Monday, October 12, 2009

Veggie Chili for a Blanket-y Day

Sometimes, I wonder whether LA's bright, sunny weather is wasted on me. I mean, I love waking up to sunshine every day, but nothing makes my heart sing like a grey day.

The past few days have seemed too good to be true: a thick, grey, woolly blanket has landed over LA, accompanied by a gentle breeze that tickles the leaves of the giant sycamore tree outside my window. The blanket deadens the sounds of freeway traffic, intensifies the lushness of any greenery my eye falls upon, forces me to slow down and enjoy the simplicity of blankets and tea. I'm so scared these days will go away; LA weather is so fickle!

The blanket's arrival coincided with that small span you may or may not relate to: those days/weeks between a dwindling bank account, and the next check. Rather than freak out, I've chosen to take this on as a challenge: what can I make for the least amount of money, that will last a few meals, and keep us sated?


Veggie chili is wonderful because it's packed full of nutrition, but between all those veggies and all that liquid, you fill up FAST. Plus, the longer it sits in your fridge (within reason), the better it tastes. And, since you're cooking vegetables, it doesn't have to cook for hours, as its carnivorous cousin does. If you're scared of cooking, this is a great place to start, because it's hard to mess up!

So, before I give you the recipe, here are a few thoughts/tips -- then you can make your own version. The process of making chili usually goes something like this:

1) Sautee your aromatics in a nice big pot.
In this category, you'll find: onions, ginger, garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, bell peppers (green, red etc), jalapeno or serrano peppers. Always start with an onion though. You should also throw your harder root veggies in at this point: parsnips, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, turnips, butternut squash etc. Sautee for about 10 minutes in olive oil over medium heat, until the onions soften and turn translucent.
Fill it chock-a-block with vegetables: the more you throw in different textures and flavours, the less you're going to notice that it's meatless! Plus, the better it'll be for you! Save more delicate veggies like cauliflower, spinach and peas until closer to the end, so that they don't turn mushy.

2) Cheat with chorizo!
Listen people. I'm married to a proud carnivore. We needed something that mimicked that meaty texture, and soy chorizo is awesome for that. I used soy chorizo because the thought of eating salivary glands (which you'll find in the regular kind) doesn't always sit that well with me. Ok, I admit my hypocrisy: I'll eat processed hot dogs with nary a thought about what's in those.
What was I saying?
Oh yeah, the cool thing about (Mexican) chorizo is that it's already been spiced with paprika and garlic, so it does a lot of the work for you! Plus, it gives you that meaty mouth-feel, fooling your canines and incisors into thinking you're eating meat. And, it's packed with protein! Boom! I found it next to the regular chorizo in the refrigerated section at the supermarket, next to the Mexican cheeses, and the cream cheese.

3) Spice it up!
I added chili powder (duh), cumin, ground allspice, and ground ginger, but play around with paprika, smoked paprika, ground coriander, turmeric, worcestershire sauce, nutmeg... You could also add a chopped up chipotle pepper at this point too. Yum, yum. Oh and don't forget the salt (although if you're using chorizo, you may not need that much, since it's usually pretty salty on its own). Also if you like a little sweetness, you can add some honey, brown sugar, molasses, agave or heck, even plain ol' white sugar will do.

4) Keep it saucy!
I use whole canned tomatoes, and crush them (rawr!) right over the pot; that way you get nice big chunks of tomato. I also dump in all that lovely tomato juice. Some people like to add tomato sauce too, I'm guessing to thicken it up, but I haven't found I needed it.
In addition to the tomatoes, you'll need to add more liquid: water, stock or...
A CAN OF BEER! This is my favourite, because its bitterness cuts through all the tomato sweetness. Plus my friend left a six-pack of Simpler Times in the fridge ($2.99 for a sixer at Trader Joes!), and I need to finish it before I get a beer belly.
If you don't like that idea, just use more water or stock. Just eyeball it -- add enough to semi-cover all the veggies. You can always add more if it gets too dry, or boil it off if it's too watery.
I might try making a green chili next time with smoked tomatillos. Doesn't that sound good?!

5) Simmer for 30 minutes.
Bring the entire concoction to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer (gentle but steady bubbles on the surface of the chili). Since you're only cooking veggies, you'll need just 30 minutes to cook all the veggies through and develop the flavours.
If you're thinking about adding a grain like white rice to the chili, then about 15 minutes into this simmer time, add a cup of water, bring it back up to a boil, then add 1/2 cup of white rice. Take it back down to a simmer and let it cook for 15 minutes.

6) Bean there, done that
I love beans, but I don't add a ton because I'm a big fan of the, ahem, consequences. But they're a great source of protein and fiber, so the more you add, the more filling your chili. Plus they're so cheap!
And you don't just have to use kidney beans: black beans, white kidneys, black eye peas, frozen limas, frozen peas, corn, chickpeas and cooked lentils are all great options!
Add them after your 30 minutes have elapsed, rinsing the canned ones under water to get rid of that goopy stuff, and let them warm through about 5-10 minutes. And you're done!

Phew! I know that was a lot, but I suppose what I'm trying to tell you is, you don't need a recipe to make chili! As long as you have a onion, some veggies, chili powder, ground cumin and a can of tomatoes, your chili is just 45 minutes away.

Here's the one I made last night, while we watched not 1, not 2, but 3 movies in a row (I love you, streaming Netflix) but experiment with your own versions!

Veggie Chili for a Blanket-y Day

1 yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
1 green bell pepper/capsicum, membranes removed and diced
1 red bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 package soy chorizo, casing removed
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
28 oz can whole tomatoes
1 can beer
1 15oz can red kidney beans
Lime, cheese and scallions to garnish

1) Sautee onions, carrots, parsnips, bell peppers, jalapeno and garlic about 10 minutes until softened.

2) Add chorizo and sautee a couple of minutes until it smells really good in your kitchen.

3) Add chili, cumin and allspice powders. Sautee about 30 seconds to get the flavour out of 'em.

4) Add juice from tomato can, then crush each whole tomato with your hands over the pot, leaving them as chunky as you like.

5) Add beer, and much water as you need to almost cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 30 minutes.

6) Drain kidney beans, rinse. Add to chili, and cook another 5-10 minutes until beans are warmed through.

7) Serve, squeezing a wedge of lime over the top, garnishing with scallions and cheese if you wish.



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