After our recent protracted Indian summer with its temperatures in the high 70s, more seasonal frosty mornings and chilly evenings are a relief. Cooler temperatures also mean fall cooking can ramp up, with heartier stews and casseroles on the menu. It’s appropriate that normally brisk October is officially National Chili Month, despite National Chili Day coming in February and National Chili Dog Day celebrated in July, at the end of National Hot Dog Month. There's an additional advantage in having a reason to serve chili in October: you can use up lots of end-of-the-garden ingredients in a healthy, albeit non-traditional, version. Chunks of winter squash and carrots, kernels from the last ears of corn, diced green and red peppers, chunks of green and red pepper and all those late-ripening tomatoes can find a home in chili.

I have a confession to make: I use ketchup in my basic chili recipe. Ketchup already contains lots of good stuff like sugar and spices, cooked down to dark sweetness. My mother-in-law, a horse-riding, rifle-toting Coloradan, made her chili this way and it was a huge hit with everyone. Make her basic recipe and you can add in all the extra vegetables you wish, or hold the beans and use as sauce on chili dogs. One caveat: get the best chili powder you can find. The nice dark stuff that food co-ops stock in bulk is a good choice.

B A S I C   C H I L I

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 lb. lean ground beef (or ground turkey or venison)
212 cups ketchup
2 cans beans, rinsed and drained (kidney, pinto, black or mixed)
Put olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until it is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on chili powder and cook a few more minutes, then add the ground beef, breaking it up with a spoon, and cook until browned, about 10 more minutes. Stir in the ketchup and beans and simmer for 15 minutes until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

If you’d like to gussy up your chili, try this dark, spicy version, which contains chocolate and chipotles.

C H O C O L A T E   C H I L I

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup chopped red sweet pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
114 lbs. ground beef or turkey
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. chile powder
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. ground cumin sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups chicken broth
2 chipotle chiles canned in adobo, minced
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
optional garnish: sour cream and chopped scallions
Heat oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, red peppers, garlic, and ground meat to pan. Sauté 10 minutes or until meat is browned and vegetables are tender. Add sugar and next nine ingredients (through chipotle) to pan, stirring to blend; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Add chocolate, stirring to melt. Top individual servings with sour cream and chopped scallions.

Purists won’t call this chili, but this white bean and chicken version is a nice change from the red version.

W H I T E   C H I C K E N   C H I L I

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup chopped red sweet pepper
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
3 4-oz. cans green mild chilis, chopped
2 cans white beans, rinsed and drained
5 cups cooked skinless chicken thighs, shredded
3 cups chicken broth
2 tsp. sea salt
1 pkg. cream cheese, cubed

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, red peppers and garlic and sauté, stirring, for 5 minutes, until vegetables have softened. Stir in cumin and green chilis and cook for a minute longer. Place beans in a Dutch oven or heavy pan and add skillet ingredients to the beans. Add chicken, chicken broth, and salt. Simmer, stirring, over low heat for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream cheese until melted.