- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Football days at my house always mean hearty bowls of chili, and this vegetarian version is very satisfying.

It easily becomes non-vegetarian if I add 1 1/2 pounds of sauteed and lightly browned chili-ground turkey and/or beef along with the beans. If you plan to add meat, stir it into the bean chili with cilantro at the end.

I like this combination of spices you can measure ahead. You can adjust the heat of this dish by adding just a touch of chipotle chili to the mixture and then adding more, if desired, after the beans are cooked. You also can substitute a jalapeno chili pepper for the chipotle if you like that flavor better.

I like the surprising touch of balsamic vinegar, which adds a hint of something you can’t quite recognize but balances out all of the flavors. Make sure to have individual bowls of grated sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream and fresh tomato salsa on the table for guests to help themselves.

The crushed tortilla chips with their sweet corn crispness are a nice counterpoint to the smooth chili. If you are an avocado lover, peel and cut up an avocado and serve it alongside the other condiments.

Pinto-bean vegetarian chili

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 cups (1 pound) pinto beans

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup good-quality ground chili powder

1 1/2 cups diced canned tomatoes with juice

1/2 to 1 can of chipotle chili, minced

5 cups vegetable stock or water

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

GARNISHES:

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup salsa

1/2 cup crumbled tortilla chips

Extra cilantro sprigs

Place the beans in a bowl and cover with water overnight. Drain the beans and reserve.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium heat and saute the onions for about 5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne and chili powder, and stir to combine. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring to evenly cook the mixture. This will release the flavor of all of the herbs and chili powder.

Add the tomatoes, chili, stock or water and reserved beans, and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to low and cook about 1-1 1/2 hours more or until the beans are cooked and soft. Partially cover the beans for the first hour and then remove the cover. If the mixture is too thick, add a bit more water. When the beans are tender, add the vinegar and cook another minute. Add the cilantro and mix to combine. Add salt to taste.

To serve: Place some chili in a deep chili bowl, and garnish with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese, salsa, crumbled chips and a sprig of cilantro. Serve immediately.

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