Lentil Chili With Chocolate

Warm up this fall with a special chili that uses two surprising ingredients for an extra kick.

Photo by Leah Lizarondo

I thought it fitting that since I put parsnips in your cake last week that I put chocolate in your chili this week! Can you imagine serving both at your dinner party? The beginnings of a titillating (brazen?) menu, indeed. Let’s call it The Brazen Kitchen switcheroo! I must think of more dishes to add to this repertoire.

Chocolate in your entrée is actually not such a wild concept. If you have ever had “mole” (mo-leh) at a Mexican restaurant, then you’ve probably had chocolate way before the dessert course. Oaxacan mole, specifically, uses chocolate to add complexity to this popular Mexican sauce.

The way this recipe came about reminds me of my big family. Every New Year’s Eve, post-midnight fireworks (and really with every late-night family party, of which there were many) all of us cousins would take whatever was left on the buffet table and start putting together all the remains of the day into what we called “concoctions.” We would cook it on the stove, the grill or just slap things together on our plates. Whatever we came up with, it was always the most divine midnight snack (and often not for the faint of heart).

So it is in this spirit of “concocting” that I made this dish. How appropriate then that “mole” comes from the Aztec word, “molli,” which means “concoction!”

It’s most definitely full-fledged autumn now and warming foods are necessary for satisfying sustenance. This particular medley came about after I decided that I wanted a new spin on my chili. I scanned my pantry and instead of beans, pulled out some nice Puy lentils. These French lentils are darker and firmer than what is typically available. They hold their shape when cooked, giving your stew an interesting texture.

I was also tired of my trusty spice-standby of cumin seed, cumin, chili powder and oregano, so I decided to go completely left field and use ginger instead.

Yes. Ginger in your chili! Believe it.

When I’m in a hurry, my default slow-cooker dinner is black beans in the crockpot with a bay leaf, salt, pepper and loads of sliced ginger. Add water and you’re done.

But ginger? Just trust me. Try it.

After the stew was almost done and I was tasting it, I wanted more depth. Roundedness. Smoked Spanish Paprika always does the trick. I added it. Good. But I still wanted MORE. Deeper! I say. I scanned my cupboard with a blank stare … and there it was. Chocolate! And I remembered mole and all the good feelings that came with eating it. Jackpot!

As I said last week, my friends always expect me to say there’s cabbage in the cookies. I guess now that I put parsnip in their cake, it won’t be so unexpected when I tell them there’s chocolate in their chili.

Concoction. Perfection.

  Lentil Chili with Chocolate

Yield: Serves 12


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (largest you can get!)

  • 10 garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

  • 3 tablespoons chili powder

  • 1 good super-heaping tablespoon pure cocoa
1 tablespoon Smoked Spanish Paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 1-2 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped finely

  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes

  • 10 cups vegetable broth

  • 3 cups French lentils

  • 2 quarts vegetable broth

  • Water as needed


1. Saute the onions, garlic and ginger in oil. Once the onions are soft, add the chili powder and cumin.

2. Saute for about a scant minute. Add the lentils and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Bring to a boil uncovered and then cover and let it simmer on low for 45 minutes to an hour. Adjust water, salt and pepper as needed.

4. Serve over rice or with hot crusty bread.

Categories: Brazen Kitchen