“Detestable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the U.S. from Texas to New York.”~ 1959 description of chili in the (Mexican) cookbook, ‘Diccionario de Mejicanismos”
And when the winter stretches on, and in these times of darkness, when days are short and nights are long, and spring is snailing distant…there is something reassuring, reassessing, realigning, something settled, something promised in a pot of chili.
It is solid food. Simple food. Food that fills a void. It’s the Beatles song that comes on the radio as you spin the dial – maybe not your absolute all-time favorite, but you let it play through before moving on. And it has the advantage of being the big-pot meal you whip up of a Sunday afternoon, with copious, lingering leftovers that mystically get better as the week progresses. And sometimes…it’s exactly what you need.
This is not a fancy recipe. It’s pedestrian but delicious. Simple yet rich. It happens to be vegan, but honestly, in our house, it’s just…chili. Honestly, swear-to-god, as filling, rich and satisfying as any Texas roadhouse or mountain-cabin version. ‘Chili sans carne’ if you will. I know there are those who would argue that without meat it can’t technically be ‘chili’ (according to the definition of CASI – the Chili Appreciation Society International – it must consist solely of non-marinated meat and spices, maybe a bit of broth; forbidden ingredients include beans, macaroni, rice, hominy and the like; they even debate the legitimacy of tomatoes), to them I would say, “Get over yourselves.” Try this.
Also noteworthy is that this is literally a throw-together dish, made out of pantry staples, a lot of cans. Cans get a bad rap – we have come a long way since the introduction of the first tin-lined versions in 1813. Curious to note that it wasn’t until over 40 years later, in 1855 when the first can opener was invented – until then cans came with the instruction: “cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer”. That notwithstanding, this conglomeration hits all the spots. It has remarkable depth, with a ‘meatiness’ coming from the lentils and mushrooms (the two seem to go together well), and a darker layer provided by the coffee and cocoa. The inclusion of cinnamon might lead some to avow that it veers towards ‘Cincinnati-style’, but having grown up in the region, I can attest this echoes only faintly the saveur of the Queen City. I’ve served it to carnivores and vegans alike, and garnered equal praise (which I choose to believe) from both factions.
Essential Chili (sans carne)
1 can (14oz/400gr) Kidney Beans
1 can (14oz) Black Beans
1 can (14oz) Pinto Beans
(A note on beans: Use whatever you can find, this list is basic. You could also use Red Beans, Navy, Northern, Fava, etc. In France, I can’t find Black Beans, so I go heavy on the Red and Kidney. I miss Black Beans. Further note on Beans – you could, if you wanted, also use dried beans and reconstitute: a cupful of each, in a large bowl with a pinch of baking soda and a teaspoon of salt, covered with an inch or two of water, soaked overnight, then drained. But seriously, canned are just as good, and a LOT easier)
1 can (14oz) Lentils
1 can Corn, drained
(A note on corn: a couple of ears roasted on the grill and shaved into the pot would be even better, but for convenience’s sake…)
1 can Mushrooms, sliced, drained
(A note on mushrooms: fresh sliced mushrooms, sautéed in butter until browned, also better…)
1 can (28oz) Diced Tomatoes
1 can 14oz) Tomato purée
2 medium Red Onions, coarsely chopped
3 – 6 cloves Garlic, minced
½ cup Strong Black Coffee (or whatever is left in the pot from breakfast)
1 cup (roughly) Vegetable broth (from boullion cube is fine)
2 Tblsp Chili Powder
2 Tblsp Unsweetend Cocoa Powder
1 Tblsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Cumin
Juice ½ Lemon
Salt and Pepper to taste
Not a lot of finesse here. Pour all the beans into a colander and rinse clean, let drain. Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat a few healthy glugs of olive oil and sauté the onions until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté a few minutes more. Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato purée, corn, mushrooms, coffee, squeeze of lemon, and spices. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir and bring to low boil. Add enough broth to create a slightly soupy mix. Reduce heat and simmer covered for @ 20 minutes, then uncovered for another 30 minutes to an hour, until the desired thickness is achieved. Add more broth if necessary, I’ve also splashed in a little beer on occasion.
Served over rice or mashed potatoes, or just in a bowl by itself, sprinkled with grated cheese if desired. Reheating just makes it better.