Cocoa and Sweet Potato Chili (Paleo, Whole30)

Sweet Potato Chili gets an assist from cocoa powder for a deep, smoky flavor. It’s hearty, perfectly spiced and ready in just an hour!

There’s also instructions to make it in a slow-cooker or Instant Pot/electric pressure cooker.

While it’s great any time of year, if you use black cocoa with orange sweet potatoes, this healthy beef chili recipe is perfect for Halloween.

And while it’s great that this no bean chili recipe is Paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, legume-free, dairy-free and Whole30-friendly (whew!), it’s even better that it tastes so good.

This was originally posted on Oct. 5, 2019 as “Halloween Chili” and was updated on Oct. 7, 2020.

Halloween Chili in a big green pot getting scooped out by a white ladle on a wooden table with a striped napkin and wooden spoon

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Sweet Potato Chili with Cocoa Powder

This easy beef chili recipe uses all the classic chili ingredients – onions, tomatoes, spices, beef – while adding some extra special guest stars.

Sweet potatoes add more veggies to make it a full meal, bring a touch of sweetness to balance the smoky spices and make a great substitute for beans in chili.

Unsweetened cocoa powder doesn’t actually make the taste the chili taste like chocolate. Instead, it makes the chili deeper, more complex and, in my humble opinion, more interesting.

So is it sweet potato chili with cocoa powder or cocoa chili with sweet potatoes?

The answer: yes.

What is cocoa powder and black cocoa?

Natural cocoa powder is simply made from cocoa beans that are roasted then pulverized.

Dutch-processed cocoa adds the extra step of using an alkaline solution to neutralize cocoa’s natural acidity, resulting in a slightly darker color.

And then there’s black cocoa powder, which has been ultra-Dutch-processed, giving it a much darker color.

If you’ve ever seen an Oreo, you’ve seen what black cocoa can do. (For a breakdown of cocoa powder, David Lebovitz has an excellent article.)

It’s both deep and mild, chocolatey and smooth. It’s like dark chocolate without the bitterness.

There are some guidelines about how to bake with black cocoa powder, as you can see here and here, but since we’re not baking with it here we don’t have to worry about that!

And like I said before, using black cocoa in this sweet potato chili makes it perfect for your Halloween party!

If you don’t have black cocoa, you can use regular unsweetened cocoa powder, either natural or Dutch-processed. The chili won’t be black, obviously, but more of a dark reddish brown and just as delicious.

 

Halloween Chili in a big green pot and a small white bowl with a striped kitchen towel, wooden spoon, ladle and small bowl of avocado slices

What you need for this Paleo and Whole30 chili

Plus your favorite toppings:

  • sliced avocado
  • sliced fresh or pickled jalapenos
  • crushed tortilla chips (omit for Paleo/Whole30)
  • sour cream (dairy-free if necessary, omit for Paleo/Whole30)
  • shredded cheese (dairy-free if necessary, omit for Paleo/Whole30)

 

Equipment:

 

 

How to make sweet potato chili

This is a pretty straightforward recipe with one twist that makes it even easier.

Sauté an onion and garlic, then quickly cook your spices to intensify their flavor. You can alter the amount of cayenne to make this as spicy as you want. Stir in the tomato paste, letting it cook a bit to darken its color and enhance its flavor.

Here’s where it gets fun: the recipe calls for two pounds of beef but at this point you only add one pound of beef. It’s so much faster to brown one pound of meat than two. (It’s true! I’ve timed it! <– I’m a nerd like that)

Add your liquids and cocoa and simmer.

THEN you add the second pound of ground beef. It obviously won’t brown, but it will melt into the chili.

You’ll get the best of both worlds: the deeper flavor and chunkier texture of the caramelized, browned beef and the tender, luxurious texture of the unbrowned (not a word, I know) beef.

Once that’s cooked through, add the sweet potatoes and once they’re cooked through, you’re done!

Black chili with orange sweet potatoes that kids and adults will love.

 

Halloween Chili in a big green pot and a small white bowl with a striped kitchen towel, wooden spoon, ladle and small bowl of avocado slices

How to enjoy sweet potato chili

Luckily this chili tastes great straight out of the bowl (or pot, if you’re feeling especially lazy).

But you can also pair it with all your favorite accompaniments, like the toppings I list above and also below in the recipe.

I love chili with cornbread so my gluten-free, Paleo cornbread has to make an appearance as well.

You could also serve this with rice or veggie rice (cauliflower rice, parsnip rice, sweet potato rice, etc.).

 

Make ahead/storage for sweet potato chili

This sweet potato chili will keep in the fridge, covered, for up to 5 days.

To freeze, portion into resealable bags (be sure to press out the air) or freezer-safe containers (fill all the way so there’s no air inside) and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight.

Reheat on the stove over medium heat, adding more water or broth if necessary. Or thaw in the microwave, stirring every 5 minutes until it’s hot/warm.

 

Other chili and Halloween recipes:

  1. If you like it smoky and with a lot of bacon (who doesn’t?), you’ll dig my bacon chili recipe.
  2. If you’re more in a white chicken chili mood, this extra creamy white chicken chili is pretty irresistible.
  3. Pumpkin Spice Candied Bacon is the perfect appetizer.
  4. A Pumpkin Cider Margarita is what you need to wash it all down.

