles). Set aside.
  5. Add ground protein choice to peppers and onions and break it apart. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the protein's fat has been released and the protein begins to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  6. Add garlic and tomato paste. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring well, until fragrant. 
  7. Add tomatoes, the remaining cooking liquid of your choosing (stock, broth, water) and bay leaves. Stir well.
  8. Add all seasonings: black pepper, cocoa powder, cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, allspice, paprika, sumac and adobo. Stir well.
  9. Add as much or as little of the chili-water puree, along with any chipotles you're including. Stir well. 
  10. Put a lid on the pot, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for a good 20 minutes or so.
  11. Add more salt, plus hot sauce and taste to adjust the seasonings as you see fit. 
  12. If you'd like to thicken the chili at this point, add masa harina directly to the pot and stir well or conversely, create a cornstarch slurry and add it to the chili, stirring, until you've reached your desired consistency. If you're happy with the consistency, there's no need to add either.
  13. When everything is to your liking, ladle into bowls and top with as many garnishes as you'd like! I opted for shredded, super-sharp white cheddar, a heaping spoonful of sour cream and a handful of Fritos. 

Cook's Notes

-As stated, beans are not my jam, but if you're into them, please feel free to throw quite literally any variation in here! I also like the idea of a pureed bean mixed into the chili at the end to keep the flavor bright and fresh and to help further thicken the chili a bit.

-If I were throwing a shindig of sorts and serving this chili, I think it'd be outrageously fun to make a little "make your own" garnish bar. Put your big ol' pot of chile alongside a heaping amount of bowls and then create a line-up of smaller bowls consisting of all of the usual garnishes. This'll allow for some interaction, some customization and result in your party-goers making their own, personalized bowls. Win-win-win!

-Forego the listed garnish ideas and instead go in more of a "gumbo" direction with a heaping scoop of hot, cooked white rice right in the center of your chili.

-Delve into the realm of Cincinnati chili and spoon the chili over a bowl of spaghetti, then top with lots and lots of shredded cheddar. You can also up the amount of cinnamon in the recipe itself or serve a warm bowl alongside some cinnamon buns!

-Ensure you have a difference of textures in your garnishes, as well as colors. I love opting for a green, a crunchy element, a creamy or smooth topping and of course, a cheesy component. 

-Of course, you can never go wrong serving this with cornbread.

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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