Chili needn't be just a bowl of seasoned beef, topped with tomatoes, onions and beans (if that's your preference). In fact, these days some downright untraditional chili dishes are being cooked up -- from vegetarian chili and turkey chili to the famous hot green chili of New Mexico.

For the more adventurous cooks with the more indomitable palates, here are some unconventional chili dishes to try. And for the tried-and-true, there's also a chili recipe said to be LBJ's favorite. The common ingredient to all: chili powder or fresh chilies, of course.

VENISON CHILI WITH BLACK BEANS, ORANGE PEEL AND SOUR CREAM

(8 servings)

Venison may well have been the original chili meat, and it remains a favorite of serious chili cooks both for its resilient texture, which holds up well under long simmering, and for its rich flavor.

With venison hard to find and also expensive, lean diced lamb can be substituted; it still results in a zesty combination.

1/2 pound bacon, finely chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 pounds boneless venison or lean lamb trimmed of all sinew and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 large yellow onions, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 4 cups)

8 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/3 cup mild, unseasoned chili powder

3 tablespoons ground cumin, from toasted seeds

1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

6 cups beef stock or canned beef broth

Salt, to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal, as optional thickener

2 16-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

FOR GARNISH:

Sour cream

Orange peel

Minced clean fresh cilantro leaves

In a 4 1/2-to-5-quart heavy flameproof casserole or Dutch oven, combine the bacon and oil. Set the casserole over medium heat and cook, stirring once or twice, until the bacon is crisp and has rendered its fat, 15 to 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove the bacon and drain it on paper towels. Pour half the rendered fat into a large skillet and set aside.

Return the casserole to medium heat. Add the venison and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the meat loses all red color, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, lower the heat slightly, and cook, stirring once or twice, until very tender, about 20 minutes.

Scrape the onions and garlic into the casserole with the venison. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in the beef stock and the reserved bacon and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours.

Taste and correct the seasoning, adding salt if needed and water if the chili is thickening too rapidly, or use the optional cornmeal if it seems too thin. Continue to simmer, stirring often, for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender and the chili is reduced to your liking.

To further thicken the chili, or to bind any surface fats, stir in the the black beans and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the beans are heated through.

To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of orange peel and cilantro.

Per serving: 655 calories, 73 gm protein, 37 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 6 gm saturated fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 1219 mg sodium.

From "The Manhattan Chili Co. Southwest American Cookbook," by Michael McLaughlin (Crown Publishers Inc., 1986)

TURKEY CHILI

(6 servings)

This version, made with lean ground turkey breast in lieu of beef, is as satisfying and filling on a cold winter night as any you have tasted. Go easy on the cayenne pepper; a little goes a long way in this recipe.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced

1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey

2 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons powdered cocoa

3/4 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, depending on desired strength

1/4 cup tarragon vinegar

2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee

2 14-ounce cans plum tomatoes, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups cooked black beans

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or deep skillet. Add the onion, garlic and red and green bell peppers; saute', stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the ground turkey and saute' for 5 minutes, stirring constantly and breaking up any lumps with spoon.

Stir in the flour, chili powder, cumin and cocoa. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes to cook the spices. Add the remaining ingredients except the black beans and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer the chili, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes, until thick and the turkey is tender. Add the black beans and cook for 5 additional minutes.

Note: The chili can be made up to three days in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered with plastic wrap. It can also be frozen for up to a month.

Per serving: 349 calories, 42 gm protein, 29 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 79 mg cholesterol, 422 mg sodium.

From "The Gourmet Gazelle Cookbook" by Ellen Brown (Bantam Books, 1989)

NAVAJO GREEN CHILI

(6 servings)

Novices are too green for this chili. It is a favorite of the Navajos and they like it hot. Go light on the peppers when starting out; you can always add more -- this is a warning that should be adhered to, no matter how hot you think you like your chili.

