I love chili, it's one of my favorite dishes, but I've never made a vegetarian chili before. Last night, however, I didn't have any meat in the house and Dan has decided that store bought ground beef grosses him out. So until I get a meat grinder, apparently we will not be eating ground meat (I have yet to find out how hard and fast this rule is for him because sometimes I just want a hamburger).
This recipe is basically a great jump off point for any kind of vegetarian chili you want to make. Use whatever vegetables you have in the house, whatever beans are in your pantry, and it will be delicious. I'm including cilantro and lime in the recipe even though I didn't have any to use because they were definitely missing from the dish. It tastes great without them but it would taste even better with them.
It always easiest to get all your prep done in advance that way you don't have to worry about burning anything while you're frantically chopping vegetables. So I cut up my onion, carrots, and tomatoes before I did anything else.
I also opened and drained my can of beans and opened my little can of tomato paste. Prepping everything before starting is THE MOST IMPORTANT lesson I think I have learned in cooking. It seems silly to everyone who already does this, but if you're still trying to do everything all at once, waiting until all of your prep is done will really revolutionize your cooking experience.
Cooking your spices in oil is extremely important and it's a step that a lot of people don't know about (hell, I didn't know about it until sometime over the last year or two). Spices need this step to really release their full flavors. This isn't even adding an extra step to your cooking, it's more of a rearranging of when you add your spices. Now they are at the very beginning. I start my olive oil and spices together in a cold pan and slowly cooked them over medium heat until they were darkening and sizzling. They kind of clump together at first, so I made sure to stir them every so often. Once everything began to heat up, they loosened and spread out more.
Then I began to add my other ingredients. First the onion, allowing those to cook and blend with the spices for about five minutes. I also added another drop of oil because it was a little dry and starting to stick to the pan. Then I added in the tomato paste and let that cook and loosen up for about a minute.
At this point, I also deglazed the pan with a splash of dry red wine. I wasn't initially planning to do this, but things were sticking a bit to the pan and I wanted to get them up before they burned. This is a good trick to know because it can be used fairly frequently. One little splash doesn't add a lot of flavor, but it does loosen everything up. Tomato-based dishes tend to work really well with a little bit of red wine also.
Then I added my carrots and I decided to steam them for a little while before moving on to the next step. Steaming the carrots will significantly shorten the cooking time rather than letting them just simmer uncovered with everything else. To do this, all you need to do is add a light layer of water to the bottom of the pan - it doesn't even have to fully cover the bottom, but enough so that steam is created and it doesn't just immediately evaporate before you cover it.
I let the carrots cook covered for about 5-8 minutes (with a quick peak for the picture and a quick stir!). Then I added the chopped tomatoes, the beans, a dash of hot sauce, and brought that to a simmer. Because this is a quickie recipe, I didn't bother peeling or coring the tomatoes. I find both of those things tedious and only do it when absolutely necessary. The skin disappears into the dish without a lot of cooking and I eat tomatoes whole (avoiding the one small part where the stem is), so I don't really find it problematic to just cut up whole tomatoes without fussing over skin and cores. If you feel strongly about this, by all means skin and core (the next time I do this, I will document it, it's easy, it's just a detour).
Then I covered it and let it cook for about another 10 minutes. After this, just drop the heat to low, let it simmer uncovered, and wait for your eating companion to get home to serve!
The super secret ingredient, which my mom picked up from somewhere, is this (and it's going to sound gross and you're not going to want to, you're going to think I'm crazy, but try it at least once before you swear it off!): five minutes before the chili is finished, stir in a teaspoon of creamy peanut butter. It thickens it up and it adds a round, nutty flavor that helps balance the acidity of the dish.
I served mine with couscous (this is my new favorite side!) and some sauteed broccoli. I want to show you a quick trick I learned about broccoli from America's Test Kitchen.
So you buy beautiful broccoli and it comes with all of this stem attached. And you hack it off and you lament that you have to throw it away/put it right into the compost pile. After all, there's a lot of healthy stuff in that stem.
But fret no more! Cut off the stem and cut it into manageable pieces. Make sure to trim the woody end off the bottom. Then stand it up and trim away the tough, stringy outer layer:
Slice these into coins, between 1/4 and 1/8 of an inch. Break apart the crowns with your fingers. For stem pieces that are closer to the crowns that you don't want still attached to the florets, you can just chop those right into coins. They're not really woody because they're so close to the florets, you would eat them unpeeled anyway if you left them attached.
I heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium. Then I added the stem-coins first, allowing them to cook until they were beginning to brown. Then I added the florets, tossed them to coat and cooked them until I was happy they were done (about five minutes if you like crispy broccoli, longer if you want softer stems and very soft florets). Dan was running a little late that night, so I actually only cooked them on medium heat for about three minutes and I let them finish cooking on low. By the time Dan got home they were perfectly cooked and still warm (broccoli looses temperature notoriously fast, if you've eaten a meal with my father - who eats A LOT of broccoli - you would know this). What's nice about finishing the broccoli at such a low temperature in a nonstick skillet is that the florets brown and crips up without burning.
Dan got home, I poured us both glasses of merlot, dug a little well into the couscous for the chili, and served it up:
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs Mexican chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 big onion - chopped
2 Tbs tomato paste
splash dry red wine
3 carrots - peeled and sliced into 1/4" rounds
1/8 cup water
2 tomatoes - coarsely chopped
1 can red kidney beans
1 big handful cilantro - coarsley chopped
1/8 tsp hot sauce
1/2 lime - squeezed for it's juice
1 tsp creamy peanut butter (use half if your nervous about this step)
In a cold pan add the olive oil, chili powder, paprika, and cayenne. Turn the heat on medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until spices start to brown and sizzle.
Add the onion, stir to coat with spices. Add a little more olive oil if the pan looks really dry. Sprinkle the onions with salt. Cook about five minutes until the onions are translucent.
Add tomato paste, stirring and breaking up large chunks. Cook about one minute.
Deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine. Once added, use a spatula to scrap up all browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Add carrots, stir to coat. Add the water and cover, allowing the carrots to steam for about 5-8 minutes. Stir once. Cook longer for softer carrots in the final dish.
Add tomatoes and beans, bring mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook undisturbed for about 10 minutes.
Drop heat to medium-low. Add hot sauce, lime juice, cilantro, and peanut butter. Stir until peanut butter is incorporated. Cook for a minute or two so the flavors blend.
Dorp heat to low until ready to serve.
Garnish with some more cilantro, lime wedges, and/or some grated or shredded cheese.