Vegetarian Chili for January grayness

I spent a lot of time this afternoon flipping through cookbooks and the interwebs in search of something to make for dinner. At first I thought I wanted to make another bread and a soup, but nothing struck my fancy. I was thinking of things I had in my cabinets and remembered I brought back cans of Brooks chili hot beans from St. Louis, and thought, chili! However, I am tired of meat chili, so I wanted to branch out a bit and go for health! It is January after all, month of resolutions, not quite yet fallen by the wayside ... so I looked at the Joy of Cooking veggie chili recipe but wasn't inspired, so took my search ("veggie chili" and also "vegetarian chili") to the interwebs. I like to browse through Google images to find a picture of what I have in mind ... in this case I was thinking really hearty, vibrant in color, spicy, and with lots of vegetables. I came upon two recipes (1 & 2) which I ended up drawing from to make mine. How reductive is it to be making your chili from Epicurious (Bon Appetit, 2002) and a blogger's chili, which is adapted from two cookbooks' recipes for chili? Very. But you know, that's the awesome thing about chili, it is a recipe in constant flux, to the benefit of eaters everywhere.

Brooks chili hot beans might just be the most delicious prepared chili beans in existence, and very sadly, are not available in the PNW. I love them despite the dreaded HFCS listed on the label, they're just that awesome. At any rate, I wanted to use them in the chili. So at the store I purchased a can of 15 oz. black beans and a can of dark red kidney beans, which I love. I learned something by reading the label at the store; some dark red kidney beans are prepared in sugar and salt, and others, just in salt. Even though they were .30 more, I went with the sugar free variety, because it just seems like a weird thing to include sugar in a can of beans. In that aisle I also picked up a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste, and a small can of corn . . . Do I need to walk you through my entire grocery experience? Perhaps not. Let's proceed to the cooking.

So, okay, here is what I did, which is adapted from the recipes above.

Food processored to fine dice two yellow onions, one red pepper, and one orange pepper.

Measured out all my spices: 3 & 1/2 T chili pepper, 1 & 1/2 T cumin, 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes (I just heaped a 1/2 tsp and it was plenty), 1/8 t cayenne pepper (for me, this is about two or three shakes from the jar), 1 and 1/2 tsp coriander (I don't know exactly what this does for flavor, not too familiar with it in cooking), 1 tsp oregano, and 1/2 tsp salt. Later I threw in a few shakes of cinnamon, but I say include it with this group of spices, as it will get soaked up with everything else. I just tasted the chili (it's in progress as I write, and it's rather spicy - in a really great way. I think it needs just a little more salt, which I will throw in when I'm done cooking).

Alex recently reminded me that I do actually own a garlic press that he gave me, and so, in his honor, I used it to press out six cloves of garlic. Fun!

So, I threw a few tablespoons of olive oil into my stock pot, then added in the veggies, the garlic, and the spices, and cooked them until soft. Ten to fifteen minutes does this. I cook this kind of stuff on 5 or so on the electric stove, stirring frequently so it doesn't stick or burn, which is gross, and also, *not* delicious.
I drained and rinsed the black and kidney beans, and just added in the chili hot beans as is (was?). Then I threw in the 28 oz can of tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste, 6 oz I think (I really like this in chili), and because it was way too thick, nearly an entire 28 oz can of water to get the consistency I wanted. Add in batches if you don't want your chili to get too thin. 

Bring this up to a boil. Then taste to be sure the chili is doing what you want it too, and if not, add more spice to your needs. Then reduce the heat to low and let it come together for about an hour. Kill time. Check facebook, write blog posts, read people's reviews of the above mentioned recipes, and so forth. About ten minutes before you finish this cooking, add in a small drained can of yellow corn - or white, if you prefer, I like yellow in chili.

In the end, I hope yours looks as good as this:

 The sour cream and cheese cool down the spiciness a bit, plus, the taste! The cinnamon gives this chili kind of an extraordinary fragrance. I also decided to whip up some sweet corn muffins while I waited, they make a nice side. I hear it's a LOT colder in other parts of the country right now ... hope this warms you up.

**After eating note: this chili is freaking awesome. A definite keeper. Also, mine made about 13 cups, so this is great for leftovers.**


Goals: 2011 and White Bean Soup

Post here more often. Make more food, spend more time in the kitchen. I realize how much peace it brings me to cook, to produce delicious foods, to share those foods with others. Mostly it is Alex and me sharing food, but this year, I want to have more dinners more often, work towards a regular day of the week when people are openly invited to stop by for dinner, something simple and delicious. I want to create more of a home this year, and to me, feeding people is so much of what home is. This last Christmas, my mom and I made over fifteen different cookies and candies to share with neighbors, friends, and family. We had a potential fudge disaster, which with some quick thinking turned into the best fudge we've ever made. Being in the kitchen, working together, was so wonderful. I baked with my mom, cooked Christmas dinner with my dad, made tapas with my sister Angie, and just enjoyed food and togetherness. Today, for the first time in 2011, I'm truly returning to the kitchen - sure, I've made new year's appetizers, huevos rancheros, and other small every day meals, but tonight I'm making split pea soup, fresh white bread, and vanilla bean pudding. I feel peaceful and happy. This is a feeling I wish to have more often. I hope that this feeling in turn creates more desire to post what's happening in my kitchen here.

