dark chocolate beef chili with a polar vortex on top


So, this weather, huh? I’d originally planned to post this ice cream that I can’t stop talking about, but then I heard it was supposed to be, you know, kinda cold outside this week. And somehow it seems like bad form to post something frozen when people are in danger of actually freezing. (Stay warm, folks!) So let’s talk about the ultimate warming food instead — chili. With chocolate!

The beauty of cooking for yourself is that you can make your food taste exactly how you like it best. It’s probably why I started cooking in the first place — dislike of overcooked pasta that mushes in your mouth, thinly tart tomato sauces, puckery-sour and flat at the same time. I like tomato-based sauces sweet, thick, and robust, with a healthy dose of brown sugar. In the same way, I love chili that is hearty, full of ground beef, sweetly smoky and spicy. (And, of course, cheesy as f.)  No watery chili with more beans than beef for me.

That said, this version might be a little idiosyncratic (and not in a trendy way!)  I use just one 14-ounce can of black beans, because I like those best and don’t like a lot of beans in my chili.  (Is that weird?)  I know some recipes have as much as a 3:1 ratio of beans to chili.  And, like I said before, I like it a bit sweeter than the norm, adding both brown sugar, and — don’t judge me! — a bit of ketchup.  It’s a holdover from the first spaghetti sauce I ever learned how to make, a recipe from an old Southern cookbook from a staple restaurant in my college town, and I just love it.  (Edit: Y’all wanna hear something crazy?  This restaurant is Mama Dip’s — and today I came across her granddaughter’s  blog, Southern Souffle, only the best Southern cooking blog I’ve come across in ever.  Entirely by coincidence.  Small, small world!  And yes, I did kind of freak out when I read her About Me and saw who her grandmother was.)

I’d never added dark chocolate to my chili before this version, though, and I’m totally hooked. I don’t think you can even really taste the chocolate — especially not with a version like mine that is already a tad sweet — but what it does do, somehow, is really tie everything else together into one dish. Instead of each ingredient announcing itself over the next, the chocolate is the binding agent, melding every flavor together into one spectacular chili. David Lebovitz says it adds “depth of flavor,” which could perhaps be another way of putting it, but I felt that what it really did was harmonize it.

Oddly, New York seems to be getting off easy (well, comparatively, with a high of 13 degrees) in the whole chillpocalypse, which is a weird feeling for me after being in Boston for the last three years. Still, we got enough snow last Thursday and Friday that this chili was the only thing I knew I wanted to make. We’ll been having the leftovers through this second cold snap, too, and it just seems to get better with each day it keeps. I think you’ll love it if you make it — and I hope you all stay warm! -60 just sounds terrifying.


Dark chocolate beef chili


  • about 2 lb ground beef
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (you can up this to 29-ounce if you want a thinner chili)
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes or 3 fresh medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 14-ounce can of black beans, or whichever bean you like most (kidney or pinto, perhaps)
  • 1 stalk (rib) of celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 jalapenos, diced (less if you don't like spice, more if you do)
  • 2-3 tbsp chili powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1-2 tsp crushed red chili pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (more for extra spice)
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (a little less than 2 ounces), melted
  • 2-3 tbsp brown sugar (optional and to taste)
  • 1/4 cup Heinz ketchup (optional! but tasty!)
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth (optional, for thinning)
  • salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Brown the beef and onions together in a large pot over medium heat. Once cooked through, you can drain the fat if you like.
  2. If not, go ahead and add everything else into the pot (super complicated instructions, right?) You may want to melt the chocolate before adding it, but it might not make a difference, up to you. You also may want to start with less seasoning than the recipe calls for and adjust to taste, especially after allowing it to simmer for some time.
  3. Let simmer on medium-low heat for 45 minutes to an hour, or until flavors blend together. Serve with plenty of green onions, cheddar cheese (or any cheese of your choice -- I used smoked gouda because that was what we had and it was amazing), and more jalapenos if you like.


As stated above, this is a recipe for a slightly sweeter and slightly less bean-y chili. Feel free to up the beans to two cans if you like, and feel free to decrease the sugar or omit altogether if that's your preference.

As for the chocolate, David Lebovitz recommends unsweetened chocolate for this, which I did not have. If you use this instead, you might want to increase the amount of brown sugar to compensate.



  1. says:

    January 7, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Okay, LOVE THIS. The styling, lighting, CHOCOLATE CHILI–all yes. So interesting–I’ve never tried adding actual melted chocolate to chili. I’ve made a few chilis with cocoa powder and I love the little dark boost it gives, but melted chocolate sounds sooo luxurious.

