For the second installation of the Official Chili Cook-Off 2010, I envisioned serving a smoky vegetarian chili to a discerning group of non-meat eaters as they cheered on the Giants with zeal. How tough could that be?
I started by clicking on the NFL schedule. Just as farmers have their almanac, I rely on major NFC rivalries to plot our chili dinners, and selecting this Sunday was a no-brainer. The Giants were slated to play the Eagles, whose quarterback Michael Vick recently left prison to tear up the football field. A big game for sure, but I wasn’t too worried about our prospect. Giants' defense took out five quarterbacks this season – a stat serious enough to frighten even a convict like Vicks.
I just needed a few vegetarian guinea pigs, another relatively easy task given that my brother hasn't eaten meat in over 15 years and I have several friends and neighbors who don't either. Unfortunately, the game started rather late and my vegetarian base had other plans, like visiting parents, working and putting kids to bed. So I readjusted the schedule for my brother –aka Guinea Pig #1—and focused on the chili itself.
Along with lasagna, vegetarian chili has long served as a go-to option when entertaining herbivores. After all, beans and vegetables are hardy and full of protein. Love the concept, but don't care for most veggie chili recipes, which often are too lazy –tasting like glorified tomato sauce and beans— or try too hard, jammed with incongruous meat-simulators like Bulgar.
My dream chili would convey the same smoky flavor and rich texture as the beans at Hill Country, an excellent Texan BBQ joint not far from Madison Square Garden. Trouble is that Hill Country drenches those beans in bacon grease, something Baby Bro would not appreciate.
Rather than pig fat, I added sweet paprika, ancho chili powder, and dried whole chili pepper to Cooking Light’s Chunky Vegetarian Chili. Then I bulked up the texture by playing around with the bean ratio (not a huge fan of black beans which taste like squid ink to) and adding dried porcini mushrooms. Next time, I will do fresh porcinis with a handful of shitake, well rinsed and diced. The dried ones are difficult to clean, and come unevenly cut. My husband was not pleased to find an oversized porcini in his bowl, asking, “Did I win some sort of prize?”
Sort of like the dried porcinis, the game around which I framed Chili Cook Off #2 was disappointing. Giants suffered a devastating loss to Philadelphia, due in part to an embarrassing fumble by our QB Eli Manning –diminishing my hopes for Chili Play Off: The Giants Version.
The Jeanne always said, “The key to happiness is to leave room for serendipity.” And, our evening was full of unanticipated delight. We were joined by my brother’s family and –a special treat— our beloved cousin from Vancouver for an early Sunday supper. Though 100% of the under 7-year old crowd refused chili in favor of boxed mac ‘n cheese, we enjoyed watching them gallivant around the apartment nonetheless. And Ezra, my token vegetarian, gave the chili a hearty stamp of approval.
Finally, I inadvertently postponed writing this post until today, what would have been the 105th birthday of Gert, my dainty football-loving grandmother. Serendipity indeed.
Smoky Vegetarian Chili
1 tbsp canola oil
2 cups chopped onion
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp Ancho chile
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 – 2 whole dried chilis, crumbled
¼ bottle beer
½ cup of porcini mushrooms, rinsed well and diced evenly
¼ cup shitake mushroom, rinsed well and diced evenly.
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 cans of stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans, reinsed and drained
2 cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and dried chilis, sautee for 5 minutes or until tender. Add beer and let cook down. Add sugar and remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.