Chili in the air

In anticipation of a high temperature in the 50s tomorrow, I broke all previous personal chili-making records.

My vegetarian chili recipe has evolved from an incredible batch I made in the kitchen of a dear friend during my first trip to San Francisco, in October 2010. Allie and I prepared an enormous spread for friends and family that night, including this chili. I have not forgotten that trip, and as a testament to my good friends and it’s deliciousness, I continue to make this chili on a routine basis.  I am not dogmatic about the ingredient list– I build on the essentials with whatever I have or whatever sounds good. I’m particularly proud of this batch not only for its spectacular volume, but because even the beans are from scratch. I usually end up using canned beans, so this feels like an achievement. Here’s the drill:

ESSENTIAL: Saute an onion, 3 cloves of garlic in olive oil.

CHOICE: bell pepper, if you have it.

ESSENTIAL: When the onion is translucent, add your first round of spices: cumin, coriander, tumeric, chili powder, and cayenne if you like spice/don’t plan to add a hot pepper. I tend not to measure, but you can’t go wrong with 1/2 tbsp of cumin, coriander, and chili powder. I’d do a hare less tumeric, and significantly less cayenne.

CHOICE: I like to add a canned chipotle chili here, if I have one on hand. You can buy chipotles canned in adobo sauce almost anywhere.

ESSENTIAL: Cook for a few minutes, stirring.

ESSENTIAL: Add canned or fresh tomato, with liquid. Quantity will depend on the amount of chili you are making. You can use diced, or whole, and dice yourself. Pre-diced is easiest. Stir.

ESSENTIAL: Add 2-6 of the following; raw, roasted, or steamed: zucchini, summer squash, corn, sweet potato, winter squash, eggplant. (I’d suggest pre-roasting winter squash and eggplant. The others are fine raw or steamed).

CHOICE: Yesterday, I went with roasted zucchini, yellow squash, sweet potato, and corn. This is attributable to my excitement over using the oven again after such a long summer! I did leave the corn raw- just scraped it right off the cob and into the bowl.

ESSENTIAL: Next up, round 2 of spices: basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Bay leaves are also always a good call.  I’d go with 2 tsp each of basil and oregano, and S&P to taste. (If you pre-seasoned roasted vegetables, you may want to modify the amounts you add in this step).

ESSENTIAL: Add your beans.

CHOICE: Black beans, red beans, white beans, garbanzo beans– anything you like. Yesterday, I cooked a mixture of black and red beans from scratch, and let them finish cooking in the chili.

ESSENTIAL: Lemon juice. Amount will depend on the volume of your product, and how much you like citrus. Squeeze. Taste. You can always add more.

ESSENTIAL: Simmer for as long as you can resist the seductive aroma of your chili.

CHOICE: Top with fresh cilantro and/or sour cream and/or shredded cheese.

The many ingredients and substantial prep may sound daunting, but what I’ve realized is, as this chili became a favorite in my repertoire, I seemed to perpetually have the majority of the ingredients on hand. It usually comes down to picking up an extra sweet potato or some squash, when the craving visits. Furthermore, the process has become almost therapeutic. I love to make this chili; it is imbued with the memories of my trip to SF and all of the succor of a hot bowl on so many cold nights. I wouldn’t be surprised if others have a similar experience.


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