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.