    And glad you guys in NYC have been surviving okay! (lucky ducks.) It’s hit 20 degrees in Houston lately and OMG I don’t even know what to do. I’m walking around in my little “heavy” northern California jacket and regular work pants like an idiot. I don’t think I’ve ever been in such cold weather in my daily life so -60 does sound totally terrifying!!!

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 7, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Oh my goodness, cocoa powder? That sounds divine, and in some ways even better. I wonder if it gives a better mouth-feel to use that instead. I bet it’s a much more pure chocolate flavor, without the extra sugar. I’ll have to try that next time. Maybe a little bit of both. Genius, Erika! 🙂

      Hahaha, yes, it was really weird yesterday when it was like 40 degrees. We’re now down to 13 or so, though, so the reprieve has ended. 🙁 But AHH stay warm!!!! The weather’s been bearable because I have all my Boston stuff (can I just say that no one in real life looks as glamorous in winter gear as in the movies? I’m just a black down puffball from head to toe) but it SUCKS when you don’t have enough layers on. Hope you’re doing okay!

  2. says:

    January 7, 2014 at 11:28 am

    OMG – you know how much of a chili lover I am and I’m soo dying to try out new recipes! And this, my darling, is going on the menu soon! I’m really interested in seeing how the chocolate tastes in it…Sounds so perfect for a cold night in…especially for how cold it’s been around NYC these days…brrr! Stay warm, Cynthia!! Thanks for this awesome recipe! xo!

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 7, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      Ahh, I hope you like it if you try it! I feel like I adjust the seasonings every time I make chili, so I’m wondering how others will like this if they try it. Cooking recipes are always a bit of a mystery compared to baking, since a lot of it is up to personal preference. But no matter what, this is definitely the perfect weather for chili. 🙂 Hope you’re staying warm too dear!!!

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 9, 2014 at 11:02 am

      (Ooh PS question for you, Hawaii friend! Do you like your chili with white rice, too? Bowl #2 insists on it and I’d never seen it eaten like that before he introduced the idea to me. And now I LOVE it. You guys know how to eat.)

  3. says:

    January 7, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Thick, robust and cheesy as F is the *only* way to eat chili, in my opinion! It’s been so lackluster here in NYC on the whole Polar Vortex front, I agree, especially when I see everyone back in the Midwest buried under eighteen inches of snow. But today is windy and freezing cold, and this chili would be exactly what I’d like to warm my bones!

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 7, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Haha, yes!!! I like your style. 😉 And yeah, weird, right? Today has definitely been more in line with what I’ve seen on the news — and extreme chili weather for sure. Hope you’re staying warm, Ruthy!

  4. says:

    January 7, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    This polar vortex – I can’t take it! And if we are this cold in NYC I can’t even imagine how our friends elsewhere feel! This chili looks like the perfect thing to eat tonight – warming, comforting, and delicious! How interesting that you used dark chocolate – I have never tried that but I bet it is great!

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 8, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      Right? Just nuts. And yes!! I was pretty nervous about using it to be honest (Bowl #2 is generally a fan of more traditional renditions of foods) but we loved it. Barely discernible, actually. Hope you like it if you ever try it!

  5. says:

    January 8, 2014 at 11:27 am

    You must be psychic! I have been planning to make a chilli for the last week but haven’t been able to find the right-sounding recipe. I love the idea of adding melted chocolate to it and also the sweetness from the sugar. Delish. I’ll be giving this a try this weekend – thank you so much!

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 8, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      Ooooh yay!!! I knew there had to be someone out there who shared my tastes in chili 🙂 I hope you like it!

  6. says:

    January 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Oh man, chili is my thiiiiiiing. I can eat it for days (and I have!) and not get tired of it. Such an amazing thing. And chunky chili! Don’t even get me started on how much I love chili! Also, these photos are so lovely.

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 8, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      Hahah right?! Yuuum. Especially with a ton of cheese. Although I did once discover that it’s definitely possible to put too much cheese in, and that that is gross. It doesn’t sound possible. But it is. (It was sad.) Thank you Sara! <3

      • says:

        January 9, 2014 at 10:57 am

        Too much cheese?! I…I have never witnessed such a thing. But I’m going to take your word for it and not be incredibly heavy handed (aka grating an entire block of cheese into my bowl unless I’m just eating cheese with chili as a garnish lmao).

        • tworedbowls says:

          January 9, 2014 at 10:59 am

          I KNOW! It should be against the laws of nature! But it kind of made it chalky and pasty and.. weird. It may have been the chili itself. Let’s blame the chili.

