I could seriously eat chili every day of the week.
Actually, I have done that before, for longer than I care to admit.
Chili was probably the third thing I learned how to cook (after scrambled eggs and pasta). When my parents moved me into my first student house/pit of darkness, they set me up with a nice big pot (which I burnt to a crisp 3 years later) and showed me how to make chili.
I was an omnivore at the time, so I won’t share my family’s super-delicious chili recipe that I learned that day. Instead, I want to share my adapted, vegan version, which I have developed (and continue to develop) every fall and winter since that time in 2011.
It starts with ingredients:
- One or two yellow onions
- 3-6 cloves of garlic
- 2-4 vegetables (bell peppers and carrots are my favourite. Go for carrots in a sweeter chili, green peppers for a savoury chili, or whatever suits you that day)
- 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes. (This is a must! You can use fresh if you feel like stewing them for a good while.)
- 2 or 3 15-oz cans of beans (kidney, pinto, black, garbanzo – take your pick. All have different and interesting textures).
- Seasonings – salt and pepper are a must, chili, oregano, paprika can be added at your discretion.
The method is simple too:
Start with olive oil in a slow cooker or large pot. Toss in the chopped onions and let those cook while you prepare the veg. Add the veg, and prepare the garlic. Press the garlic in, give it a good stir, and let it sit for a while.
Open the bean cans and pour into a colander. Rinse well. Pour those, plus the tomatoes (and all tomato juice from the can) into the cooker. Top with seasonings, shut the lid, and wait for a minimum of an hour.
There are a few important rules to vegan chili:
- You cannot season it enough. You want as full a flavour as possible, and without ground beef in there, you’ll need something else to add character. Try red wine, a darker vinegar (like balsamic or red wine vinegar), or liquid smoke for a bit of an edge. Spice will also help – paprika, cayenne, crushed red pepper, a metric tonne of freshly ground black pepper… have fun with it. Just don’t over-salt.
- You cannot cook it for long enough. As many hours as you have, I say. However many hours your slow cooker will slow cook for.
- Chili tastes better as leftovers, so always make extra. In my exam-writing studenty days, I used to make a double batch of chili, portion it into 500 mL mason jars, and stick them all in the freezer. Super nutritious lunch and dinner in 5 minutes? Yes please. Just add toast! (Which I also kept in the freezer. I kind of, sort of, vaguely miss school.)
A colourful chili: Bell peppers in green, red, yellow, AND orange, a can of red kidney beans and a can of pinto beans.
A drunk chili: Orange pepper chopped and marinated in red wine, black pepper, a bit of mustard or hot sauce, and topped up with broth if needed. Combine with chickpeas and any other protein.
A “meaty” chili: Hydrate TVP in equal parts boiling water and marinate in a balsamic vinegar/broth/pepper/mustard combo, with liquid smoke too if you like. Season generously because this stuff is bland, though very nutritious and hearty.
A sweet chili: Add a spoonful of cinnamon to any combo – particularly good with red pepper and black beans.
A grainy chili: Add a handful of rinsed quinoa and equal parts broth. Bring the chili to a boil until quinoa is tender. (The pictured chili also has cooked lentils in place of beans, because why not?
A “What am I going to do with all these leftovers” chili: Prepared vegetables left over? Chop them up and mix with any combination of the above ingredients. YUM. (This is particularly amazing with grilled veggies.)