Butternut Squash, Black Bean, and Wheatberry Chili

Chili is to food what a blank canvas is to art. It has the potential to become a masterpiece, and is just waiting to be filled with delicious inspiration. It truly is one of my favorite things to make.

One way to create a chili masterpiece is to bring in some non-traditional flavors with one of fall/winter's most iconic ingredients: squash! The combination of the delicate sweetness of the squash with the spiciness of the chili is magical. I've found that the key to bridging the gap is to use pumpkin puree instead of tomato paste as the base, sort of an orange chili rather than a red chili if you will. Then it all makes sense.

One of the most important aspects of chili is balance. Chili that is one-note (super spicy perhaps) or one texture is boring. My chili goal is to achieve a diverse array of flavors with sweet (= squash and pumpkin), hot (= peppers and spices), roasty (= grilled corn, caramelized onion, fire-roasted peppers), nutty (= wheatberries), wintry (= cinnamon and ginger), and fresh (= lime juice and cilantro at the end). Hitting all of these categories ensures a well-balanced and intriguing final product.

Chili is a labor of love. This is not a "set it and forget it" slow cooker recipe. To be honest, I don't generally find slow cooker stews to be all that exciting because all of the ingredients have been cooked the same way. Life gets much more interesting when you caramelize, roast, toast, and char; after all, that's where the flavor comes from.

This chili is a project for a cold winter afternoon when you want to have fun in the kitchen, sip a ginger margarita or two, and play with fire. Creating all these levels of flavor is a hands-on process, so make a big batch and savor your leftovers for days.

Don't forget about the cornbread! Shown in the background here is my favorite cornbread recipe: Brown Butter Cranberry Pumpkin Cornbread from Ambitious Kitchen. It's my go-to, and I sometimes add roasted corn, rosemary, or thyme. I adore this cornbread.

Please share your creation so I can see how you've interpreted the concept! Tag "The Rogue Brussel Sprout" on Facebook or hashtag #theroguebrusselsprout on Instagram.

Looking for more cozy, squashy comfort food? Then try Kabocha Squash Soup Bowls, which use a squash bowl instead of a bread bowl for serving your favorite soup.

Thoughts About Ingredients
(These are all just suggestions, since rogue is more fun than recipe)
  • Wheatberries. They're annoying to prep but totally worth it, especially if you cook them the day before. Or you could substitute quinoa, but the texture won't be nearly as interesting. I use about 1 cup dry, which yields about 2.5-3 cups cooked.
  • Medium-sized butternut squash
  • A couple sweet onions
  • Chili powder (start with a few tbsp)
  • Cumin powder (start with a couple tbsp)
  • Cumin seeds (start with a few tsp)
  • Ancho chili powder (start with a few tsp)
  • Cinnamon (start with a couple tsp) 
  • Ginger (start with a couple tsp)
  • Cayenne pepper (start with just a bit)
  • Apple cider vinegar (start with a few tbsp)
  • Poblano pepper or two. An alternate type of large, mild chili will also work, like an Anaheim.
  • Tequila. Use it to deglaze the pan. Optional but awesome.
  • Pumpkin puree (start with a cup or two). A can is fine, fresh is better if you have it.
  • Black beans. I use two cans worth here, but you can cook from dried beans if you prefer.
  • Corn (a few cups). You won't have fresh cobs if you're making this in the winter, so frozen is fine.
  • A couple colored bell peppers
  • Lime juice. Always fresh!
  • Fresh cilantro. 
  • Garnishes of choice. Whatever makes you happy. Cheese? Avocado? Cilantro? Pickled jalapenos?
Thoughts About Method
(These are all just suggestions, be creative and make it yours)
  1. Precook the wheatberries by boiling them for at least an hour until tender. I usually do this the morning of or the day before since it takes a while.
  2. Peel and dice the butternut squash, then roast at 425 until golden and medium-soft.
  3. Begin your flavor base by dicing and caramelizing the onions. Salt and pepper liberally. Caramelize aggressively so that you allow all those delightful toasted flavors to develop.
  4. Mix up your spice blend. You can always add more later but can't take away, so be delicate at first so you can taste and add as you go. This is another good opportunity to salt, since seasoning throughout builds flavor.
  5. Fire-roast your poblano(s). I have a gas stove and do this by putting the peppers right over the flame, but you could achieve the same result under the broiler. Remove the seeds if you wish and dice finely, since you want this delicate heat to spread evenly throughout the dish.
  6. Once the onions are caramelized, add the finely diced poblano and the dried spice blend you mixed previously. Toast for a few minutes; this is an important step for fully blooming the flavor of the spices.
  7. Bonus points if you deglaze the pan with a few shots of tequila here!
  8. Add some water (about 4 cups to start), the cider vinegar, and the pumpkin puree. This is your base liquid that will develop into the flavorful broth that will eventually bring everything together. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  9. Add some butternut squash. I like to put in about half of it early so it breaks down more, then half of it later so you have some nice, big pieces.
  10. Add the wheatberries since they can stand up to a lot of cooking. This will allow them to absorb maximum flavor. Simmer for half an hour to keep developing the flavor.
  11. While the wheatberries absorb the flavorful broth, grill your corn and get some good char on it.
  12. Add the beans and grilled corn. I prefer to add them here, mid-way through, so they maintain their integrity and texture rather than turning into unrecognizable mush.
  13. Taste and adjust! Do you want more heat? Then add more cayenne and/or chili powder. Do you want more depth without adding heat? Add chili powder (if yours is relatively mild) and cumin. Feel like you need more zing in general? Add salt and a touch more cider vinegar (although remember that lime juice is coming later, so you'll have a big acidic pop at the end). Keep simmering and letting the magic happen, and keep tasting.
  14. Add more butternut squash, until you're happy with the total amount. Then give it another half hour or so to simmer. You can thin things out with a bit more water if needed.
  15. Fire-roast your bell peppers. Again, I prefer directly over the flame, but do what works in your kitchen. Do a coarse dice to give them a different shape than everything else you have in the chili, and add them about five minutes before you want to serve so they maintain some texture.
  16. Right before serving, add in some chopped fresh cilantro and lime juice in order to keep them fresh and bright. Then plate it up and garnish as you desire, or make up a toppings board so that everyone can customize their own.


  1. Loved this recipe! An inspired twist on a classic dish. I'll have to try it with the tequila next time ;)

    1. The Rogue Brussel SproutFebruary 15, 2021 at 9:07 AM

      Thanks, I'm so glad to hear. And yes, a margarita in-hand while you cook makes it even better!

  2. I agree this is a project for a cold day, and it just can’t be rushed to get the different textures. I subbed tomatoes for pumpkin, which did not due it justice because of the extra liquid. Regardless, the different flavors were wonderful so it’s on my repeat list next cold day!

    1. The Rogue Brussel SproutFebruary 15, 2021 at 9:08 AM

      Definitely the perfect way to spend a cold weekend afternoon! I'm glad to hear you tried it with tomatoes, that's certainly a more traditional approach. Thanks for sharing!


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