Vegetarian chili – chili sin carne
- Use whole, dried and/or smoked chilies
- Work with more than one texture
- Add umami…
Chili makes wonderful vegetarian food, because the flavors are big and bold and because the heat is satisfying to vegetarians and meat eaters alike. You will find a first-rate recipe at the bottom of this page, but first read this:
Only real spices
This applies when making chili in any form, but becomes even more important when maximizing flavors in a vegetarian chili. A bag or jar of chili mix from your local food store won’t do it. Go for whole, dried (and/or smoked) chili peppers, whole peppercorns, whole cumin, etc.
Fine tomatoes only
Using cannedis practical when making chili. A not so well kept secret: When it comes to this particular product you get a lot more flavor and sweetness if you pay a little more per can.
Spice up the spices
Give all the spices all the love and attention they need for the flavors to develop fully. Toast the cumin in a dry pan before grinding. And give all of the spices time to “bloom” by letting them simmer in the fat at the bottom of the pot for a while.
Go for smoked chili
Smoky flavors definitely belong in a chili. If you don’t happen to be cooking your chili over open fire out on the prairie, you can still get some delicious smokiness by using smoked chilies, chipotle, for example.
Ancho, Mulato, Guajillo, Pasilla, Chipotle, Poblano...
Flavors vary a lot depending on if the chili peppers are fresh, dried, or smoked. Use more than one kind to get depth of flavors, and at least one that is smoked. Experiment and find your favorites.
Cook the beans from scratch
Canned beans can work in emergencies, but for big flavors and tasty textures you need dry beans that have been soaked overnight and then boiled al dente. (For some reason canned beans in a can are always overcooked and mushy…)
More than one variety of bean
Different beans have different flavors, size, and texture. Mixing more than one kind makes the chili tastier and more interesting to the palate.
Apart from the beans, you might want some kind of grain – bulgur or rice, for example – to add more body to the stew. In the recipe at the bottom of this page this is not included, but can be served “on the side”.
One way of adding more textures and excitement to your vegetarian chili is with nuts and seeds and crispy greens. To preserve the textures, add these last of all – or serve them separately and let the guests compose their own chili.
You need umami
A vegetarian chili lacks the deep, satisfying flavors otherwise provided by meat. To compensate for this you need to maximize the umami which is also found in some vegetables. some tips:
Add tomato paste and celery
One of many reasons why tomatoes are so popular is that they contain more umami than other vegetables, especially when cooked. This makes tomato paste a great source of vegetable umami. It also gives chili and other stews an attractive, deep color. To maximize the flavors in the paste, let it fry and darken in the bottom of the pan.
Not everyone loves, but this vegetable has magical properties when it comes to lifting other flavors. And the particular flavor has to do with the presence of umami...
A chili is not supposed to taste like mushrooms, but a discrete touch of “mushroominess” in the background gives depth of flavor. Best of all for this purpose are mushrooms that have been preserved through drying, for example shiitake. Grind just 3 or 4 and add to the stew.
Add soy sauce
Soy sauce is concentrated umami. But be very careful when adding this ingredient or the color and/or the flavor will dominate the whole dish. Add just one teaspoon at a time…
Everyone loves avocado
Cool, creamy, ripeis simply delicious with hot chili. Serve this sensitive ingredient on the side.
Almost everyone loves sour cream
Cool, creamy, tart sour cream also goes beautifully with chili – unless your guests have a problem with dairy products.
And fresh coriander
Serve fragrant coriander on the side since not everyone (4 to 14% of the population) appreciates this herb. If you want the flavor of coriander in the actual chili – use the stems.
Recipe vegetarian chili
½ kg (1 lb) dry (kidney)beans, soaked overnight
2-3 dl (1 cup) green lentils
A neutral oil, e g corn
2 stems celery
4 cloves garlic
1 bottle dark beer
1 can of plum tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
½ to 1 l (½ to 1 quart) water / vegetable stock (cube)
1 tbsp dried oregano
3-4 dried, crushed shittake mushrooms
1 chile chipotle*
1 chile ancho*
1 chile guajillo*
1 chile mulato*
1 chile pasilla*
1 chile poblano*
1 tbsp whole cumin
1-2 tsp soy sauce
Salt and freshly greound black pepper
*This is just a suggestion. Use at least 3 varieties and at least 1 – eg chipotle – that is smoked.
- Cover the bottom of large pot with oil. Chop onions and sweat on medium heat until golden. Add chopped garlic and celery.
- Toast whole cumin in a dry pan. Meanwhile: Crumple chili peppers and mushrooms and add to pot (lower temperature if necessary).
- Grind cumin and add to pot. When flavors have “bloomed”, add beer, tomato, and tomato paste.
- Pour off soaking water and add beans. Cover the contents with water/stock and simmer until beans soften. Important:
- Before beans are fully cooked, add lentils so that both are ready simultaneously. Add more water/stock if necessary.
- Simmer until beans and lentils are cooked ”al dente”. Remove lid if liquid needs to be reduced.
- Add oregano and (a tsp at a time!) soy sauce. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
- Vegetarian chili will taste even better after a night in the fridge, but re-heat gently and stir as little as possible so as not to risk turning everything into mush…
Nachos, soft tortillas
Bowls with nuts and seeds
Avocado – or guacamole