As the Front Range gets a breather from colder than usual temperatures this week, our Eastern neighbors have been weathering one of their first arctic blasts of the season. Your teeth are already chattering. Might as well stuff some chili down the hatch to fortify yourself against the wintry months ahead.
Chili is usually one of my least favorite meals during any season. Since I don’t eat beef, pork, or chicken, vegetarian chili not only lacks fat and flavor, it also tends to be a gut-busting bean bonanza. My husband, on the other hand, could eat vegetarian chili at every meal for a week and still scrape the bottom of the chili pot for dregs.
Husband = Stomach of Steel
Gwynne = Stomach of Colicky Toddler
Enter Cook’s Illustrated’s claim to have perfected vegetarian chili, a bubbling cauldron of umami-rich beans and sauce so good even the meat-eaters will beg for seconds. Pumping up the dish with meaty alternatives like bulgur wheat, ground walnuts, shiitake mushrooms, tomato paste, and soy sauce, you get the texture and flavor of full-bodied chili without animal fat. Of course, if you eat dairy, you can add sour cream and monterrey jack cheese as toppings to the finished product. Either way, this chili is a new winter favorite at the Middleton and Turner house.
Best Vegetarian/Vegan Chili (adapted from a Cooks Illustrated recipe)
Serves 6 to 8
– 1 pound (2 1/2 cups) dried beans, picked over and rinsed
– 2 dried ancho chiles (I used 1 TBS ground ancho chile powder)
– 2 dried New Mexican chiles
– 1/2 oz dried shitake mushrooms, chopped coarse
– 10 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
– 4 tsp dried oregano
– 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
– 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained with juice reserved
– 3 TBS tomato paste
– 2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed and coarsely chopped
– 6 garlic cloves, minced
– 3 TBS soy sauce
– 1/4 cup canola oil
– 2 lbs onions, chopped finely
– 1 TBS ground cumin
– 7 cups water
– 2/3 cup medium-grind bulgur
– 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
– sour cream
– monterrey jack cheese, grated
– chopped red onion
– avocado chunks
– cilantro leaves
1. Preparing the dried beans:
Bring 4 quarts water, 3 TBS salt, and beans to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Once boiling, remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain beans, rinse well, and set aside. Clean pot.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Arrange anchos (if using) and New Mexican chiles on rimmed baking sheet, and toast until fragrant and puffed, about 8 minutes. Transfer to plate and let cool, about 5 minutes. Stem and seed anchos and New Mexican chiles. Working in batches, grind toasted chiles, dried mushrooms, and oregano in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle until finely ground.
3. Process walnuts in food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl. Process drained tomatoes, tomato paste, jalapeños, garlic, and soy sauce in food processor until tomatoes are finely chopped, about 45 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.
4. Heat oil in now empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, fresh shiitakes, and 1 1/4 tsp salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions and shiitakes begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add ground chile mixture, ancho chile powder (if using), and ground cumin; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rinsed beans and water, and bring to boil. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook for 45 minutes.
5. Remove pot from oven. Stir in bulgur, ground walnuts, tomato mixture, and reserved tomato juice. Cover pot and return to oven. Cook until beans are fully tender, about 2 hours. (My chili needed about 3 hours in the oven before the beans were soft.)
6. Remove pot from oven, stir chili well, and let stand, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Ladle up a bowl, stir in cilantro, add optional toppings, and serve. (Chili can be made up to 3 days in advance.)