Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Best Vegetarian Chili - Thick and Hearty and Healthy!

For as long as I can remember, I always make a big pot of my Chile Con Carne recipe for Super Bowl Sunday.  I've been making this for so long, that I don't need a recipe. It's hearty, and not too spicy. With a pile of warm flour tortillas, my men ladle bowls of this to watch the game.

I'm also a fan of vegetarian dishes, but so far most vegetarian chili recipes I've seen, or tried, are most like a bean and vegetable stew.  America's Test Kitchen agrees, and so they decided to create a vegetarian recipe that has plenty of beans, and a good meaty flavor-- obviously, without using meat. My husband and I watched their television episode, and we both commented that this would be a good version to try-- for our health's sake, and for variety.

To accomplish making a hearty vegetarian chili, ATK uses a few unlikely ingredients for this chili recipe.

The first one, is 1/2 ounce of dried shiitaki mushrooms.  Per ATK, "These nucleotide-rich dried mushrooms have a synergistic effect when combined with glutamates, cranking up savory umami flavor even more.  Interesting...

Another ingredient-- walnuts. Per ATK: "Ground toasted walnuts add richness and body as well as tons of flavor-boosting glutamates."

This chili took a bit of time to make-- like about three hours.  So, this is one recipe I would reserve as a weekend, or day off, kind of project.  I will say that this recipe delivered very impressive and delicious  results!  In fact, the chili had so much flavor, and had the texture of meat, that this could easily fool carnivores, who are opposed to eating vegetarian fare... believing that this would be bland.  Nope. This was far from a bland recipe.  I'll show you.

Unlike Texas style chili, we start with beans.  You can use kidney beans, black beans or pinto beans-- or a combination.  My personal favorite are pinto beans, so that's what I used.  ATK does a one-hour soak, by bringing the beans to a boil in salted water.  Cover and let stand for one hour.

I love my pressure cooker, I cooked my beans for 12 minutes, and did a natural release. Either way works perfectly.

The next step is in making my own chili powder.  For that I roasted two ancho and two New Mexico dried chiles until they were nice and puffy. (I was able to easily find these at my local super market.)

Once cooled, I pulled out the stems and seeds, and gave them a rough chop.

To make the chili powder blend, I used my Vitamix blender (but a coffee grinder will work, too).  I also added the dried shiitake mushrooms and dried oregano...

...and there is the chili powder mix!   As for the walnuts, I ground those finely in my food processor.

There are a few more ingredients, and steps to go (there will be a printable recipe card at the end of this post).

For the "sauce" I used diced tomatoes (reserving the juice), tomato paste, jalapeño(s), garlic, and soy sauce and pulsed the ingredients in my food processor.

NOTE:  Let's talk about the jalapeños, shall we?  The recipe calls for two jalapeños.  I used one.   Choose wisely-- If you like fire-hot chili, use two.  If you like spicy, use one. If you like flavorful, with just a slight bit of spice (like I do), only use 1/2.   

So, now most of the components are ready to go, and the cooking part begins.

 In a Dutch oven, oil is heated over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add ground chile mixture and 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.

So, now, comes another "surprise" ingredient-- and it's a grain that I don't often use, but we do like a lot.

Bulghur!  (Per ATK: Small grains of tender, chewy wheat add a hearty textural element.) The tomato base is added to the beans, ground walnuts, reserved tomato juice, and then the bulgur is stirred in.  The pot is covered, and returned to the oven for two hours.

See what I mean?  This takes a bit of time and patience.

See how thick and luscious this chili is?  Umami! Flavor!  This does not look like a vegetable stew!

Here's how America's Test Kitchen describes how they achieved a really thick chili:
To capitalize on the ability of the fat in the chili to create body in the sauce, we gave the chili a vigorous stir and a 20-minute rest after we took it out of the oven. Stirring helped to release starch from the beans and the bulgur. The starch then clustered around the fat droplets in the chili, preventing them from coalescing and helping to create a thick, velvety emulsion that never left a slick of oil on top of the chili, no matter how many times we reheated it.

You can garnish this with any or all of the following-- grated cheese, chopped onion, chopped avocado, chopped tomatoes.  I kept it simple and garnished it with reduced-fat sour cream and fresh cilantro.

TASTING NOTES:  As promised, this chili reheated really well, and was thick and hearty. Making my own chili powder was worth the extra 15 minutes, or so.  The chili had a smoky flavor of cumin, with just the right balance of chili.  With my own Chili recipe, I'm really fond of a tangy tomato flavor.  This recipe doesn't really bring out a "tomato-ey" flavor. Instead, there's plenty of spice (depending on how much jalapeño you use.  The texture definitely mimics that of a chili with ground beef.   Carnivores wouldn't begin to guess that there are ground walnuts nor bulgur. In fact, if you don't say a word, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they never catch on that there isn't any meat in this.

The next time I make this, I will use only half of a jalapeño and I will reduce the recipe in half. This makes a LOT!

Once again, America's Test Kitchen has developed a recipe that delivers on it's promise.  I didn't alter anything in their recipe, and I doubt that I would again.

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Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Great cook-along photos Debbie and thanks for the advice on the peppers. Think I'll use only a 1/2. You photos have made me hungry for chili this morning. That's definitely not a bad thing :)

Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

I would probably have passed right over this recipe, Debby. I didn't think a meatless chili would be received well by my family. But you give it such an enthusiastic thumbs up that I'm very tempted to try it. I'm sure your home made spices made it extra special.

Sue/the view from great island said...

This is husband is unhappy unless there is meat on the table at dinner, but the only thing he makes an exception for is mushrooms! I would never have thought to add walnuts to this, though, I am going to have to give it a try!

TKW said...

Walnuts and bulghur--who knew? I love that you were daring enough to give this recipe a try!

Joanne said...

AGAIN with ATK getting the job done! I must have this.

Bill said...

What an amazing chili recipe, Debby! I'm starting 2015 eating less meat and I'm looking for good vegetarian recipes. I'm intrigued by the addition of walnuts and mushrooms. I'm adding this recipe to my to-do list. Great post, Debby!