Melissa Elsmo

Outside of several years spent negotiating with my costume clad children to procure a couple of Almond Joy candy bars, I generally prefer to focus on the savory side of October’s exceptionally sweet holiday.  From carving to cooking, pumpkins capture the spirit of Halloween better than any dime store candy ever could.

Hosting a pumpkin themed dinner party will ensure Halloween is more than a social event for our mask-wearing, pillowcase-toting, candy-hoarding kiddos.  Turning your home into a cozy place where chilly trick-o-treat chaperones can grab a warming bowl of pumpkin chili on brisk evening is the perfect way to celebrate the spirit of the season.

No-one has time to think about much more than answering the door for eager fairy princesses and super heroes on Halloween and a hearty dinner is often an after thought on this sugar driven holiday.  You’ll be amazed how appreciative your friends will be to receive your thoughtful Halloween invitation. Pulling together a batch of Trick-O-Treat Chicken Chili seems complicated, but serving my casual chili dinner as trick-o-treat winds down is a snap when using a few prep ahead techniques.   

Plan to prepare the chili recipe early a day in advance. The complexity of the dish will develop as it sits in the refrigerator over night. This chili recipe pays respect to two Halloween staples: pumpkin and chocolate.  The inclusion of pumpkin in this recipe may seem surprising to some home cooks, but all I can say is trust me!  The pumpkin lends a rich velvety texture to the chili and marries flawlessly with the chilies and complex spices in the finished dish. Crumbling soft goat cheese over steaming bowls of chili offers a piquant and welcomed departure from the more conventional sour cream, but the cheese still manages to tamp down the sophisticated heat in the finished product.  

To be party ready you’ll only need to warm your chili and serve it to your lucky guests; up the ante by serving your trick-o-treat inspired chili  in a hollowed large pumpkin. Round out your menu with a simple tossed a salad, fresh cornbread and piping hot cider. Throw in some pumpkin beer and your make-ahead dinner party will be the hit of the holiday.  What’s the best part?  There is no need to make dessert!  The candy will cover it.  

Happy haunting.

Trick-o-Treat Chicken Chili (12 generous servings)

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 2 red peppers, diced
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ Cup chili powder
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
  • 1 (12-ounce) can lager beer
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans pure pumpkin
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans petite diced tomatoes
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 2-4 Cups chicken or veggie stock, divided
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 Square unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 2 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 Cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 poblano peppers, roasted and diced (optional)
  • Garnishes: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Pepitas, Scallions and Goat Cheese 

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the onions and peppers and cook until softened, but not brown (about 8 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant (about 30 seconds) before adding the chili powder, cumin, curry, and cayenne. Mix well and cook for 2 minutes.  Deglaze the pan with the beer.  When the foam subsides add the pumpkin. Mix well with a wooden spoon until smooth.  Add the remaining ingredients (except garnishes) and 2 Cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chocolate dissolves and flavors meld.  About 45 minutes. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate over night.

To Serve: Re-heat the soup, thin with additional stock as desired, and ladle into a pumpkin tureen if desired.  Serve chili in bowls (or hollowed mini-pumpkins) and garnish with pumpkin seeds, pepitas, scallions, and crumbled goat cheese.

Omit the chicken and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken broth to make a vegetarian friendly dish.Pumpkin tureen and bowls can be made 24 hours in advance.  Refrigerate them (unfilled) until ready to use.Feel free to control the spice level in this dish by eliminating the poblano chilies or cayenne from the recipe.  As written, the dish has a noticeable but sophisticated heat.  It may be too strong for young or less adventurous palates.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • Seeds from one large pumpkin (about 2 cups)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Rinse the seeds and pat dry.  Transfer seeds to a mixing bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.  Spread seasoned seeds in a single layer on a greased foil lined sheet pan and cook into a pre-heated 300 degree oven.  Roast until golden brown and crisp flipping seeds several times (about 45 minutes).  Cool to room temperature and serve seeds as a snack or as a garnish for Trick-O-Treat Chili.  

Seeds can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for three days.

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