Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Serious Vegetarian Chili

We made this chili last night and it is unbelievable. I was looking for a vegetarian chili recipe and everything I could find (admittedly, I didn't look that hard) looked insipid or included zucchini or something. That is not what we were looking for. We wanted dark, thick, complex vegetarian chili that could impersonate the best meat chili. We wanted this chili.

Instead of working off the vegetarian chili recipes I found, I worked from the most complex and complicated chili recipe I could find. This one, posted by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats. Daunting? Yes. But I was confident we could do it, and equally confident that it would be delicious even without the short ribs. And, although there are several steps, the recipe was not difficult. It took us about 1 ½ hours of prep time.

Now, I'm not vegetarian and I believe that if we had included the short ribs and the anchovies the chili would have had even more flavor. But! We are trying to eat vegetarian once a week and so here we are. We were not disappointed.

The chili will last for up to one week in the refrigerator and its flavor will improve with time.

Canned dark red kidney beans can be used in place of dried. Add three 15-ounce cans (drained and rinsed) to pot in step 6 and add water as needed to adjust the thickness. The chili should be super rich and thick.


1 1/2 pound dried dark red kidney beans or other beans of your choice – we used homegrown Good Mother Stollard and Charlevoix (an heirloom kidney bean)
2 whole Ancho chilies, seeded and torn into rough 1-inch pieces
2 whole California chilies, seeded and torn into rough 1-inch pieces (see the original recipe for other chili options and of course, add more if you like it very spicy. I'm kind of a wimp with heat but this was perfect)
2 teaspoons soy sauce (dark mushroom kind preferred)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds, toasted, then ground
1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, toasted, then ground
2 whole cloves, toasted and ground
1 star anise, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon extra-finely ground coffee beans
1 ounce chopped unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, diced fine (about 1.5 cups)
1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
2 bay leaves
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup cider vinegar, plus more to taste
1 cup textured vegetable protein (TVP)
1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce (or other very mild vinegary hot sauce)
2 - 6 tablespoons light brown sugar, to taste (we used 6T and it ended up kinda sweet. The sweetness is delicious along with the fire)
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses

For the garnish (all suggestions optional):

Scallions, sliced fine
Cheddar, Jack, or Colby cheese, grated
Sour cream
Jalapeño or poblano peppers, diced and seeded
Onion, diced
Avocado, diced

Serves 6 to 10


1. Place beans and enough water to cover the beans by one inch in large pot. Bring to a boil, cover and soak at room temperature for one hour. Note: If your beans are relatively fresh (harvested in the last year) there is no need to pre-soak.

2. Toasting whole spices in a dry pan releases their essential oils and adds more fragrance to the finished dish. Place whole spices in a sauté pan, preferably non-stick, over medium-high heat and cook, stirring regularly, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. The spices are toasted when they are highly aromatic and have turned a shade darker. Grind the spices until fine in a mortar and pestle, an old coffee grinder or a spice grinder (if you are so lucky). Trust me, you do not want to bite down on a huge chunk of star anise.

3. Add dried chilies to large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stock pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until slightly darkened with intense, roasted aroma, 2 to 5 minutes. Do not allow to smoke. Try not to stand over the pot – your eyes will water!!

4. Add 1 cup water, using flat wooden spoon or stiff spatula to scrape browned bits off of bottom of pan. Reduce heat until water is at a bare simmer and cook until chilies have softened and liquid is reduced by half, 5 to 8 minutes. You may need to add more liquid and cook for longer – make sure you cook until the chilies are very soft. Transfer chilies and liquid to blender, add soy sauce, tomato paste, ground spices, coffee and chocolate, and blend at high speed, scraping down sides as necessary, until completely smooth puree is formed, about 2 minutes. Add a little more water if necessary. You should have a deeply fragrant, thick, amazing puree that will be the flavor base for the chili. It may remind you of mole. Set chili puree aside.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add fresh jalapeño, garlic, and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chili puree and cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot until chili mixture begins to fry and leaves a coating on bottom of pan, 2 to 4 minutes. Use a little water to get all of the chili puree from the blender. Add beans along with the soaking water and the bay leaves. If necessary, add more water – enough to cover the beans by one inch. Bring to a simmer, scraping bottom of pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat to lowest possible setting, and cook, with cover slightly ajar, for 1 hour. Add TVP, crushed tomatoes and cider vinegar and stir well. Cook with cover slightly ajar until beans are tender and broth is rich and lightly thickened, 2 to 3 1/2 hours longer, adding water if necessary to keep beans mostly submerged (a little protrusion is ok). Set a timer and check on the chili about every 30-45 minutes to check doneness and see if more water is needed.

