When the dead of winter strikes and the temperatures drag into the low double digits at night, chili is one of the only things that satisfies the soul and reminds me of life’s simple pleasures.
My father, a fourth-generation Texan, claimed to make the best chili around and his friends agreed. But what most people never knew was that he chose to use a store-bought mix called Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm chili featuring a package of spices and simply added stew meat.
Because my tastes have evolved over time to crave something healthier, homemade and a chili that is still packed with flavor, textures and fresh spices, I make chili from scratch and opt out of the packaged stuff.
In fact, I started with this vegetarian chili recipe on TheKitchn.com food blog years ago and even featured my first rendition of vegetarian chili here in 2010. Since then, I have enjoyed tweaking the recipe and making it so everyone at the table finds it irresistible. I am proud to report that his chili recipe has been appreciated by meat-loving carnivores, flexitarians, vegetarians as well as hardcore vegans.
This hearty winter dish is super easy to throw together, makes enough for an army and gets even better with time. Feeding a crowd? Double the recipe and have enough leftover to store in the freezer for that cold, dark day that begs for chili to satisfy the craving for something warm, spicy and plant-forward.
One of the things that makes this recipe so welcoming is its inherent versatility in that almost any vegetable you have in your refrigerator will make a statement and add to the overall success. This dish is so amazing, it’s almost impossible to screw up.
If you don’t like black or kidney beans, use garbanzo beans instead. Afraid of butternut squash, use kabocha squash or sweet potatoes. Prefer green peppers over red peppers, go for it. Don’t like carrots? Leave them out.
So get creative and make this chili exactly the way you want it, because it will warm your heart and nourish your belly on those chili (chilly) winter nights when hot food is the only remedy.
The Most Versatile Vegan Chili
This chili is a recipe that I originally found on thekitchn.com and have, over the years, tweaked it and made it my own. What I love most is that you can use almost any vegetable you have in the refrigerator or you can stick with the recipe as it is. Keep in mind that this recipe makes a lot and freezes very well. If you are having a party or going to a pot lock, this dish will be the star of the buffet table and will likely disappear. If, however, you happen to have leftovers, know it will be even better the next day.
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 2-3 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced in 1" cubes
- 2 organic red and yellow bell peppers seeded and chopped
- 1 poblano pepper seeded and chopped
- 1 jalapeno diced
- 3 organic carrots peeled and chopped
- 3 organic celery stalks chopped
- 1 large yellow onion chopped
- 6-8 garlic cloves minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste from a tube
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 can 28 oz organic diced tomatoes
- 3 cans 15-16 oz organic beans of choice, low sodium or no salt added (I used black pinto and kidney beans), drained
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal, optional
- For garnish: chopped green onions, avocado, raw diced white or red onions, chopped cilantro (if you have some carnivores to please, add shredded cheese and sour cream to the garnishes)
In a 6-quart or larger Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When it is hot, stir in the squash, bell peppers, poblano pepper, jalapeno pepper, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes.
Add the broth, diced tomatoes and their juices and the drained beans. Stir in the chili powder and cumin and bring back to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer for at least 1 hour, or until the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle the cornmeal over the top and stir well to combine and cook another 20 minutes. If time allows, please let this chili cook for several hours as it gets even better when simmered longer and the flavors really have time to meld. As it cooks, it may be necessary to add a cup of water to the chili, if it gets thick.
Before serving, taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve hot with green onions, raw white or red onions and cilantro. For the non-vegans, consider adding shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream to the buffet of garnishes.
To make this delicious meal even more memorable, be sure and pick up a bag of Siete grain-free tortilla chips. These paleo tortilla chips are made with cassava and coconut flour add a welcome crunch to this spectacularly flavorful chili.