Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Incredible Vegetarian Bean Chili

This past summer, I went on a pretty restrictive cleanse to make sure I didn't have any gluten or dairy intolerances. I was vegan and gluten-free for 3 weeks. Me, recovering picky-eater extraordinaire! Let's just say, it was difficult for me at meal time. I was pretty much living off of green smoothies and fresh salads... until I found this chili recipe.

In the beginning, I was more than a little dubious of this recipe claiming to be the best vegetarian bean chili out there. Not only was I unsure if I would like a "chili" without meat, but there were also plenty of strange ingredients (for chili anyway) like soy sauce, marmite, and vodka. However, I was really craving something hot and comforting, soooooo... after making some adjustments so that the chili would be gluten-free too, I took the plunge and started cooking.

After one bite I realized I had been doing chili all wrong. This stuff was good.

What was my mistake? Turns out it was all the ground spices I relied on; they can create a grittiness in the final chili that, though not glaringly obvious, is not particularly pleasant either. By simmering a blend of dried chiles in water and then pureeing them in their cooking liquid, the gravy of the chili is both velvety smooth and complex in flavor.

Another key to the wonderful texture of this vegetarian chili is achieved by pulsing some chickpeas in a food processor. This provides some textural diversity that is a major plus.

Yes, the ingredient list is a little odd and certainly lengthy, and some can be down right hard to find. (I've included some notes about where to find some of ingredients at the end of the recipe.) Trust me though, it's well worth it. Each ingredient helps provide an additional layer of flavor so that the final chili is well balanced and complex.

All in all, I'm in love.

Incredible Vegetarian Bean Chili
Since I'm no longer on my cleanse, I adjusted the recipe back to ingredients I usually keep on hand, and as a consequence, it is no longer gluten-free. If you are on a restricted diet, it can be easily changed to suit your needs. I've included some suggestions in the recipe notes.

Serves: 6
Prep Time: 35 minutes; Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes+
3 whole New Mexico chiles, or CosteƱos or Choriceros
3 whole Ancho chiles, or Pasillas
2 whole Arbol chiles, or Cascabels
4 cups water
2 (14-ounce) cans chickpeas
1 large onion, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 whole chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, plus some of the adobo sauce
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
4 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane grater
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon marmite, or vegemite
12 ounces beer of choice (I like pale ales)
12 ounces vegetable broth, preferably homemade
2 (14-ounce) cans white beans, such as Navy or Great Northerns
Kosher salt
2-3 tablespoons masa harina
Remove and discard the stems and seeds from all the dried chiles. Place in a medium saucepan and add the water. Simmer over medium-high heat until the chiles are tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, as the chiles are simmering, drain the chickpeas, reserving their liquid in a medium-sized container. Transfer chickpeas to a food processor and pulse 3-5 times until they are roughly chopped. Remove and set aside. Rinse the bowl and blade of the food processor and then add the onion halves to the clean food processor bowl. Process until the onion is finely minced; set aside.

Place a heavy bottomed Dutch oven or saucepan (at least a 5-quart capacity) over medium heat and add oil. Add onions and stir frequently, until onions are soft but not browned, about 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, as the onions cook, drain chiles, reserving their cooking liquid with the reserved chickpea liquid. Place softened chiles with a little of their cooking liquid in the food processor with chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, and cocoa powder. Process until smooth, about 1-2 minutes; set aside.

Once onions have softened, add garlic, cumin, and oregano, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add pureed chile mixture, soy sauce, and marmite and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add reserved chickpea/chile water, beer, and broth and stir to combine. Stir in chopped chickpeas and white beans.

Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a bare simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the chili is thick and rich, about 1 1/2 hours. If liquid level reduces too much, add additional broth or water.

After chili has reduced, if needed, adjust seasoning to taste with Kosher salt. Whisk in the masa in a slow, steady stream until the desired thickness is achieved.

Serve with cornbread or tortilla chips and toppings of choice, like avocado, cheese, scallions, or sour cream.

Bourbon Variation: Replace beer with additional vegetable broth. Then, before whisking in masa harina, stir in 2-3 tablespoons of bourbon.

-This is a great make-ahead recipe because it actually tastes better the next day! Perfect to make on a Sunday afternoon and then serve for an easy Meatless Monday dinner.
-The dried chile peppers might be hard to find. Basically, you are looking for a combination of a sweet chile, a rich and fruity chile, and a hot chile. Here is a good guide to variations of dried chiles. I've also had success roasting fresh chiles, removing their charred skins, and then processing them when I couldn't find the dried version. Here is a guide to variations of fresh chiles since they have different names than their dried counterparts. FYI, I do prefer the flavor of the rehydrated dried chiles. They are worth the hunt!
-I had luck finding the marmite in the "British" section of the international aisle in my local grocery store.
-Similarly, I find the chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and the masa harina in the "Hispanic/ Latin American" section of my local grocer.
-Life is easier with this recipe when you take the time to take everything out and prep the ingredients first. As the French would say, mise en place!
-If you are looking to make this gluten-free, ensure you buy a brand of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce that are gluten-free, use tamari to replace the soy sauce, replace the beer with more vegetable broth and add 2 tablespoons of gluten-free vodka before you add the masa harina. Also ensure your masa is gluten-free (some are processed at a facilities that handle wheat). You could also substitute a few handfuls of crushed up gluten-free corn tortilla chips if you can't find a gluten-free masa harina. You might not want to include the marmite or vegemite since I've seen conflicting reports about whether or not it is gluten-free.

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