There’s always room for a new chili recipe and easy black bean chili with cocoa powder (think cacao) and its deep, flavorful combination of savory, spicy and of course chocolate has officially placed this recipe to our list. It is so deserving that I made special jalapeno polenta squares and a quick slaw to top it off.
Who put chili in my chocolate?
We aren’t dessert cravers in our house and chocolate is something I rarely crave. That’s probably why cocoa powder wasn’t top of mind when I was whipping up black bean chili the other day. But I was reflecting about some of the great food I’d had in Mexico over the years (not to mention the Southwest of the US) and recalled how chocolate is often used in things like mole sauce.
Full disclosure, the chocolate used in Mexican cooking is not the same as the cocoa powder or the plain cacao powder I used for making this chili. Mexican chili used in cooking is more of a paste with cacao nibs, sugar and cinnamon as the base with other ingredients such as vanilla or nutmeg depending on what you want to use it for. I tried to recreate this flavor a bit by using adding cinnamon and maple syrup to the cacao powder I picked up at the market. I you use regular, unsweetened cocoa powder, you’ll get the intended taste for this recipe.
And thus, my new chili path was forged. I hadn’t realized until I made this myself what a wonderful depth of flavor this would add to good old chili. And you don’t need much, it’s not a chocolate sauce we’re going for, just a hint of cocoa and its warmness is all you need.
Chili with cocoa powder? Because we can!
We’re big fans of chili around here. We love it as chili caliucarne or vegan chili fries or something so simple as zucchini chili. It’s all good as far as we’re concerned. But of course, there is always room for another take on chili and that’s where black bean with cocoa powder comes in.
On paper, it might seem a bit weird adding a chocolate flavor to chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, cinnamon and fennel, but seriously, try it once and you’ll see what I mean about delicious. Cocoa powder isn’t like adding chocolate bar, there’s no sweetness. In fact, if you start loading up on it, you run the risk of adding bitterness to your recipes.
Adding – always easier than subtracting
When it comes to spices, I’ve learned to be a bit more responsible. When it comes to seasoning, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve either gotten in a hurry, haven’t thoroughly mixed ingredients or just slowed down and allow for a bit of simmer time only to end up with the dreaded over-spice situation.
The inequality of spice blends
We rely on the convenience of spice blends like chili powder, garam masala or curry powder for consistency and to speed up the cooking process. Unless it’s a blend I can’t find, such as Berbere, then I always opt for the pre-mixed stuff because I’ve discovered it’s a lot fresher and more economical to have 1 jar of chili powder for example, then going out and buying several jars of each individual ingredient only to use a tablespoon at-a-time.
But not all spice blends are created equal. Just like the age of the spices on your shelf, specific blends and brands can have a significant impact on the overall flavor of your recipes. I took a look the other day and we have 5 curry powders and 3 chili powders hanging around our kitchen. None of them are alike. Some have a lot more kick to them and a few, I need to supplement with spices that are not significant enough in the blend or are just not there at all (and my taste buds say they should).
Why is any of this important?
I’m brining all this up today because it’s a reminder that you can always add more of a spice but reducing a taste can prove difficult to impossible. And of course, because we are all different creatures, feeding different people, we should adjust accordingly.
And don’t forget about the other ingredients you’re adding. Add vegetable broth, soy sauce or even celery to a dish and you are already increasing saltiness without grabbing for the shaker. And when it comes to heat, you can make or break the enjoyment of chili with the number of fresh chilies and whether or not you clean out the seeds. Same goes for any garnishes or toppings. Don’t forget about those.
Jalapeno polenta squares are by no means a requirement for this recipe, but it you want to add a bit of fun to your black bean chili with cocoa powder, this is one fun thing you can take on. In this case, the polenta is meant to be a garnish, not a crust like tamale pie.
I discovered polenta squares about a month ago when I was yearning for a healthy snack. It’s an idea you can experiment with using different spices and flavors. As they cool, the squares will get crunchy which is great when it hits the chili and just a yummy right off the tray.
Simmer, mix and bake
It’s a bit less time-consuming to make baked jalapeno polenta squares than those wonderful polenta fries that we smother with white bean chili. I just cooked the polenta with water, nutritional yeast and a bit of cumin. Back to that spicy factor, I opted for a tablespoon of diced pickled jalapenos. You could also use ¼ - ½ teaspoon of chili powder and get a nice flavor that will compliment your chili.
Unlike the polenta fries which need a few hours to set up, these polenta squares are thinner, so setting time isn’t required. I just spread the polenta in the bottom of baking dish, lined with parchment paper and press it a bit. I find it easier to bake it for about 10 minutes at 4000 F and then transfer it, along with the parchment paper to a baking tray when it can be cubes, spread out a bit and cut into squares. If you plan to make them, you can start them first and then cook the chili while they bake.
