Hug a big bowl of chili - vegan or otherwise - and stay warm this Fall

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Chili when it’s chilly

Vegan chili might seem to meat-eaters like a compromise. But, as chef/writer Anthony Bourdain might say to someone who disses vegan chili, “What’s your major malfunction?” 

Think about Fall, and the number one seasonal ingredient is the pumpkin, or squash (any one of a dozen varieties). It’s delicious, plentiful, inexpensive, beautiful, easy to cook with ... why not make a big one-pot dish out of it? And what better set of ingredients than what we put into chili? 

All that said ... we love meat in our chili, too, and when we're in that mood, we cook up some tri-tip separately and put it in the bowl first as a layer of seared, savory surprise. Read about that below the main recipe. 

Spice is beyond nice

Chili needs spice. And most people use chili powder as part of their own chili recipe. Chili spice recipes aren't as jealously guarded as, say, mole or curry mixes -- but I've got one that's special. Just special enough that your guests will love its mystery. And it's super simple. 

Chili can be elegant. Here, it's served to show off the ingredients and garnished with some clean, beautiful spring onion stalks. 

Chili can be elegant. Here, it's served to show off the ingredients and garnished with some clean, beautiful spring onion stalks. 

  • 2 t. ground chili powder 
  • 1 t. ground cumin 
  • 1 t. ground Harissa powder
  • 1/2 t. smoky (aka Spanish) paprika 

Not all paprika is made the same. Most paprika is related to Hungarian paprika (although we love Hungarian paprika fresh off the plane from Hungary -- it has a bigger, sweeter flavor than you normally get even in Hungarian paprika in the US). You're looking for a paprika that would be labeled "smoky", "smoked", "Spanish" -- sometimes using the Spanish word pimenton. Any paprika can quickly lose its personality ... so find a good, smoky paprika fresh from its container to make sure it puts its lovely, seductive arms around the chili spice. 

 

Vegan chili 

Ingredients

Portabello mushrooms went into the chili I made here, but experiment with your favorites

Portabello mushrooms went into the chili I made here, but experiment with your favorites

  • 1 large red onion diced
  • 3 cloves garlic diced fine 
  • 2 cups mushrooms sliced into chunks
  • 2 cups hearty squash - kabocha, butternut, acorn - cut into chunks 
  • 4 cups veggie stock or water 
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower 
  • 1 cup summer squash in chunks 
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 can low sodium black beans (do not drain -- the liquid has beautiful flavor and texture)

Procedure

In your EuroCAST high sided fryer or medium sized Dutch oven:

EuroCAST's Dutch ovens are a dream. The biggest one is more than 7 quarts big, and is what I used for this recipe. The middle one is 5 quarts, available online only. The smallest pot at the top is our 3-quart sauce pan. It's a work-horse for me. I love it. Click on the image to learn more about the large one.

EuroCAST's Dutch ovens are a dream. The biggest one is more than 7 quarts big, and is what I used for this recipe. The middle one is 5 quarts, available online only. The smallest pot at the top is our 3-quart sauce pan. It's a work-horse for me. I love it. Click on the image to learn more about the large one.

  1. Sauté the onion in 3 T. olive oil until soft
  2. Add the garlic and sauté another minute
  3. Add diced squash over low and sauté till the edges begin to caramelize
  4. Add 1/2 cup of the veggie stock or water and let simmer over low heat 
  5. Add the cauliflower, mushrooms, and summer squash.
  6. Simmer low and slow for 10 minutes (or a little more)
  7. Add the beans and their liquid, cook another 5 minutes
  8. Add tomatoes and spice blend 
  9. Remove from heat when the mushrooms are cooked through but the squash still has a "tooth" to it, and cover with lid to let the ingredients bask in the steam

BUT WHAT ABOUT MEAT?

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We love the vegan chili as it is. And I bet you will, too. 

But if you have meat-eaters to please, or if you just want to treat yourself to something special, here's a great way to please the inner carnivore while keeping the personality of the vegan chili: Make up some special, beautifully seared steak and, with a generous slice of the braised steak in the bottom of the bowl, cover it with the vegan chili. 

The slow braising makes the steak cut like butter, and makes the experience a new kind of chili con carne

Here's how.

Coffee-braised Tri-tip steak strips

Ingredients

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  • 1 well-trimmed tri tip, 3-4 pounds
  • 1 large can whole San Marzano tomatoes in sauce
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 2 cups strongly-brewed coffee

Procedure

  1. Salt the tri-tip generously and then pepper evenly. 
  2. Put 4 T. olive oil in your largest EuroCAST Dutch oven and bring to medium heat (the oil should not be smoking).
  3. Add the seasoned tri-tip. 
  4. Sear the steak to a hard crust, 6-8 minutes per side.
  5. Add one large can of whole San Marzano tomatoes and 2 cups of strong brewed coffee, then add the minced garlic. 
  6. Bring to a low, bubbling boil. 
  7. Reduce heat to low and cover to braise 90 minutes. Check every once in a while for the liquid level and to break up the tomatoes. Add water as needed, but you want to keep the sauce on the dense side to capture the beef's richness and to keep the tomato acidity popping.
  8. Remove from heat and keep covered with the Dutch oven's lid until ready to server. 
  9. You could refrigerate at this point and reheat slightly before slicing and serving. 
  10. Check seasoning (hey, one slice is always reserved for chef's testing).

Serving suggestion

In each diner's bowl, lay a big, warm tri-tip slice in the bottom. (It's fall-apart tender at this point, so each place setting will only need a butter knife -- if that.) 

Cover the beef with the hot vegan chili.

And, to make it truly amazing, top with sour cream and, if you have some on hand, garlic confit. (See last week's Recipe of the Week for that secret sauce.)

Paul WardComment