I have tried to make good vegetarian chili many times over the years—and have consistently failed. Instead of hearty and filling, it had always turned out thin, soupy and unsatisfying. We eat lots of soup and I love it—when I intend to make soup. But I don’t like chili soup. So I consulted the expert cook in the family, my daughter MK. A couple of years ago she came up with a delicious recipe for chili on her blog. The secret ingredients? Mushrooms, sweet potatoes and my own spice blend rather than chili powder.
If you’re vegetarian, you likely eat lots of mushrooms. They add meatiness to meatless dishes and that essential umami taste. The sweet potatoes add not only lots of flavor but some starchiness to the chili—making it thicker, more chili-like and less soup-like. I ran out of dried crushed chilies but I do have some whole dried red chilies so I crushed them in my mortar and pestle for this. Ditto for the allspice. I ground up three dried berries. The spices made a huge difference. I can’t stop eating this…
Chili is a great example of a versatile use-what’s-on-hand recipe, which both saves you money and reduces waste.
- Add various vegetables. Chop up carrots and celery and sauté them along with the onions. The recommended onion:carrot:celery ratio for a mirepoix is 2:1:1. But in use-it-up mode, don’t worry too much about that. Corn would taste great in this. Squash would work well in place of the sweet potatoes. Chop up those few kale leaves sitting in the crisper drawer. Have a green onion? Chop it and sprinkle it on top of the chile just as you serve it. Get creative.
- Add a small amount of grains if you like. Do you have a few spoonfuls of cooked rice in the refrigerator that you need to consume? In they go. Dried bulgur would taste good. Toss a small amount (1/4 cup or 1/2 a cup) in when you add the sweet potatoes and beans.
- You can make chili with beans other than kidney beans. The first time I made this, I used butter beans that had been in my cupboard for a while. They tasted great—very creamy and, well, buttery. Black beans work too. Or a combo. Let your pantry dictate what you’ll use. (I use my pressure cooker to cook my beans.)
- Save water too! This recipe calls for some water. Use just enough to barely cover your vegetables so the chili doesn’t turn out too runny. If you reserve some of the cooking liquid from your beans and use that in place of tap water, you’ll thicken this a bit more while conserving water.
- Don’t shell out extra money for chili powder. If you have some standard spices on hand, you don’t need to buy a jar of chili powder too. In the pic below, you can see that organic chili powder at my Whole Foods contains chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, garlic (skip it, this recipe calls for fresh), rice concentrate (skip whatever this is), allspice and cloves. Industrial chili powder contains chili peppers (and silicon dioxide…ummm…no), cumin, garlic and oregano. The spices I use in this recipe taste really, really good.
I tweaked MK’s recipe ever so slightly and have posted it here (with her permission).
In the winter, I use tomatoes that I've roasted and frozen in glass jars. I cut small tomatoes into halves or quarters, arrange them on a cookie sheet and roast at 275°F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until they are softened and sweet. I then allow them to cook, pack them into jars and freeze them. These replace the need for canned tomatoes.
- 1 cup dried kidney beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions, diced
- 2 large bell peppers, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried chillies
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon allspice
- 4 cups sliced mushrooms
- 4 cups roasted tomatoes (or 2 pounds fresh tomatoes)
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup of cooked bean water
- Soak beans for approximately 8 hours. Cook in a pressure cooker, slow cooker or pot on the stove.
- If using fresh tomatoes, in a perfect world, blanch and peel them. Bring a pot of water to a boil. On the bottom of each tomato, score an X. Boil the tomatoes for one minute, drain and immediately immerse in a bowl of ice water. Peel and dice.
- Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook until softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook for a minute, stirring.
- Add spices and cook for a minute, stirring.
- Add mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes until the moisture is released.
- For fresh tomatoes, add and cook until they've broken down a bit, about 5 minutes. For roasted tomatoes, add and move on to the next step.
- Add the kidney beans, sweet potatoes, salt and just enough of the bean water to barely cover everything.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender.