A bowl of steaming chili is always a good thing on a cold winter day. When that bowl is quick, healthful and as easy to put together as this Black Bean Chili — and topped with crispy cornbread croutons — then it's really a good thing.

Wintertime is when pantry meals are the most appreciated. When it's cold outside I try to make sure my pantry is stocked with cans of low-sodium or salt-free beans, tomatoes, broth or stock and onions, because I know if I have those products on hand, getting a delicious meal on the table isn't going to mean a trip to the grocery store.

When I can, I often choose salt-free products. Not because I'm particularly sensitive to salt or anyone in my family has dietary needs that call for a salt-free diet, but because I like to control how my food tastes. When I start out with products that are already extremely salty, I lose some of that control. I prefer to add as much salt as I think is just right, rather than have it decided for me by the broth or the butter I'm adding.

Of course, making my own stock, canning my own tomatoes and beginning every bean-based recipe with dried beans would be the surest way to get a handle on the sodium, but it's simply not always in the cards. Weeknight (or even busy weekend) cooking sometimes requires the help of convenience foods. Fortunately, many of those foods now offer low- or no-salt options.

When I do add salt to my food, which is almost all the time, I like to add it early in the cooking process. This allows the salt to marry with the other ingredients and do the job it's meant to do: highlight the flavor of the other ingredients in the dish. When you salt only at the end of the cooking process, you tend to just taste the salt.

Stay inside where it's warm and reach into the pantry for dinner. A warm bowl of chili, with just the right amount of salt, is only minutes away.

Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at

meredith@meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.