Homemade chili is quintessence of Southwestern cuisine. I grew up in Texas where chili had 2 rules: it’s beef and no beans. Still, my mom made a delicious homemade chili with hamburger and beans so I like chili with beans. When I was a vegetarian, my fondness for beans came in handy as I leaned to cook with many varieties of beans as an inexpensive, nutritious source of protein. Even though I eat meat today, I still prefer to eat a plant-based diet. Some recipes I developed as a vegetarian are better tasting to me than the meat-version of the same dish.
Practically nothing is more satisfying than cooking up a spicy batch of “red” on a cold weather day. My version of chili is a modified version of my mom’s recipe, using both fresh and canned vegetables, dry and fresh seasonings, canned beans and vegetarian soy protein instead of meat. Just try it. You will not miss the meat or the heat. Not a chili flavored vegetable soup, this is a hearty one-pot meal and should be served with cornbread or tortilla chips as a main dish topped with pickled jalapeno peppers, cilantro, sour cream and grated Monterey jack cheese.
Lucy’s Vegetarian Chili
Serves 4 very hungry people
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, medium, peeled and chopped (or small sweet potato, peeled and diced)
1 poblano chili pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
6 ounces prepared vegetarian ground beef
1 28 ounce canned whole tomatoes (or 5-7 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 15 ounce can pinto beans, drained
1 15 ounce can black beans, drained
2 tablespoons Mexican-style dark chili powder
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaves
1 dried or canned chipotle or smoked habanero chili (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
ground black pepper to taste
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a deep cast iron skillet or large soup pot. Before it begins to smoke, add onions and sauté until softened, about two minutes. Add the tomato paste, carrot and the poblano chili and sauté another minute until paste has caramelized a bit and vegetables are almost tender. Stir in the vegetarian ground beef and allow to “brown” for three more minutes.
Add tomatoes. With a potato masher, crush the tomatoes and paste until tomatoes are slightly chunky and paste has been completely dissolved. Add beans to pot and stir. Stir in chili powder, garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes and oregano. Cover and continue to cook 5 minutes longer. Then add the sugar, bay leaf and dried chipotle, if using and stir. Cover and lower the heat to simmer and cook for fifteen minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent it from scorching. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Dish into chili bowls and pass toppings around the table.
If not using fresh, in season tomatoes (you’re making this in winter, correct?) I like to use either Whole Foods 365 Organic Whole Peeled tomatoes or Muir Glen’s Fire Roasted canned tomatoes smashed with a potato masher or shredded with two knives. Try canning quarts of your own tomatoes next summer.
One of the better meat substitutes on the market is Lite Line brand Smart Ground meatless ground beef, original flavored. It is high in sodium so you may opt to go light on or completely omit additional salt.