Bison, Butternut, and Bacon Chili and Other Autumn Eats

by Kelly on September 28, 2011

hellofallAs of Friday, it’s officially fall, though it has felt that way in Chicago for much longer.  Since summer came late I expected that it would hang on a bit longer than usual as well, but that was not the case.  Even before the sun had set on Labor Day, the ground was littered with a kaleidoscopic array of leaves and a noticeable chill was in the air.   I couldn’t resist an early baking project, even though I found myself feeling a little guilty that I wasn’t instead enjoying the last summer’s bounty of heirloom tomatoes with something light and fresh like a simple panzanella.  But in my heart, it was actually fall.

So you can guess that I am pretty excited that now it’s official to share with you some of my favorite fall recipes.

I’ve kicked things off with a big pot of chili.


For me, it’s one of those foods that symbolizes the start of the season and it also happens to be one of the closest things I have to a repeat recipe.  I have a standard base recipe of spices and liquids that I use and then I switch it up my add-ins based on whatever ground meats and vegetables strike my fancy.

With squash becoming inexpensive and plentiful again and the last of the fresh corn still at the market, I knew I wanted to incorporate them into this version.  It also happened that the grass fed ground bison at the meat counter looked fantastic and having never cooked with it before, I wanted to give it a try.  If you’re not familiar with bison, it’s known for being lower in calories and leaner than beef and pork and on par with turkey and chicken.  Since I much prefer the flavor of beef to poultry, I was curious to try it out and see how it might compare.

This chili turned out to be a great vessel for the bison.  It added a nice earthiness to the dish and a slight gaminess that worked well with the heat and the spices.  The nutritional specs also meant I didn’t feel the slightest bit bad to add a couple of slices of bacon to the mix.  The fat from the bacon really helps carry the flavors and being firmly in the camp that bacon makes most things better, I think it just makes this chili taste better.  I’ll also add that as a slight method note, typically I drain the fat from my meat after browning before continuing with the rest of the recipe, but since the bison was so lean I skipped this step.  There wasn’t much excess fat to speak of and what little their was I knew would be great for flavor.  But feel free to drain if you so desire.

I also happen to LOVE the squash and corn in this dish.  I’m the kind of girl who prefers a bean-free chili so these are a welcome substitute.  I also love that they provide a lot of sweetness to offset the heat of the chili powder and similar to beans, the corn provides a nice textural contrast.

Cocoa-Kissed Beef and Delicata Squash Chili
Serves 4-6

-1 pound ground grass-fred bison
-2 slices bacon, diced
-1/2 cup chopped onion
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-2 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder (I use Rapunzel, which is my absolute favorite)
-1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder (Note: this yielded some pretty hot chili for my taste buds so if you’re looking for something mild to medium in heat I would recommend halving this)
-1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
-1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
-1 tablespoon brown sugar
-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-1 28-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
-2 cups low sodium beef broth
-1 tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard
-1 6 ounce can tomato paste
-1 1/2 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash
-1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears of corn)


Cook bison, bacon, onion, and garlic in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the bison crumbles and is no longer pink.

Add the next 12 ingredients (through tomato paste) and stir the mixture well to combine. Add the squash and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Stir in corn and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until squash is tender and chili is thick.

What about you? What are your repeatable fall foods?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Russell at Chasing Delicious September 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I really like this chili recipe. I haven’t tried it with bison before but now that fall is here I have a very good excuse to give this recipe a try.

Thank you for visiting my blog! Also, I replied to your question about using both bread and cake flour on my blog. I wasn’t sure if you got it or not.


Shannon September 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm

really, no beans in your chili? I love beans, but this version definitely sounds fantastic as well! I need to come up with a go-to version myself… sounds like a good project for the winter 😉


Cara September 29, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I looove squash in chili (usually just do pumpkin, but I definitely want to try out some others!) And cinnamon – yup, it’s a must! This sounds like such a great chili to warm up to fall.


Elina (Russian Bites) October 1, 2011 at 9:27 am

This sounds really amazing. I love that you’re using (fall) squash and (summer) corn to marry the two seasons together while they’re still present at the farmers market…although this dish is of course hearty and more fall-like. Adam “hates” squash but I’m not giving up. I think this will be warm and comforting enough that squash won’t bother him and I’ll be a happy camper with squash finally in a dish! 🙂


Kerstin October 1, 2011 at 1:48 pm

What a unique chili – I love your late summer/early fall combo of corn and squash – very inspiring!


Ranjani October 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm

This is such a creative chili recipe – it looks and sounds delicious. I’ve never tried squash in chili but it’s a great idea


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