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Chili Day for a Chilly Day!

Written by: Alex Alvarez - Dietetic Intern with Lenior-Rhyne University

What's your favorite part about the warm seasons? Is it the aroma from all the barbeques going on around the neighborhood during the Fourth of July weekend? Do you love the rush of diving into the pool on the first day of summer? Maybe it’s the smell of the first bloom of flowers in the park during the first sunny day of springtime? There is so much to love about the summer and spring and what those times of the year bring in our lives and our tables. But during the wintertime, no one wants to hold a barbeque in 30-degree weather, the flowers in the park aren’t quite as perky as they once were, and I would strongly advise against diving into that half-frozen pool. So, what do we have to look forward to and enjoy in the winter season? Well, the food, of course!

On top of all the comforts and nostalgia we experience around the holiday season, it is easy to get carried away thinking that we are extra indulgent once daylight savings hits. And while we are entitled to enjoy the season spending time with family, friends, and loved ones, we should not feel compelled to sacrifice our delicious dishes for something we think “is a healthier option.” Because feeling all warm and fuzzy inside while eating something that serves your body well is something we all deserve to have more of!

So, what can we do to have our cake and eat it too? (Disclaimer: Sorry, but no, this is not a cake recipe). Well, allow me to share with you the ultimate winter comfort food; Chili! Now hang on! I’m not talking about the canned chili you find at the grocery store, which is tasty but lacks that homemade feel. Let me show you all how to make a REAL chili at home that is not only delicious but is also 1.) very nutritious 2.) incredibly affordable, and 3.) perfect to share on a chilly winter day.

Onions and Garlic

The powerhouses of flavor in dishes from all around the world! The onions and garlic used in this dish not only provide a lot of flavor, but are full of powerful antioxidants.  What other foods do you know have such distinct and robust flavors? Think ginger, turmeric, sauerkraut, and other foods that can have such unique and solid flavors as well as provide so much protection to the body’s immune system.

Bonus: If you choose to use a red onion (which I highly recommend!), you are also getting additional antioxidants from the lycopene and anthocyanins commonly found in red- or purple-colored foods.

Red Chili Pepper/Bell Pepper

Turn up the heat! Or don’t if spice isn’t your thing. But including a red chili pepper adds a kick to the finished product. Add in as much as you feel comfortable adding or leave it out entirely if you’d like and consider substituting with a different color bell pepper like green or orange to make the dish a touch sweeter. Not only do these ingredients add some color to the plate, but they are PACKED with vitamins A and C, which you want to be sure that you’re getting enough of during the winter months to keep your immune system strong! What other foods with vitamin C can you think of adding to this dish? Don’t be afraid to get creative!

Chopped Tomatoes

I’ve got a joke for you: How do you fix a sliced tomato? Use tomato paste! While you wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes, let me tell you about tomatoes! Tomatoes will add a lot of tangy and sweet flavors to the chili while also bringing out the flavor of the spices with its natural salt. It is the acidity of the tomatoes that enhance the salty flavor already there, which means you won’t be pressed to add much at the end of cooking! What gives tomatoes that beautiful, rich red color is the pigment lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that may help fight cell damage in the body. And lastly, since they are still considered a vegetable in the nutrition world (let's debate in the comments if you feel so bold!), you can also consider having a serving of the chili as a means of getting your vegetables in for the day!

Beans, Beans, Beans!

I know what you’re thinking, “THREE kinds of beans, are you crazy?” but hear me out on this! Though they are all beans, each provides a different flavor and texture for the chili that will be so enjoyable for your palate you’ll start to wonder if you should add another type of bean! And the fact that this recipe is vegan made us think ahead and be sure to add ingredients that add a protein-packed PUNCH to them, and what better food than beans! Beans have about as much protein as beef while also containing various minerals, including iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and magnesium. On top of this, the high fiber content in the beans also keeps your gut happy and healthy. So, when your family member asks in their best Clara Peller voice, “where’s the beef?” simply remind them about the laundry list of benefits to including beans in their diet!

Now what are you waiting for? Bring on the comfort foods and use the recipe below to make your own 3 bean chili, and feel free to add in any other foods or food items to go along with them. Bonus: I’m also throwing in a cashew-based crème fraiche recipe that provides a creamy, cooling zest to the warm and hearty chili. Or for any other recipe you’d like to top it off on! Happy cooking!

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