By Ali Lopez
MRG Contributor

January has been a cold and snowy month, and that means one thing to me: It’s time to make some of my famous chili.

I learned to make chili from my mom when I was 10 years old and have been making it ever since. My original recipe was pretty simple and definitely not the healthiest (1 lb. ground beef, 1 onion, 2 cans kidney beans, 2 cans Campbells Tomato Soup, 1 tablespoon chili powder). Over the years I have made so many different versions, and no two are ever the same. But this latest version that I made the other night, I am really loving! It is loaded with three kinds of beans and my favorite …. the sweet potato! And yes, this version is meatless but I promise you won’t miss the meat. The sweet potatoes give it a richness and the three kinds of beans add so much flavor.

This chili recipe is great for runners, too. (Post-run, not pre-run!) The beans are packed with protein and carbs, as well as magnesium and potassium (runner faves)! Add some avocado (healthy fats) and you really have the perfect recovery meal.

A few cooking notes about the recipe:

  • I make my chili using dried beans but gave the recipe with canned beans for convenience. Feel free to use dried beans if you have the time and interest.
  • It is really important when you are making a pot of chili to taste often and season it as you like it, spicy or not.
  • Speaking of spices, it is soooo important to use FRESH spices. So if you have a jar of chili powder in your cupboard from last winter, ditch that and buy some new, fresh spices. I promise you it will make all the difference in your cooking. I love to get my spices at Oryana Natural Foods Market here in Traverse City, because you can buy as much or as little as you need and they are always so fresh. But wherever you buy them, buy the smallest amount you need and replace often!

There are so many great ways to serve this chili. In a bowl with a side of chips, in tacos and burritos, on top of nachos. And it is a great recipe for a potluck or a Sunday football party. It is also a great recipe to make a BIG batch of and freeze some for another night — it only gets better!

Three Bean Sweet Potato Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

6 garlic cloves chopped

1 tablespoon ground chili powder (or more)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 chipotles en adobo (from a can), chopped, and a teaspoon of the liquid (adobo sauce)

1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted preferably)

4 cups water

2 lbs. sweet potatoes, medium dice (about 3 cups)

4 cans cooked beans (kidney, black and pinto), rinsed

salt and pepper, to taste

Juice of 1 lime

1 bottle of your favorite dark beer (optional)

Hot sauce or ground cayenne pepper, optional, to taste

Optional toppings:

Green onions, sliced 

Greek yogurt

Avocado, diced

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it is hot, add the onion and cook until softened but not browned. Add the garlic, chile powder, cumin and chipotle, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, water, sweet potatoes, and about a half teaspoon of salt, and bring to a low boil over medium heat, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low, stir in the beans, the cinnamon and the cocoa and simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened and the potatoes are cooked, about 30 to 45 minutes. You may need to add more liquid. This is where you can add the beer or more water if needed. Taste, and add more salt, hot sauce or cayenne if you like it hot, and a squeeze of lime juice. Garnish with green onions, greek yogurt and/or avocado.


Have a fueling question for Ali? Post it below in the comments section or email MRG with your healthy-eating questions at heather [at] michiganrunnergirl [dot] com 

Ali will answer your questions in upcoming columns here on MRG. You can read her post about the Power of Smoothies, here »  She’s also written about superfoods and shares a great recipe for kale salad here »


Ali Lopez is a northern Michigan runner, chef and health coach. You can learn more about her at her web site Healthy Chef Ali. She’s also on Facebook here »

You can listen to a conversation about running and eating between Ali and Heather on a recent MRG podcast episode here »

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