6. Using tongs, remove and discard bay leaves. Add hot sauce, brown sugar and molasses and stir to combine. Season to taste with kosher salt, ground black pepper, and additional vinegar.

7. Serve immediately, or for best flavor, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight, or up to 1 week in sealed container. The chili will also freeze well. Reheat, and serve with desired garnishes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

100 Plates of Pasta

In '96 I spent a year abroad in Italy - Siena for a summer and Bologna for the school year. While I freely admit that very little studying actually occurred during my study abroad, I did make time for cooking and for painting. About half way through my year I hit upon the idea of combining the two, in a what was supposed to be an epic painting project, but ended up more of a study in food photography. My idea was to paint every single plate of pasta that I ate for half a year.
I figured, how hard could painting pasta be? I thought I would spend 6 hours after every dinner painting what I ate.
I quickly discovered that it took 30 hours to paint a pasta painting, not 6. And while I ended up painting only 3 and 1/2 pasta paintings, I did photograph nearly every plate of pasta I ate. I stood on my chair in restaurants, playing the bizarre American tourist. I took pictures of all noodles, be they lasagna, tortellini, or ramen. Sometimes I forgot til the end of the meal, so I have some pics of empty plates. I even have details on each photo scribbled in a journal, including the name of the dish and who cooked it. In the end there were 108 pics but I can only find 91.

A couple interesting "life imitates art" things happened during this project.
One was that midway through, I became overwhelmed by the number of paintings I was still promising myself to paint. So, logically, I stopped eating pasta altogether. I subsisted on beans, rice, etc for a couple weeks before I said to hell with it, and went back to eating pasta.
The other was that I became much more keenly aware of food presentation, and I would alter my dining lighting, use more attractive and contrasting ingredients, and even use food coloring in my pasta sauce to make the red more vibrant.

Here is a link to my Picasa gallery of pasta. The photos range from pretty to pretty gross, some in candle light and some under fluorescent. One of my favorites was the blue and green fettuccine with a bright pink salmon and cream sauce.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Abondigas / La Talpa

Out in the lawless, desolate wilds of west Los Angeles, there once stood is an old Mexican restaurant/bar called La Talpa. Ok so it's still there (11751 W Pico Blvd), between Bundy and Barrington. My folks used to take me there when I was little, and it set firmly in my heart (and arteries) a loving place for greasy cantina food. You know, tons of melted cheese, beans with lard, salty hard-shelled tacos, lots of red sauce, guacamole galore.
I remembered a lot of details about the place even before I revisited La Talpa several years ago (it was still as good). It's dark and hot, there's a neon green cactus outside (although I think that actually belongs to the Mexican restaurant next door), stained glass windows... and best of all, a huge mural taking up the whole wall next to the bar of an airplane flying over Mexico with a humongous Corona bottle in tow on a rope.
I never had a corona there, I was young enough where the orange crush in a glass bottle I'd get every time was the best thing about the place. This was before I knew about things like shady characters, health violations, high blood pressure and heart burn.
La Talpa is also where I fell in love with Abondigas soup. The corn cob pieces were my favorite, because they soaked up the soup like bread once you finished the kernels. Anyway this is not La Talpa's recipe, I just made it up an hour ago.

64 oz chicken broth (or 2 boxes)
1 diced potato
1 diced carrot
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 corn cob, cut into 2" sections
2 bay leaves
1 Tbl California chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste

2 lbs ground pork
other half of the yellow onion, minced
2 eggs
1 cup cooked rice
small handful of cilantro
2 tsp pureed chipotles*
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
dash black pepper

Boil broth til potatoes are done. I left the carrots out til a few minutes before it was done so that they'd be crunchy. And the corn too.
Throw the meatballs in and cook maybe 10 minutes or until they are done.

*I take a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, add 1 Tbl vegetable oil, and a little water. Blend til I have a sauce, keep it in the fridge in a squeeze bottle**. It's awesome. Great for marinades and tacos too.

**squeeze bottles from Dharma Trading Company are my best friends in the kitchen, besides beers. Searched high and low for months in all the cookware shops and grocery stores before I found Dharma. I use them for resins and chemicals in the studio too.

Shimanese Hot & Sour Soup

There's no story to go with this recipe, but it is a slightly amped version of my Dad's recipe. I remember he used to make this a lot, and it's the best I've ever found.

