This past week, we did have a few colder days, and this weekend has been especially chilly; cold weather just demands chili, don't you think? Vegetarian chili can almost seem a bit trite at times, because it seems as though most people can scrabble together at least a passable vegetarian chili. Does vegetarian chili fall into the same category as chocolate and sex? Even bad vegetarian chili isn't all that bad? :)
I have tried so, so many recipes for vegetarian chili over the years, loading up the pot with all manner of nutritious add-ins, including kale, cinnamon, sweet potato, bulgur, cocoa powder, TVP, and faux meat crumbles. After overwhelming my palate one too many times, I scaled back, showed some restraint, and settled on what has proven to be my favorite combo -- a simple chili containing nothing more than a few veggies, minced mushrooms for umami and heartiness, two types of beans, plenty of tomatoes, and straightforward seasonings. "Keep it simple, stupid." Yes, yes ... I'm listening this time.
There are so many carby sides one could pair with chili, including rice, tortilla chips, bread, biscuits, pasta, crackers, and even Fritos! However, cornbread (or corn muffins) are, hands-down, my favorite side for chili. I'm not much of a dunker when it comes to soups and stews, so I love the soft, slightly sweet, buttery richness a bite of cornbread offers in-between spoonfuls of spicy, hearty chili. I tend to make a less traditional cornbread, using both all-purpose flour and cornmeal, melted butter, honey, and buttermilk, and I rarely use a cast-iron skillet. (Honestly, I find the skillet tends to over-bake the edges of the cornbread, resulting in almost chokingly-dry leftovers. Wah.) I often make cornbread muffins, as I find they are the best keepers (and freezers!) However non-traditional my cornbread may be, it's my favorite.
serves 4 to 6
1 tbsp olive oil
1 c chopped red onion
1 c chopped bell pepper (red or green)
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced (optional)8 oz mushrooms, minced (using a food processor or blender is super fast!)
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cups cooked kidney beans
28 oz diced tomatoes (undrained)
splash of water (if needed)
1 tbsp hot sauce (such as Crystal or Cholula), optional
1. Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart soup pot. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeño (if using,) and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are soft.
2. Add the minced mushrooms, chili powder, cumin, and salt, and continue cooking until the mushrooms release their liquid and most of the liquid cooks off.
3. Add the beans, tomatoes, water (if needed -- depending on how thick you like your chili,) and hot sauce, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Serve with any number of toppings, including (but not limited to) green onions, cilantro, shredded cheese, or sour cream, with cornbread on the side. Leftover chili freezes well.
makes one 8- or 9-inch pan or 12 to 14 muffins
1/2 c butter, melted and cooled
1/3 c honey
1 c buttermilk
1 c cornmeal
1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease your pan or line your muffin tins.
2. Whisk together the melted butter, honey, eggs, and buttermilk until well blended. Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, and salt in a second bowl, then add to the wet ingredients. Whisk together until the batter is well-blended and few lumps remain.
3. Pour the batter into your prepared pan or divide between your muffin cups. Bake 8- or 9-inch pans for 40 minutes, or muffins for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
4. Cool pans of cornbread well before serving. Muffins are fine served warm or at room temperature. Muffins freeze well.
What's your favorite thing to serve with chili?