 

sweet potato chili in a large green pot and a white bowl topped with avocado
Halloween Chili in a big green pot getting scooped out by a white ladle on a wooden table with a striped napkin and wooden spoon
Print Recipe
5 from 16 votes

Halloween Chili

Classic chili dresses up for Halloween! Black cocoa and sweet potatoes make for a black and orange chili that's hearty and healthy.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: black cocoa, chili, cocoa powder, halloween, paleo, sweet potato, whole30
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Don Baiocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil or other cooking oil
  • 1 medium / large onion
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled (see notes)
  • 1.5 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided, plus more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional, use more or less for preference)
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 2 lbs. ground beef, divided (85%, 93% or a combo of both; preferably grass-fed)
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup black cocoa powder
  • 1-1.5 lbs. sweet potatoes (1 large or 2 medium)

Instructions

  • Add the oil to a large pot over medium heat until shimmering.
  • Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion into a medium dice. Mince the garlic cloves. Add both to the hot oil with 1/2 tsp. fine seal salt and saute until soft and translucent, about 8-10 minutes (it's fine if they start to turn golden).
  • Scoot the onions to the sides of the pan. Add the chili powder, cumin and cinnamon to the center of the pot and saute for 30 seconds until fragrant, stirring constantly (this will "bloom" the spices to draw out their flavor). Stir into the onions, then scoot them again to the sides of the pan.
  • Scoop the tomato paste onto the center of the pot and saute for 1-2 minutes, until slightly darker in color. Stir into the onions.
  • Add one pound of ground beef and break it up into smaller and smaller chunks as it browns, flipping them around to brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes.
  • Add roughly 1/2 cup of the beef broth and use the liquid to scrape up any brown bits off the bottom of the pot (they add a lot of flavor). Add the rest of the broth, the tomato sauce, the black cocoa and 1 tsp. fine sea salt. Turn the heat up to bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot.
  • Add the second pound of ground beef and break it up as much as you can while stirring it around in the chili. As it cooks it will disintegrate more. Simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot. If it looks like it's reducing too much and getting too thick, add a bit of water to thin it out.
  • Meanwhile, peel and dice the sweet potatoes. Stir into the chili and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Once a fork easily slides into a piece, the chili is ready. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
  • Serve with your favorite toppings!

Notes

Topping ideas:
  • sliced avocado
  • sliced fresh or pickled jalapenos
  • crushed tortilla chips (omit for Paleo/Whole30)
  • sour cream (dairy-free if necessary, omit for Paleo/Whole30)
  • shredded cheese (dairy-free if necessary, omit for Paleo/Whole30)
If you don't have black cocoa, you can use regular unsweetened cocoa powder, either natural or Dutch-processed. The chili won't be as dark, obviously, but will still be delicious.
No fresh garlic? Add 1 teaspoon garlic powder to the chili powder, cumin and cinnamon mixture.
For a slow cooker, follow the recipe using a large skillet on the stove until the first pound of meat is browned and add everything to a slow cooker. Add 1.5 cups beef broth, tomato sauce, black cocoa, salt and crumble in the second pound of ground beef. Stir to combine. Cook on high for 5-6 hours or low for 7-8. If cooking on high, add the sweet potatoes when the chili has 30 minutes left. If cooking on low, add the sweet potatoes when the chili has 60 minutes left. If chili is too thick, add remaining 1/2 cup broth.
For an electric pressure cooker/Instant Pot, using the sauté function, heat the oil until shimmering. Proceed with the recipe through adding 1.5 cups broth, tomato sauce, black cocoa and salt. Add the second pound of ground beef right away and break it up into small pieces as you stir it around. Lock on the lid and make sure the seal is closed. Press the chili button (usually sets it to 35 minutes) and then manually reduce the time by 5 minutes. Once it's finished, press Keep Warm/Cancel. Quick release, add the sweet potatoes, and manually set the time for 5 more minutes. Once finished, press Keep Warm/Cancel and quick release. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. If it's too watery, press the Sauté button and let it heat up until it's simmering. Once it's reduced to your desired thickness, press the Keep Warm/Cancel button and serve. If it's too thick, add remaining 1/2 cup broth.
This sweet potato chili will keep in the fridge, covered, for up to 5 days.
To freeze, portion into resealable bags (be sure to press out the air) or freezer-safe containers (fill all the way so there's no air inside) and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight.
Reheat on the stove over medium heat, adding more water or broth if necessary. Or thaw in the microwave, stirring every 5 minutes until it's hot/warm.

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This recipe used to be called Halloween Chili with old pins that looked like this:

2 images of Halloween Chili in a big green pot and a small white bowl with a striped kitchen towel, wooden spoon, ladle and small bowl of avocado slices

2 images of Halloween Chili in a big green pot and a small white bowl with a striped kitchen towel, wooden spoon, ladle and small bowl of avocado slices
2 images of Halloween Chili in a big green pot and a small white bowl with a striped kitchen towel, wooden spoon, ladle and small bowl of avocado slices


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