People have lots of opinions when it comes to chili. Texas style. New Mexico style. Cincinnati style. Kansas City style. (I’m from California, so I have no real loyalty to any one doctrine.) I love a big hearty bowl of chili when the weather cools down, but until recently, I was convinced that I didn’t much care for vegetarian chili. It seemed like most I tried were just poor imitations of the real deal – more like watery bean soup than something you’d have a cook-off over. But I’ve been trying to make more veggie-rich meals lately, and I’ve made it my mission to put together a vegetarian chili recipe that can stand up to the meat version. This is it. It has a good balance of earthy beans and sweet winter veggies, but for me, the success is in its satisfying spice and thickness. A few notes on this, in case the recipe looks annoyingly complicated:
- I’m a huge fan of Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt, and I based my blend of dried chiles (and some other ingredients) on his Serious Eats recipe. This approach takes a little more planning and cook time than just throwing in some chili powder, but it makes for a really nice, complex flavor. If you don’t feel like doing this, you can obviously ignore me and use cayenne, chili powder and a couple chipotles in adobo sauce, and it’ll still be pretty darn good.
- The rest of the ingredients are also flexible and forgiving. Use fewer vegetables or different kinds of beans if you like. Leave out the bourbon or masa harina or whatever you don’t have on hand; as long as you have some beans, veggies, spices, tomato and enough liquid to tie it all together, you win.
Make this for a crowd, and no one will miss the meat.
- Chile puree:
- 2 dried mild to medium chiles (ancho, pasillo, Anaheim or mulato)
- 2 dried sweet chiles (New Mexico, ñora, choricera or costeño)
- 2 dried spicy chiles (chipotle or arbol)
- 2 canned chipotles in adobo (seeds removed)
- 2 cups water
- 2 T. vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 small carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 small red bell peppers, diced
- 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 T. + 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 2 cans black beans (liquid reserved)
- 2 cans garbanzo beans (liquid reserved)
- 1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
- 4 T. tomato paste
- 1 T. soy sauce
- 1 T. unsweetened cocoa
- 2-3 T. bourbon
- 2 T. masa harina or cornmeal
- Fixins: sour cream, cilantro, cheese, lime, hot sauce, tortilla chips, etc.
- Remove seeds from dried chiles. Saute them without oil in a Dutch oven for about 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Place them in a glass liquid measuring cup; add canned chipotles and 2 cups of water. Microwave for 5 minutes. Puree in a blender or carefully pulse with an immersion blender.
- In the Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Saute onion, carrots and bell peppers until they start to get tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Stir in sweet potatoes, squash, beans and tomatoes. Add tomato paste and 1 cup reserved bean liquid. Gradually add chile puree, stirring and tasting for spice. Add soy sauce and cocoa powder, plus more water or bean liquid if mixture is too dry.
- Bring to a light boil, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer, stirring often, for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Add more water or bean liquid during cooking if needed. Stir in the bourbon and the masa or cornmeal. Garnish with your favorite fixins.