Let’s be clear: Chili-Cheese Fries are comfort food, with a junk food edge.

The standard fast-food version of chili cheese fries is basically a hot mess, with a pile of greasy French fries, topped with a ladle of beefy chili and handfuls of melted cheese. The messiness is part of the appeal. The combo is a popular bar food, which goes well with beer. It’s kind of like a potato-based version of nachos, or a chili-doused version of the poutine of Canada.

I didn’t grow up eating chili fries. But they have become my antidote to winter. It’s OK to fight back the darkness with chili fries when you make them the way I do. This hot mess is tweaked to make it a perfectly acceptable dinner, with a hint of junk-foodie-ness to make you feel like you’re getting away with something.

To start with, you will make a really thick black bean and vegetable chili. You can do this with a quick sauté of onions and carrots and your desired level of chili powder heat. I start with a tablespoon, but if you like more fire, add more, or supplement with cayenne. A little simmering will thicken the colorful chili so it’s manageable on the plate.

For the fries, you are going to roast slices of sweet potato, tossed with olive oil and paprika. It’s up to you whether you want a thicker, more sturdy fry, or a thin strip. That’s the joy of home cooking; you get to decide. I went with thin fries, which cook more quickly. If you aren’t up for slicing, you can buy frozen sweet potato fries, too.

Once your chili is bubbling gently on the stove and your fries are browned and tender throughout, you can build your epic plate or bowl of chili fries. Top them with shredded Cheddar, or go vegan with dairy-free cheese, or even diced avocado. A sprinkling of fresh cilantro gives it a little green, and you can dig in.

Beer is optional, but you will definitely feel warm, cozy and comforted — without that junk food guilt.


Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.