Chili has been comfort food for the cold and tired since cowboys simmered pots of it out on the trail (and likely long before then).

It’s still a hearty, inexpensive meal that makes the best of our Alberta beef, beans and even barley.

Whether you take your chili making seriously or just need to get dinner on the table, here are seven ways to do it  just remember that regardless of the recipe, chili always tastes better the next day. (Intentional leftovers!)

Sausage, Butternut Squash and Apple Chili

Here’s something completely different, chili made with chicken sausage and butternut squash, with sweet sauteed apples to finish.

It’s a little brothier than your standard chili. Feel free to add a can of tomatoes (or tomato paste) to the mix as well.

  • canola oil, for cooking
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 fresh chicken-apple sausages
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2-3 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 4 cups (1 L) chicken stock
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 1 19 oz. (540 mL) can Romano or white kidney beans or chickpeas
  • 1 Tbsp. butter or oil
  • 1 tart apple, diced

In a medium pot, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and saute the onion for four to five minutes until soft. Squeeze the sausage out of its casing into the pan and cook it, breaking it up with a spoon, until it's no longer pink.

Add the garlic and chili powder and cook for another minute or two.

Add the chicken stock and stir to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the squash and bring to a simmer; cook for 20-30 minutes, until the squash is tender. Stir in the beans.

In a small skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat and saute the apple for a few minutes, turning until golden and caramelized. Stir into the chili before serving. 

Serves six.

Chicken Sausage, Butternut Squash & Apple Chili

(Courtesy of Julie Van Rosendaal)

Smoky 3 Bean Chipotle Chili

This vegetarian chili has a deep, smoky flavour from the canned chipotle chili en adobo. You won’t need much, and the rest of the can can be frozen in a small zip-lock bag to use another time.

  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 19 oz. (540 mL) can each black beans, red kidney beans and chickpeas, drained
  • 1 19 oz. (540 mL) can diced or whole tomatoes
  • half a small can of tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. cocoa
  • 2-3 tsp. chopped chipotle chili en adobo
  • 1 tsp. cumin

In a medium pot, sauté the onions, peppers and garlic in a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Add the black beans, red kidney beans and chickpeas, the tomatoes and tomato paste, chili powder, cocoa, chipotle chili en adobo and cumin.

Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook for an hour, or until thickened. 

Cool and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to 6 months, then reheat the whole pot or individual servings. Top with a blop of sour cream.

Serves eight.

Smoky 3 Bean Chipotle Chili

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Chili Mac & Cheese

One of my favourite ways to serve chili is alongside (or on top of) mac and cheese. This one pot recipe makes it simple to make your own alongside your pot of chili.

I like grated aged cheddar or Gouda, but you could use any bits of cheese you have in your fridge  and stirring in a handful of cheese curds will produce little nuggets of half-melted cheese throughout. 

(Adapted from the Dairy Farmers of Canada.)

  • 1/2 lb macaroni or other small pasta
  • 3 cups grated old cheddar cheese (or use Gouda, or a combination)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta according to the package directions, or until tender but slightly firm to bite (not mushy).

While the pasta cooks, combine the cheese, milk, flour, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor, and pulse until well blended.

When the pasta is ready, drain it well and return it to the pot. Add the cheese mixture and stir over medium heat for a few minutes, until it bubbles and turns in to cheese sauce. (Letting it bubble will ensure it reaches its maximum thickening potential and will get rid of any floury texture.)

Serves four to six.

One pot mac and cheese

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Pulled Pork & Beans

This isn’t chili in the traditional sense, but a delicious combination of braised, pulled pork shoulder and beans. It’s delicious straight-up, or use it as a taco filling.

  • canola or olive oil, for cooking (optional)
  • 1-2 lb (454-900 g) pork shoulder, country-style ribs or tenderloin
  • 2 cups (500 mL) cooked red kidney beans, or 1 19 oz (540 mL) can, drained
  • 2 cups (500 mL) cooked white kidney beans, or 1 19 oz (540 mL) can, drained
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) ketchup (or half ketchup, half bottled chili sauce)
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) honey or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) red wine, apple cider or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) grainy or yellow mustard
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • a few shots of Tabasco (optional)
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce, or to taste (optional)

If you want to boost flavour in the finished dish, heat a drizzle of oil in a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat and brown the meat on all sides before transferring it to a slow cooker or baking dish.

Add the remaining ingredients, cover and cook on low for six to eight hours (in a slow cooker) or in a 300ºF oven for roughly four hours until the pork falls apart when you poke it with a fork.

Skim as much fat as you can off the surface and pull the pork apart, right in with the beans, using two forks. Pull out any bones, if you used bone-in pork. Stir in the barbecue sauce, if you like.

Serve straight up, over rice, or sloppy Joe style on soft buns or slabs of cheese bread.

Serves six.

Pulled pork and bean tacos

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Beef & Barley Chili

Cocoa is the secret ingredient for many chili cooks who want to make their chili deeper, darker and richer. It won’t make it taste like chocolate, but will make it more intense.

Barley boosts fibre and absorbs the flavours of the chili, making it blend right in.

canola or olive oil, for cooking

  • 1 lb (454 g) lean ground beef or bison
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 small red or yellow pepper, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 28 oz (796 mL) can diced or stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cups (500 mL) cooked red kidney beans, or 1 19 oz (540 mL) can, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14 oz (398 mL) can baked beans
  • 1 cup (250 mL) salsa
  • 1 cup (250 mL) beef, chicken or vegetable stock or tomato juice
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) dry pearl or pot barley
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) cocoa (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Cook the beef and onion for five to eight minutes, breaking the beef up with a spoon, until the onions are soft and the meat is no longer pink. Add the peppers and garlic and cook for a few more minutes, until the peppers are soft.

Add the tomatoes, beans, salsa, stock, barley, chili powder, cocoa, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, cover and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the chili is thick; if it’s too thick, add a little more stock or tomatoes. If it’s too watery, continue to cook down until it’s as thick as you like.

Serve immediately or cool, then refrigerate for a day or two and reheat when you’re ready for it.

Serves 10.

Beef & Barley Chili

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Beef & Spolumbo’s Sausage Chili

This classic chili makes a comforting dinner, and is easy to double if you want a large batch to stash in the freezer for another night. Serve it straight, over baked white or sweet potatoes, or atop oven fries or nachos on game night.

  • canola or olive oil, for cooking
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef or ground sirloin
  • 2 Spolumbo’s Italian or chorizo sausages 
  • 2-4 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. cocoa
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 19 oz. (540 mL) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 19 oz. (540 mL) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14 oz. (398 mL) can brown beans (optional)
  • 1 cup salsa
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot set over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions in for a few minutes, until they soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. 

Add the beef and sausage, squeezed out of its casing, and cook it, stirring and breaking up any lumps, until it’s no longer pink.

Add the chili powder, cocoa and cumin and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, beans and salsa and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about an hour. Keep it covered if it’s thick enough for your taste  if it seems thin, leave the lid off so that the excess liquid can evaporate. 

Season with salt and pepper as you see fit.

Serve hot, topped with sour cream and grated cheese, or cool it down and then refrigerate it for a day or two; reheat over low heat on the stovetop.

Serves eight to 10.

Beef & Spolumbo’s Sausage Chili

(Courtesy of Julie Van Rosendaal)

Chili Pizza

No recipe required here — if you find yourself with leftovers, especially when there isn’t quite enough for a full bowl, spread it on a pita, top with cheese and bake until heated through and the cheese melts.

Instant chili pizza.

Chili pizza

(Courtesy of Julie Van Rosendaal)