  7. says:

    January 8, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Hmmm…I love the idea of this chili considering the weather. It looks warm and comforting. Also, do you have a copy of The Flavor Bible? It’s a reference guide that lists every conceivable ingredient and their complementary flavors. In fact, chocolate pairs well with beef according to it. On a side note, try braising to keep warm. I love food simmering for hours when it’s cold because it keeps the home warm and smells good too!

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 8, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      Such a good idea! I also like poaching pears in the fall when it’s cold outside because it keeps the place warmer AND it smells amazing. Mm, cozy winter foods. And that’s so interesting about the Flavor Bible! Thank you so much for letting me know, and for stopping by! 🙂

  8. says:

    January 9, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Cincinnati chili makes use of cocoa powder and they serve it with spaghetti, topped with raw onions and cheddar cheese. i personally find it delicious, my better half does not. i think the use of chocolate in savory dishes is really good, surprisingly so and i definitely enjoy it in chili.

    i think ice cream year round is just fine, crank that heat up and snuggle up with a bowl. hopefully you’ll post about it soon.

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

      That’s so interesting! I forgot to mention that I learned that Bowl #2 only likes his chili with about equal parts white rice with it — evidently it’s a Hawaii thing. (Then I tried it and LOVED it.) I’ve never had spaghetti with it … another new combo. I’m really enamored with this idea of cocoa powder though, I think I’ll try that next time instead.

      Yes!!! Winter ice cream for all! I’m posting it next week 😀

  9. says:

    January 9, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Nice recipe. I’ve only made it with cocoa powder, or bitter chocolate. Chili and chocolate go well together. It’s a combination you see in southern Italy sometimes too. Ken

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 11, 2014 at 7:22 pm

      Yes! I’m curious as to how unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder would taste — it’s on my list to try next time I make this. Interesting about southern Italy — thanks for the tip! 🙂

  10. says:

    January 10, 2014 at 4:25 am

    Another fabulous post with gorgeous photos, Cynthia! This chili looks incredible – I totally agree with you on the flavour profile. I love really thick, hearty, and semi-sweet chilis too. I feel almost guilty being in such a warm place (Thailand is hot, baby) while 90% of North America is freezing its butt off. Then I get to go home to the west coast where our coldest days are like, 0 degrees C. Enough rubbing it in – I hope you’re staying inside where it’s warm and that everyone gets through snowpocalypse ok!

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 11, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      Hahaha! Please — I expect you to have sweated extra in Thailand the last few weeks on my behalf! I’m surprised Vancouver doesn’t get too cold, though, that’s fantastic. Enjoy it for us over here 🙂 Hope you had a fantastic trip, lady!!

  11. says:

    January 14, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Beautiful photos! I love adding a touch of chocolate to my chill, it really adds a nice depth of flavor. I haven’t tried dark chocolate though; next time I’ll give it a go.

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 15, 2014 at 5:32 pm

      Doesn’t it? I was amazed. I really want to try cocoa powder like the above commenters suggest, too. Mmmm chili. Thank you for your comment, Kathleen! 🙂

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 15, 2014 at 5:34 pm

      Oooh, interesting! I had to google mole! Sounds delicious, and like you said, not too different from this. Can’t wait to see your version if you make it 🙂 Thanks, Mandy <3

  12. says:

    January 15, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Perfect chili recipe and I don’t think it’s weird at all that you don’t like a lot of beans in your chili…I’m the same way. I”m going to try your recipe. And I did read the other comments about cocoa powder…mmm, sounds delicious!. There is a wonderful Mexican restaurant here that serves a knock out chicken mole…my son always calls it “chocolate chicken”. Love this concept of chocolate in a savory chili type sauce. I’m going to try your version here, for sure.

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Haha, yay!!! I just recently saw a slew of Texas chili recipes, which are so intriguing because (1) no beans AND (2) no tomatoes? Wow. But the no-beans thing makes me think Texas has got style. 😉 And you’re the second person to bring up mole! I really need to try this dish! Chicken and chocolate? Crazy cool. Thank you so much for stopping by 🙂

    • tworedbowls says:

      January 20, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      Aww, thank you so much for the kind words! 🙂 It’s always a learning process, so I appreciate that so much.

  13. says:

    January 25, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Oh my gosh! I just saw this. We posted chocolate chili within days of each other. That’s awesome! And, uh, I’m jealous of those photos up there.

  14. says:

    February 9, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    AHHHH this recipy is TO Delish to handle 🙂 love your blog and im following now.

    Check out my blog today…my all time fav. lasagna recipy 🙂

    Have a fab week dear

    LOVE Maria at inredningsvis – inredning it’s, Swedish for decor 🙂

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