And there's always room for extra toppings
I’m a bit hooked on topping off big bowls of warmth with all sorts of interesting flavors and textures. So along with the crunch polenta squares, I whipped up a super quick slaw that is seriously nothing more than shredded cabbage, some diced red onion, chopped cilantro and lime juice. You can make any adjustment you like for this option. Even a bit of chopped cabbage with lime juice will do the trick.
I’m not the inventor of the quick slaw idea, but cabbage is a bit underrated. Try adding some Sriracha and tahini and toss that on the top of your chickpea burger or give it a zing with a bit of rice vinegar and turn your vegan lentil sloppy Joe’s into more of an ‘adult’ adventure.
I’m always pushing new recipes and for that reason, I look to new flavor combinations, ingredients and cooking methods to take me to new places. Whether you are making a transition to exclusively eating plant-based or just wanting to make better culinary changes, spices and flavors are the secret weapon. You can eliminate a lot of undesired ingredients by starting with flavor first. And remember, just like spices, a little change can make a big difference toward achieving your goals.Print
Black bean chili with cocoa powder
Easy black bean chili with cocoa (cacao) powder with a flavorful combination of savory, spicy and chocolate topped with polenta squares and quick slaw.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings 1x
- Category: Soups & Stews
- Cuisine: Mexican
Black bean chili with cocoa powder
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 zucchini (courgette), diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. chili powder
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 1 Tbsp. oregano
- 2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa (cacao) powder
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ½ tsp. anise or fennel
- 2 – 15 oz. (400 gm.) cans tomatoes (if you use whole tomatoes, dice them before adding them to the chili)
- 2 tsp. maple syrup
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 2 – 15 oz. (400 gm.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained (about 3 cups)
Quick cabbage slaw
- 2 cups shredded cabbage (use a combination of white, red or whatever you choose)
- ¼ cup red onion, diced
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro (coriander)
- 2 Tbsp. lime or lemon juice
Jalapeno polenta squares
- ½ cup polenta or cornmeal
- 1 ½ cups water
- ½ tsp. cumin
- 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp. salt (optional)
- 1 tbsp. diced pickled jalapenos (adjust according to taste). You can also use ½ fresh jalapeno, diced
Black bean chili with cocoa powder
- Heat a medium soup pot over medium heat and add the diced onion, zucchini (courgette) and red pepper. Saute by until the onions start to soften and some of the moisture from the zucchini has dissipated. About 6 minutes.
- Add the minced garlic, 2 tsp. chili powder, 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika, 2 tsp. ground cumin, 1 Tbsp. oregano, 2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. ground anise or fennel. Stir for about 30 seconds to cook the garlic and mix in the spices.
- Add the tomatoes, 2 tsp. maple syrup and 2 cups vegetable broth. Use a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes if necessary. Cover and simmer the tomatoes and broth for 15 minutes to allow the chili to thicken.
- Taste and adjust the spices as needed.
- Mix in the black beans and simmer the chili on low for an additional 10 minutes or until you are ready to serve.
- To make the quick cabbage slaw, simply mix together the cabbage, red onion, chopped cilantro and lime juice.
- Serve the chili with the slaw, jalapeno polenta squares, diced avocado, diced red onion or even crumbled tortilla chips.
Jalapeno polenta squares
- Line a small baking dish (about 9 x 11 in.) with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, whisk together the polenta, water, cumin, nutritional yeast, diced jalapenos and salt (if using). Stirring almost continuously, bring the mixture to a boil and then to a simmer. Cook the polenta for about 15 minutes until it is thick and sticky.
- Transfer the polenta to the baking dish and spread it so that it is evenly distributed. Press it into the dish so it can set up while the oven heats.
- Preheat your oven to 450°F (2300 C).
- Once the oven it hot, bake the polenta for about 10 minutes, then, remove the baking dish and transfer the polenta with the parchment paper to a bigger baking tray. Carefully cut the polenta into bite-sized squares.
- Sparate the squares out a bit so the sides can brown and then place the tray back in the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes until it is browned, tossing the squares over to avoid burning.
- The cooking time includes making the jalapeno polenta squares. If you don’t make them, then the cooking time is about 30 minutes.
- Nutritional information includes the quick slaw and polenta squares only.
- You can make the polenta ahead of time and keep it in the baking dish in the fridge for several days before you bake it. If you cool it in the fridge, you can just cut it and bake it on the baking tray as it will hold together once cooled for several hours.
Keywords: black bean chili with cocoa powder