Shimanese Hot & Sour Soup

1/2 lb. lean pork, coarsely minced or ground
1/2” piece ginger, finely minced
Low-Salt Chicken Broth 46 oz. (box and a half)

soak in water to cover:
8 dried shiitake then rinse, slice thin
30 lotus buds then trim and cut in half

1 box firm tofu 3/8” cubed, rinsed & drained

combine seasonings
2 Tbl soy sauce (Pearl River Bridge Mushroom Soy preferred)
4 Tbl cornstarch mix well
mushroom soaking water drained of silt
2 Tbl dry sherry
1 tsp Tuong Ot Toi (Vietnamese chili garlic sauce)
5 Tbl. white vinegar or Chinese white vinegar
2 tsp. salt
dash white pepper
1 egg scrambled
2 lrg. green onion minced

Stir-fry pork and ginger in a little vegetable oil.
Add broth, shiitake/lotus buds, tofu. Bring to boil.
Recombine seasonings - add and bring to boil to thicken.
Stir in egg.
Serve topped with green onion.

Credit: Phil S.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Avi's beef jerky

One of my favorite things to cook when I was a teenager was beef jerky. And not just any beef jerky. This stuff was worlds better than that teriyaki cardboard in the store. These were thick and meaty strips, pungent with soy sauce and worchestershire sauce and hickory smoke, and covered in minced garlic, black pepper, and chili flakes. Spicy as hell, addictive, and as Avi proved, dangerous in large quantities.
There are many, er well, some things I am generous with, but sadly, food is not one of them. My beef jerky took a lot of time to make, not to mention cost (3 lbs of flank steak at $7/lb yeilded about 1 lb beef jerky), and I confess I hoarded it away and shared sparingly. Just slicing the steak into 1/4" strips and trimming all the fat off took about an hour. After marinading the meat for 5 hours I had to hang it on racks, blow dry it with a fan, and then smoke it for 12 hours, changing the wood chip pan every hour for the first 3 hours. It was quite an elaborate procedure, and one of the only ways you'd ever see me up before 7 am was when I was checking my beef jerky.
My high school friends I were professionals at cleaning out each other's fridges and cupboards. You could say it was our calling card. Over to Mike's house, pour the 6-pack of coke into the coffee pitcher to pass around, empty the nutri-grain box. Over to Fina's, wipe out their stashes of homemade frozen tamales and sky ginger ale. Avi's, straight Mango chutney in a bowl. So needless to say, I was always a bit anxious when Avi, our skinniest friend with the most insatiable appetite, would come to my house after I'd made a fresh batch of beef jerky. I can't blame Avi alone on the rapid evaporation of my jerky stockpile, but he certainly contributed.
Ah, but one day the gods were just. Avi had come over to hang out at my house, probably on a weekend, and consumed 1/2 lb of beef jerky. Covered in chili flakes and garlic, mind you. Marinated in soy sauce and worchestershire, that's like 25,000 grams of sodium. Anyway, he got sick from it and totally barfed. And to this day he cannot stomach my beef jerky. Sad perhaps, but the cows of America and my wallet are better off for it.
I scanned in a couple of my (originally my Dad's) beef jerky recipes, so as to preserve the authentic memos and battle stains.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


As Chris hinted at in his post, my role as partner-in-food frequently results in a little negative nancying (sugar, do you really think pickles dipped in habanero sauce is a good idea at 10pm?) but you'll never catch me raining on a cupcake parade, or really any type of bread or pastry parade.

When I'm not gently hectoring, I pay the bills working at a law firm. Our recent honeymoon in France caused me to realize that one of my favorite roles is as a food tourist. We'll be posting quite a few stories about our delicious and decadent experience in France so more on that later.

The only unpleasant side effect of food tourism is the 10 lbs I gained in France (despite all the walking - grr), so one major theme of this blog will be our efforts at cooking delicious food that works with my weight loss goals.

Like many folks we are trying to eat more locally produced, wholesome and handmade foods and our blog will track our efforts in this area.


Every good blog begins with an apology, and this is no exception, although it may not be a good blog. If I were half as good a writer as I am a cook, I probably wouldn't have to eat my words so often. Nevertheless, food has always played such an important role in my life, I think I have a few stories and recipes worth sharing.
Also, with a memory as bad as mine, I've been looking for a way to record my successes and failures in the kitchen, as well as share them with others. If I remember to type them up here, then maybe they won't be forgotten.
Lisa (my partner in cooking) and I have called it "I don't let my stomach boss me around" because my life has been a relentless battle between my rather sensitive stomach and my incorrigible, thrill-seeking tastebuds. Not all the recipes here will be insane, however. Now that I cook for two, I've had to tone it down a bit. But I shall recount my glory days and unearth my old recipes for those of you who like it hot.