3 pounds pork shoulder, fat and bone removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (reserve fat)

1/3 cup flour in a heavy paper bag

3 medium onions, coarsely chopped

4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 16-ounce cans whole green chilies, drained, seeded and cut into 2-inch slices

2 16-ounce cans whole tomatoes

6-ounce can tomato paste

3 cups water

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)

Melt the pork fat in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pork cubes with flour by shaking them in the paper bag with the flour. Add the cubes to the skillet a few at a time, stirring to brown evenly. Remove the cubes to a 5-quart Dutch oven or other heavy pot. Continue browning the pork cubes in the skillet until all are browned. Add the onions and garlic to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add to the pot with the pork. Stir the remaining ingredients into the pork-and-onion mixture. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1/2 hour. Taste, adjust seasonings and cook for 1/2 hour longer.

Per serving: 669 calories, 62 gm protein, 26 gm carbohydrates, 35 gm fat, 12 gm saturated fat, 219 mg cholesterol, 1083 mg sodium.

From "Chili Madness" by Jane Butel (Workman Publishing, 1980)

BLACK BEAN VEGETABLE CHILI

(8 servings)

This spicy, full-bodied black bean chili is made more contemporary with the addition of sweet corn. Make it as hot as you like, and serve three garnishes for cooling down -- sour cream, scallions, and grated Monterey Jack.

1 eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 tablespoon coarse (kosher) salt

1/2 cup olive oil

2 onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 yellow bell pepper, cored seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice

4 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

8 ripe plum tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves

2 1/2 teaspoons best-quality chili powder

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Salt, to taste

2 cups cooked black beans

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Sour cream, for garnish

Grated Monterey Jack cheese, for garnish

3 scallions (green onions), white bulb and 3 inches green, thinly sliced, for garnish

Place the eggplant in a colander. Toss it with the coarse salt, and let it sit for 1 hour to remove the moisture. Pat dry with paper towels.

Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large flameproof casserole. Add the onions, zucchini, bell peppers and garlic. Saute' over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup oil in a skillet, and cook the eggplant over medium-high heat until just tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to the casserole.

Add the tomatoes, broth, 1/2 cup of the parsley, all of the basil and spices to the casserole. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the black beans, corn, dill, and lemon juice. Cook another 15 minutes. Adjust the seasonings, and stir in the remaining 1/2 cup parsley. Serve hot, garnished with a dollop of sour cream, grated cheese and scallions.

Per serving: 272 calories, 8 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, .1 mg cholesterol, 124 mg sodium.

From "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, 1989)

ITALIAN CHILI

8 servings)

This chili borrows a few Italian flavors. Go ahead and make it even if fresh fennel is unavailable; it still tastes good.

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped fennel bulb

1 fresh red chili pepper, seeded and minced (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)

1 pound hot Italian sausages, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 3/4 cups chicken stock

1 cup crushed tomatoes in pure'e

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

4 ripe plum tomatoes, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Sour cream, for garnish

Heat the oil in a dutch oven. Add the onion, fennel and chili, and cook, stirring, over medium heat, 5 minutes. Then add the sausages, and cook another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken pieces and cook, stirring, 10 minutes.

Tilt the pan, and spoon off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. Stir in the stock, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, oregano and cumin into the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Stir in the corn, chopped tomatoes and basil. Cook 5 minutes. Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream.

Per serving: 465 calories, 37 gm protein, 15 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 8 gm saturated fat, 124 mg cholesterol, 829 mg sodium.

From "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, 1989)

PEDERNALES RIVER CHILI

(8 servings)

Reported to have been Lyndon B. Johnson's favorite, this recipe comes from deep in the heart of Texas.

4 pounds lean beef, coarse chili grind

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cups boiling water

28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained

4 tablespoons ground hot red chili

2 tablespoons ground mild red chili

Put meat in a large saute' pan over medium-high heat, break up any lumps with a fork and cook, stirring occasionally until the meat is evenly browned. Drain fat.

Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the salt, oregano, cumin, water, and tomatoes.

Gradually stir in the ground chilies, testing until you achieve the degree of hotness and flavor that suits your palate. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.

Per serving: 611 calories, 59 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 37 gm fat, 15 gm saturated fat, 189 mg cholesterol, 853 mg sodium. Adapted from "Chili Madness" by Jane Butel (Workman Publishing, 1980)