Did you know that the night before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest nights for ordering pizza in the United States? I get why. I really do. Whether you are hosting, cooking to contribute to the big meal, or preparing to travel we all feel pretty overwhelmed on that Wednesday and so, for many of us, the last thing we want to do is think about what to make for dinner. And while I am a big fan of ordering pizza from time to time, it seems to me that with all of the indulging and overeating that is going to happen the next day, having a nutrient-packed meal the night before might actually be a good thing to help to keep our bodies (and spirits) in balance. But making a big fancy meal is not going to fly. So here’s my suggestion: super simple slow cooker chili!
This is one of my fallback meals for times when things are busy and stressed and I don’t really feel like cooking because it is so easy, so nutritious, and so flexible. Don’t have time to sauté the vegetables before they start slow cooking? Skip it. Don’t eat meat? Add an extra can of beans! Don’t have the all the vegetables? Just add ones you do that sound good to you.
The other reason I love this recipe is that it makes a meal that can please everyone at the table. You can serve it with rice, tortillas, tortillas chips, pasta, couscous, quinoa, farro, etc. You can top it with grated cheese, avocado, sour cream, hot sauce, and/or freshly chopped vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. In other words, everyone can make it their own so there doesn’t need to be any drama.
Here’s the other reason I love this meal. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. So throw everything in the crockpot in the morning, set it, forget it, and move on with your preparations for Thursday. Or, if doing any additional cooking on Wednesday feels out of reach, throw it together this weekend and then all you have to do is reheat!
And don’t forget: you can always have pizza another night.
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 bell pepper, diced (green, red, orange or yellow will work!)
- 3 carrots, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste later)
- ½ pound ground beef or turkey (optional)
- 2 or 3 cans of beans, rinsed or 3 or 4 ½ cups homemade beans (black, pinto, or kidney—a combination is highly recommended. If you are making vegetarian chili, use 3 cans/4 ½ cups of beans)
- 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes (fire-roasted, if possible)
- 1 sweet potato, diced (optional)
- 1 cup frozen corn (optional)
- 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 cups of chopped frozen spinach (optional)
- If your slow cooker has a sauté function use that, otherwise, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering.
- Add the onion, bell pepper, and carrot and sauté over a medium heat until the onion is translucent.
- Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt and stir well for 30 seconds, or until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add the ground meat (if using) and break it up as you brown it.
- When the meat is browned, pour everything into the slow cooker and then pour a little bit of water into the bottom of the skillet. Scrape up the remaining bits and pour them in as well.
- Add the beans, diced tomatoes with its juices, sweet potato (if using), corn (if using), and cocoa powder. Add 1 cup of water, if you are using canned beans. If you are using homemade beans, use the bean liquid instead. Stir well.
- Close the lid and set the slow cooker on high for 4 hours or on low for 8.
- minutes before you are ready to serve the chili, add the frozen spinach (if using) and stir well.
- Serve with whatever grains or toppings you like.