Or jars!

chili cheddar cheese polenta I howsweeteats.com

Yes jars. Jars are more fun. Jars are more trendy. Jars are more 2014. Or maybe, like, 2011 and I’m just way behind. Yeah. Probably that. What will we be putting food in come 2015?

You can put this in a bowl though. I allow it. I just neeeeeeded you to see the layering of this cheesy polenta, chili, cheese, limes, chips and all that. It’s what makes this so much fun.

chili cheddar cheese polenta I howsweeteats.com

Speaking of chips, I shared a sneak peek of this on instagram last week and a bunch of you asked if I made homemade fritos. Um. No. I wish! I wonder if that is possible? Like real, legit fritos and not just something that says it will be like fritos and then tastes exactly nothing like real life fritos. I will say that I probably hadn’t eaten a frito since sneaking them out of Mother Lovett’s snack cupboard like ten years ago. But I found myself buying a bag, opening it up and piling them on top of this chili.

And eating fifty thousand and thirty two.

Normally we just use regular tortilla chips, like the super thin crisp ones with a little salt on them that are so perfect for guacamole? Those. They are delicious.

Sometimes though, I can get behind a frito on chili. With cheese.

chili cheddar cheese polenta I howsweeteats.com

So this is a super small batch of chili… and it’s actually beanless. I love beans in chili and rarely make a pot without them, but this was a quick one I wanted to throw together with chunky tomatoes and ground beef. I definitely stand firm in the camp that chili tastes so much better once it sits – once it simmers – even the next day or two once all those flavors go crazy together.


Eddie really loves chili. And surprisingly, I find it to be a fast, easy meal I can throw together on a weeknight. Sure, it’s not like the most fabulous four day slow-cooked chili that will win you ten awards and that needs to be tended to every hour. But it’s still pretty darn good as far as fast trashed chili goes. This small batch will last us about two days, which is nice since I usually make a gigantic pot that is atrociously embarrassing and spits tomato sauce all over the entire kitchen and then crowds our freezer for three months. When I don’t know what else to make? It’s what I throw together.

chili cheddar cheese polenta I howsweeteats.com

Let’s talk about what really makes the chili though? And in turn, these polenta chili bowls?

Toppings. Obviously.

And not JUST the fritos. I find that all of these things together – “together” being the operative word her – are imperative to a killer bowl of chili. I like red onion, but in a really small dice. I prefer chives over scallions. Sour cream or greek yogurt, which ever your want. Tonssssss of white cheddar cheese, freshly grated. If you do one thing, please do not buy bagged cheese. I beg of you. Nothing melts like freshly grated cheese.

The fritos, yes. Don’t forget. Or another chips of your choice for crunch. And cilantro, because some of us just looooove when our chili tastes like soap. Oh and limes! Don’t leave out the limes. A spritz of a slice is perfect and can add a ton of flavor.

chili cheddar cheese polenta I howsweeteats.com

Now this is totally going to be your dinner tonight. Right?

chili cheddar cheese polenta I howsweeteats.com

Chili Cheese Polenta

5 from 3 votes
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small batch chili

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 ounces ground beef, I used 90% lean
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can tomato puree


  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 3/4 cup polenta, coarse grind cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces white cheddar cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/3 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup freshly snipped chives
  • a few handfuls of corn chips
  • sliced limes for spritzing


small batch chili

  • In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions, peppers and garlic. Stir to coat in the oil then cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, paprika, chili powder, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Add in the tomato paste. Stir well to distribute the spices and paste, cooking for another 5 minutes. Add in the ground beef and break it apart with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef cooks through, about 10 minutes.
  • Add in the sugar, canned tomatoes and puree, stirring well. Bring the soup to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes or so. After 30 minutes, taste and season additionally if desired. Sometimes I like to add more cumin, salt or pepper. Go by your tastes!


  • While the chili is simmering, bring the chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan. Slowly whisk in the polenta Turn the heat down to medium low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens. Once the mixture has come together and the cornmeal is thoroughly combined, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook until the polenta is creamy and resembles the consistency of oatmeal, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. If at any time the polenta looks parched, dry or too thick, add in some extra chicken stock ¼ cup at a time. After 30 minutes, stir in the butter, cheese, salt and pepper.
  • To serve, spoon the polenta into bowls, jars or cups. Cover with a hearty helping of chili (add some cheese in between if desired), then add all the toppings: cheese, sour cream, cilantro, red onion, chives and chips. EAT.

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