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Yes, this chili is hearty

(ran ST edition)

Winter may have waned, but the temperature need not be chilly to enjoy a good kettle of chili.

The good news for vegetarians is that hearty chili need not rely on meat for the savory punch that's so important. Nor does it have to take hours to pull together.

The first step to streamlining chili is using canned beans, rather than dried. Dried beans can have a fresher flavor and crisper texture than canned, but they also call for hours of soaking followed by heavy-duty boiling or pressure-cooking.

The danger of using canned beans is that they turn to mush if cooked too long. To keep things tasting fresh, heat the spices in olive oil at the start of the recipe, allowing their flavors to deepen and mimic that of long-cooked chili.

So: We've solved the problem of keeping the beans firm while developing the taste of long-simmered spices. Now to the issue of a deep, savory taste, without which a chili might as well be any old bean stew.

This problem also is solved at the start of the recipe. A quick saute of soy meat and onion in a little tamari or soy sauce provides a rich, meaty flavor that carries the rest of the dish.

The following recipe is a good base that stands well on its own, but also welcomes some wonderful variations. For a Mexican flair, add 2 teaspoons instant coffee and 2 teaspoons cocoa powder when adding the tomatoes.

For a New England-style chili, add 1{ cups fresh or frozen cranberries and of a cup maple syrup for a chili that marries sweet and tart with hot and spicy.

The spicing of the basic recipe tends to the mild side; crank it up if your taste buds can handle it.

Vegetarian Chili

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2{ teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

} teaspoon cinnamon

} teaspoon coriander

} teaspoon cumin

{ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

12-ounce bag ground beef substitute (usually found in frozen food section)

1 medium onion, diced

2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 cloves garlic, minced

28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 cup water

Two 15-ounce cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup corn kernels (frozen are fine)

} pound sweet potatoes, cut into {-inch chunks (roughly 1 large potato)

Combine oil, chili powder, salt, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and red pepper flakes in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until spices are fragrant.

Add ground meat substitute, onion and soy sauce, and saute, stirring frequently, until onions are just translucent. Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Heat until mixture reaches a strong simmer, about 5 minutes, then reduce to low, cover and let cook for 25 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender. Stir occasionally to ensure chili doesn't stick or burn.

Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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