- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

When winter winds howl and holiday guests are hungry, the most comforting one-dish food I can think of is an earthenware bowl of spicy chili. It’s a breeze to make. I can double a recipe and freeze extras, and most people love it. I developed these vegetarian chilies for a mixed crowd of all ages and dietary preferences.

To make it more elegant, serve the chili as part of a chili-and-salad bar where guests help themselves. Sides of browned meat or sausage, various grated cheeses, chopped jalapenos and crushed corn chips can customize each bowl. Make some corn bread, and place it in a basket alongside.

Vegetarian chilies don’t depend on meat, so you need buttery, rich beans, slow-cooked vegetables and a sophisticated array of spices. In the end, I love their flavor more than any other chili recipes I’ve been sent, given or forced to taste in my years as a cook.

You can use canned beans, as I’ve suggested in the recipes that follow, or dried beans for chili. Because the dried beans used for chilies — pinto, black, kidney, even garbanzo — take much longer to cook than vegetables, I usually treat them to an overnight soaking and a few hours’ cooking on their own before starting the chili.

Once the beans have cooked to the almost-tender stage, I begin sauteing vegetables. I cook the onion, celery, carrot and bell peppers until they are brightly colored and slightly soft. Adding the chili spices into the saute at this point allows the stronger oils in the spices — which can make the chili bitter, to be cooked out.

Sprinkle the cumin, coriander, dry mustard and other spices over the vegetables, stir well, and give them two to three minutes cooking time over medium-high heat. If you use a large, heavy-bottomed pot for sauteing, you build what’s called a flavor base, and the beans and broth or water can just be added. Some beans will absorb and neutralize more of the hot spices than others: Garbanzo, pinto and kidney are a few. Black beans absorb less, so spices with black-bean chili go a longer distance. To control the heat, do as suggested above and precook the beans to chewy softness before adding spices. This way your spices won’t lose their kick after several hours of cooking.

Cooked chili freezes beautifully and will keep, refrigerated, for 10 days, so make plenty.

Vegetarian chili with mushrooms

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped carrots

3 cups sliced mushrooms

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon chili powder

3 cups canned garbanzo, kidney or pinto beans, rinsed and drained

8 ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 small can (about 2 ounces) green Ortega chilies, chopped

cup red wine or apple juice

4 cloves minced garlic

3 tablespoons tomato paste

Cayenne pepper to taste

Salt, pepper

In large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat oil. Cook onions, celery and carrots 5 minutes, or until soft but not browned. Add mushrooms, cumin, basil and chili powder. Stir well and cook, stirring frequently, 10 minutes or until mushrooms begin to exude moisture. Add beans, tomatoes, chilies, red wine or apple juice, garlic, tomato paste and cayenne. Bring to boil. Lower heat to medium-low, and cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until vegetables soften and flavors blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings, adding more chili powder or cayenne, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

White-bean chili with hot green peppers

2 tablespoons olive oil or cup dry sherry

1 cup chopped onions

1 cup chopped green bell peppers

1 small eggplant, peeled and diced

2 fresh jalapeno peppers, chopped

3 cups canned white beans (navy beans), rinsed and drained

2 cups defatted vegetable broth or water

4 large tomatoes, chopped

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

Cayenne pepper, black pepper

In large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat oil or sherry. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, 5 minutes, or until soft but not browned. Add bell pepper, eggplant and jalapenos; stir well. Reduce heat to medium. Cook 10 minutes or until eggplant is soft. (Add vegetable broth or water if mixture starts to stick.)

Add beans, broth, tomatoes, chili powder, coriander, cumin and salt. Bring to boil; lower heat to medium. Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally, or until flavors blend and vegetables are soft. Add cayenne and black pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings, adding more chili powder or cayenne, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tex-Mex chili

cup vegetable stock

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 large onions, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 red bell pepper, minced

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

4 cups canned pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained

2 cups fat-free broth

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Salt

cup crushed corn tortilla chips

1 cup grated reduced-fat Monterey jack cheese

In large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, bring stock and oil to boil. Add onions and garlic, and cook 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until onions are soft but not browned. Add bell pepper, chili powder and cumin. Cook, stirring frequently, until pepper is soft but not browned.

Add 3 cups beans and broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 30 minutes or until flavors blend and vegetables are soft.

After 15 minutes, puree remaining cup of beans and tomatoes in blender; add to pot. Add half the cilantro (save the rest for garnish). Add salt to taste.

Garnish with remaining cilantro, corn chips and grated cheese. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding more chili powder or cayenne, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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