On a cold, grey winter day in Kansas, sitting down to a bowl of chili for dinner just feels right. But now that we’re trying to lower our carb intake, I needed to rework our favorite chili recipe.
My approach to low carb would more accurately be called “balanced carb.” I try (try!) to make sure every meal and every snack has a balance between carbs and proteins. (Did you know that going super-low carb or no carb for too long can mess up your serotonin? Not a good thing, if you have issues with insomnia, depression, etc.)
Most chili recipes have more carbs than protein: some by a small margin, some by a lot. The most popular chili recipe on AllRecipes has almost twice as much carbs as protein — 55g and 31g, respectively. So I set out to see where I could cut out carbs and maybe even sneak in some more protein.
First of all, the beans. Beans are carbs, but most experts consider them healthy carbs. So I kept them in, but cut them back to half a can. A little label-reading taught me that the kind of beans I use can help, too. Look at these labels for red kidney beans — the traditional chili bean — and black beans; check out the ingredient list…
Yep, that’s right: the red beans contain sugar and dextrose (a sneaky way for the manufacturer to avoid listing sugar higher in the list of ingredients), the black beans don’t. Plus, the black beans have about 50% more iron than the red ones. So there’s an easy switch.
Here’s another one: instead of just using tomato sauce and/or diced tomatoes for the liquid, I used a small can of tomato paste (checking to make sure there’s no sugar hiding in there), and used beef stock for the rest of the liquid. The stock brings a bit of protein to the party, plus I like the flavor it adds.
Other healthy-choice change-ups: I added a bit of red bell pepper to bring some fiber and vitamin C, and used turkey sausage instead of hamburger. Mostly for the flavor. And I actually prefer turkey sausage to pork. I just like the leaner flavor. If you don’t, feel free to sub your favorite pork sausage.
I added up all the carbs and protein in my revised dish, using the label info and this handy resource, and guess what! This chili actually has more protein than carbs. 22g of carbs, 25.5 g of protein.
You can just leave out the beans to make this Paleo. Diced avocado, added just before serving, makes a nice substitute for beans, texture-wise, and adds some healthy fat. If you love cornbread with your chili like I do, here’s a recipe for gluten-free flourless cornbread and here’s one for Paleo cornbread – with no corn!
Lower Carb Chili (Paleo possible)
3-4 servings (can easily be doubled)
1 t. chili powder
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. dried oregano
3/4 t. ground ancho chili pepper
1/4 t. salt or 1/2 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. olive oil
1/2 large onion
1/2 red bell pepper
2-3 cloves garlic
1 lb. turkey Italian sausage
1.5 c. beef stock
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste, no sugar added
1/2 can beans, no sugar added: kidney, black, pinto, or a mix; rinsed and drained
optional: sour cream, Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, green onion for garnish
Mix the spices together and set aside.
Heat oil over medium heat in 4-quart pot. (Larger, if you’re doubling the recipe.) Chop the onion into about 1/2″ pieces and add it to the pot. Chop the bell pepper into about 1/4″ pieces; I cut it into long pieces one way then turn the cutting board 90 degrees and chop them the other way. Add the peppers to the pot, then mince garlic and add it.
Once the onions are translucent and the peppers are fairly tender, push them aside and put the sausage in the center.
I like to let the first side sit there till it’s nicely browned, then turn the whole thing over. Then as the second side cooks, stir and chop it to break it up. Cook, stirring occasionally, till no more pink shows. Once the sausage is browned, drain most of the fat from the pan.
Return the pan to the heat and add all of the spices. Stir until sausage is well coated with spices; simmer one minute more. Add in the broth and tomato paste and stir till well combined. Turn heat to med-high. Once it comes to a boil, add the beans and turn it down to a simmer.
Cover partially and simmer for 20 minutes to 2 hours. If it gets too thick, add broth. Just before serving, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with sour cream (or Greek yogurt), shredded cheese, and green onions, if desired.