But to begin, while I wait for my soup to come together and my bread dough to rise, I'll tell you about a lovely, simple and hearty soup I made late last year.

White Bean Soup with Kale, Tomato, and Andouille Sausage

 I found this recipe in the free Oregonian, which is distributed every week to my doorstep, and has its hits and misses. It's slightly adapted from the original. The soup was a hit, though I think it could be improved by a spicier a less generic andouille than I used. It would have been brighter and more fiery, a good balance to the mild beans and kale. But it was still delicious. I suggest getting a spicy andouille from your local meat counter instead of buying something pre-packaged from the deli case. Here in Portland, try Otto's or Gartner's. I don't think you could go wrong either of those places.

You need a large soup pot. If you're still reading here and you don't own one of these, really, give yourself a late Christmas present (or early Groundhog's day present) and go get one. Alex gave me one last year and it is one of my most used kitchen items. You also need to know you're going to make this a day in advance, as you will need to soak your beans overnight. Remember when you are soaking beans to add more than enough water to cover, as the beans will soak it up a bit, and also expand. Use a large enough bowl so that you don't come home to overflow.

I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. How about a list of ingredients? You got it:

you need to have these on hand the night before to soak: 1 lb great northern beans (white beans, dried)

8 oz andouille sausage, and really, get something fresh, homemade, and spicy - you want to create 1/4 inch-ish half moons from the sausage, so you'll cut it down the middle lengthwise, then across to create those half moon shapes.

1 small white onion, 1 and 1/2 carrots, 1 and 1/2 stalks celery (I think we might consider this soup's holy trinity) diced finely. Have a food processor? If so, you'll save yourself large amounts of time and energy by cutting the above into chunks and pulsing to finely dice (though I have a pretty picture of them separated below, doing this altogether is fine, and much more efficient). I love using mine for this purpose. So fast and so finely diced.

1 clove minced garlic

1 and 1/2 quarts chicken broth. It's easier for me to think in ounces. So if it is for you too, that's 48 oz. I use low-sodium from the store. Maybe I will start making broth, but not today.

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes.

8ish oz kale - stems and ribs removed and chopped. Consider how much you'll be removing and discarding when you buy this at the store, and buy more than 8 oz.

olive oil / tabasco / balsamic vinegar / kosher s & fresh ground p / brown sugar.

This soup takes time, so shoot for making this on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or getting home from work early to prepare and eat by 8:30 or so. Rinse the beans that have been soaking in a colander.

Fry up the andouille sausage in a pan to brown on all sides, add just a smidge of olive oil so it doesn't stick. Though this didn't occur to me at the time, I think it would be a great idea, to impart more sausage flavor and save a pan, to simply brown it in your soup pot, then remove to a plate while you saute the vegetables. Try that, let me know how it goes.

 In the soup pot, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high ish (6-7) heat, then saute the trinity until it is soft. Don't burn it. If you need to add a little more oil, do so. This takes about 5-7 minutes - in the last minute, add the minced garlic.

 Next! Add in the beans, the sausage, broth, and tomatoes. Bring it to a boil.

 After the soup boils, cover and reduce the heat to simmer the mixture for-ever. Forever being two or three hours. I think I was happy with the cooked yet firmness of my beans after about 2 and 1/2 hours. So when you think you'll need about a half hour more cooking time, add in your kale. Cook it for another 1/2 hour to soften the kale. I received commentary from soup eaters that it wasn't quite soft enough, so dependent on how soft you like your greens, maybe you'll need 45 minutes.

 At the very end of the cooking add in about a teaspoon and a half of balsamic vinegar, a few shakes of Tabasco, dependent on your vinegar-y, spicy desires, a heaping packed teaspoon of brown sugar, and salt and pepper to your taste. By the way, do you have a pepper grinder? If not, promptly go out and get yourself one! No cook should be using black pepper out of a jar. Feel free to play around with these suggestions to your taste, as all they're all doing is finishing (brightening, spicing up, sweetening) the soup. The recipe suggested using a smoked salt at the end too, so I threw in a little smoked sea salt. I didn't notice it, but have at it if you have the desire. Eat with delicious crusty bread, butter, beer, and friends.

Hope to send more posts out in 2011 - Here's to a new year. -T