Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super bowl grub - healthy & hearty vegetarian chili

Seahawks win the Super Bowl and are the World Champions for 2014. 

The game itself was by no means a nail biter as it seemed like the Broncos were not even playing and were crushed 8-43 in a match that lasted 3.5 hours including the celebrations, half times and the breaks. DD is in dampened spirits because of how it reflected on her favorite sportsman but is happy for the local team for picking their first ever Super bowl win. Well, some things in life are just like that, you are not happy even when you win..
Just like I promised last week, here I am with one of the favorite Super bowl dishes. At my previous work place, come January, the group organized a Super bowl chili cook off and all of us made pots of chili in all shapes and form and the accessories. Lunch is served for the entire corporate office on purchase and the money collected goes to charity. Lunch is so huge that day, you really can't work post lunch and become a hefty, sluggish something unable to think straight. But it also gives a much needed distraction once a year from the unending, busy work life. That is where I learnt to make my vegetarian chili. D was a dear colleague and a sworn meat eater who shared his secret to good chili with me. He would bring in his slow cooker, plug it in next to his laptop at 7am, throw in various ingredients from different boxes, close it and get back to work. By 10am, his pot would be emitting such great aroma that none of us could resist a taste of his great chili. The first year when I didn't know any better, I had signed up to bring in only the peripheral stuff such as a bag of chips and store bought salsa or dip and after eating D's chili, I was hooked.

"Next to music there is nothing that lifts the spirits and strengthens the soul more than a good bowl of chili." - Harry James
I totally agree with it in that a good bowl of Chili is a perfect comfort food, especially in the cold winters Midwest goes through during January. The ingredients themselves looked pretty easy, D used canned beans and tomatoes which eliminated all chopping and cleaning. Then he made me privy to the secret ingredient of a good chili which is the cocoa powder. Novice to the new scents and tastes of non Indian ingredients, I wouldn't have guessed it by a mile. The flavor of the cocoa powder in this dish is second only to the smoky, roasted cumin flavor. Outside of beans, everything else is pretty much by choice - you like bell peppers, throw in some, you like leeks, put them in, you prefer carrots, just add them, you get the idea. D's chili was very minimalistic in that it hardly had any vegetables. It qualified as 'vegetarian' by the mere absence of meat in it. While there were many other pots of chili with meat ranging from beef to chicken to venison, this was the only one available to vegetarians and would get over quickly. So after the dish was received well at home, I bravely signed up for a pot of chili next year and the the pot was cleaned out within 30 minutes once the lunch was served. Then, it was a regular at every January Chili cook off and I made some with an Indian ginger flavor once and roasted cumin flavor another time, every time a crowd pleaser.

When you see the beans (red and black), and peppers/chili in the dish, stereotypical thinking is to classify it as a Mexican recipe. Searching for some history on Chili, I found that no one has been able to establish any connection of Chili to Mexico and infact there is no dish resembling chili in Mexico except for places that cater to tourists. Within North America, there is a very popular Texan chili recipe and a variation of chili from Cincinnati, Ohio both heavily meat centric dishes. The popular impression is that chili is a Tex-Mex recipe, no matter what the origin is, this stoup (soup+stew - Rachel Ray vocabulary) has become a favorite of many in the nation. It is versatile in nature since you can add/subtract vegetables per taste/availability and up/down the spice level to suit your palette. No matter how you prepare it, served warm in a bowl with some chips on the side, this is a healthy and filling dish.
Here is a trivia for you, chile refers to the pepper pod, and chili to the concoction. The e and the i of it all. This is from the International Chili society, a non profit organization that sponsors yearly chili cook offs.

I made this chili in the morning today for the super bowl watching event at home. There were other things happening since morning and I didn't have anything else ready for lunch, so we ended up eating bowls of chili for lunch and the pot was polished off before even the opening ceremonies of super bowl began. I left the family to tend to themselves in the afternoon as I had to be some place else and they ended up ordering pizza to tide them through the game :-). I wanted us to eat healthy and low calorie but ended up also eating calorie dense store bought pizza, well like I said before you can't win them all..The moral of the story is, a bowl of chili is not just for watching superbowl but is a great mid day meal too.
What do you need to make Vegetarian Chili?
Makes 5 servings
3 cups cooked rajma/red kidney beans
1 cup cooked black beans
1/2 cup cubed onions
2 cups diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 Tblsp roasted cumin powder
2 cloves garlic
2 green chilies/pepper
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2-3/4 Tsp red chili powder (adjust to taste)
1 Tblsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tblsp tomato paste
1/4 Tsp sugar
1/4 Tsp black pepper
2 Tblsp oil
How do you make Vegetarian Chili? 
  • Roast 1.5 Tblsp cumin in a dry pan until it starts to pop, switch off, let cool and grind into a powder, keep it covered until ready to use. 
  • Heat oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan. 
  • Once the oil is hot, add chopped onion and fry for a minute and then add minced garlic. 
  • Let it roast until onion turns light pink, add the remaining vegetables and salt. 
  • Mix well, cover and cook for 2 minutes until the veggies turn a little soft. 
  • Add the dry powders, tomato paste, 2 cups of water, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes until the tomato break down completely (such a sad state :-(). 
  • Add the cooked beans, adjust salt/spices & water as needed, reduce the heat to low, cover and let the flavors mingle together for another 30-40 minutes. 
  • Add chopped cilantro to garnish before serving. 
Serving Suggestions: 
  • Top it with fresh cream, guacamole or cheese. 
  • Serve it with corn bread or chips. 
  • I prefer to soak overnight and cook the beans in pressure cooker as I do not care for the added sodium in canned beans. If you are pressed for time or have forgotten to soak the beans, go ahead and use the canned ones, make sure you rinse and drain them thoroughly in a couple changes of water. 
  • This recipe is a great slow cooker recipe if you own one. I love to let it simmer in the crock pot for a couple of hours so the flavors marry well. I made smaller than usual quantity today and used my sturdy, cast iron pan on stove top. 
  • If you are using the slow cooker and want to cook beans directly in them, plan 6-8 hours ahead and start with soaked and washed beans in the pot. Prepare vegetables outside on stove top and once the beans are soft add the veggies in and let them continue to cook in the slow cooker. 
  • If you want to make a full meal with this bowl, go ahead and add 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa or millet to the chili while it is simmering. 


Kaveri Venkatesh said...

Never tasted this dish, though have been seeing it and hearing about it a lot...Looks very appetizing

NamsVeni Pothas said...

really super dish with mouth watering pictures.