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Surprising source for chili’s richness: canned pumpkin

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Updated: January 10, 2012 3:24PM

Pumpkin chili? Sounds like some sort of cultural confusion, right?

It wouldn’t have occurred to me to combine a traditional chili with canned pumpkin puree. But I recently had dinner with friends and was impressed by the vegetarian chili they served. It was rich and thick with barley, lentils, chopped vegetables.

And canned pumpkin.

And no, it didn’t taste like pumpkin pie. In fact, there was only the faintest hint of pumpkin flavor at all.

So why add it? For starters, it’s an effortless way to significantly up the nutritional power of a basic chili. Open can, add gobs of fat-free, high-fiber nutrients.

The pumpkin also does great things for the texture of the chili. The pumpkin disappears into the liquid, giving the chili a rich, smooth, almost creamy texture and creating the perfect base for the seasonings and meat.

When I started playing around with my own chili recipe using pumpkin, I decided right away to stick with an all-meat chili. If you prefer veg versions, consider using the pumpkin-red pepper base I call for in the recipe, then substitute as you see fit for the meat (beans, lentils and grains are good choices).

I used a blend of ground bison and finely chopped boneless pork ribs, but any blend of lean meats could be used, including ground turkey or beef and chopped steak.

Pureeing the onions and red peppers may seem an unusual choice, but I wanted the only textures in the chili to be a thick, rich sauce and chunks of meat. Hunks of onion or red pepper would have messed with that.

Finally, to keep this chili family-friendly, I went light to moderate on the seasonings. Feel free to crank up the heat if that’s what you prefer.


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