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From Meat to Meatless

Don’t Forget to Rinse!

I wasn’t feeling very well this week so I didn’t make any soup.  Not that I’m leaving you without a recipe.  I’m not inhospitable.  It’s just that, after a few days of feeling a bit like a slab of meat, I decided to go with a favorite meatless entree.

It’s a vegetarian chili from my days as a hack in the Los Angeles Unified School District, (the last time I felt like a slab of meat.) We served it at our Holiday party every year, originally as the vegetarian option and finally, because the flavor was so good, as the only option.

That’s the thing about vegetarian cooking, if it’s good, it can hold it’s own against any other protein rich cuisine out there. It’s often dismissed here in the Midwest, because it’s different and is harder to pull off than your basic piece of protein.

One path to good vegetarian cooking is to make spices and herbs the focus of the dish.  You see a lot of this in the curries and vegetable stews from India and Southeast Asia.  That’s the road this chili follows, but it’s not the only one. Another way to go involves offering vegetables the same array of cooking techniques usually reserved for meat, poultry and fish.

The first vegetarian menu I wrote for the LA Times featured escalivata, the Spanish grilled vegetable dish made of eggplant, peppers and onions.  Ever since, I’ve been in love with grilled vegetables.  But you don’t have to stop there.  What about baking, broiling, browning, braising, roasting, stewing or frying?

If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander-related vegetable.

As my wife demonstrated at our elementary school fundraising dinner this fall, there’s a growing demand for this kind of food. The traditional fare at the Septemberfest had long been hamburgers, hot dogs and beef sandwiches. This year, in the face of serious opposition, my wife brought in vegetarian sandwiches too.  And they sold out!  Actually, everything did.

We could have told them that based on our dinner party experiences in Los Angeles.  Some people are hungry for healthy alternatives, others are just hungry for variety. It got to the point where our vegetarian options were so popular we had to set aside portions for our veggie friends and family so they would have something they could eat.

That’s why this vegetarian chili is such a big hit wherever we serve it.  It’s flavorful, filling and fun.  Three things we can all agree on.  And, it meets the needs of herbivores, omnivores and carnivores (except for the whole meat thing).

Of course, if you’d rather not jump so whole-heartedly into the vegetarian camp, you can always garnish your chili with bacon.  I find that onions, sour cream and shredded cheese are garnish enough, but I’m not going to limit your freedom of expression.

That’s what hospitality is all about.

Vegetarian Chili
(serves 6-8)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup onions, diced
3/4 cup bell pepper (green, red, yellow, orange,  You decide), diced
1 15-oz. can tomatoes, drained
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
1 15-oz. can black beans
1 15-oz. can kidney beans, drained
1 15-oz. can corn, drained
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
Sour cream (optional)
Chopped onions
Shredded cheese (optional)

  1. Heat oil in a large pot, then sauté onions and peppers.
  2. Add remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce to a simmer for 30-45 minutes.
  3. Serve warm garnished with sour cream, onions, cheese and a side of corn bread.

Image Credit: Photograph of black beans courtesy the “good” folks at Microsoft.

Maybe you’re going to go all veggie on me now.  Maybe this is only a brief interlude.  Maybe it’s just something you read about.  Whatever.  It’s nice to keep a place for everything in your pantry, fridge or mind. Thanks for coming, commenting and coming back for more.  I’ll be reading and responding.

7 Comments to “From Meat to Meatless”

  1. Michael says:

    I just made this tonight. Very tasty! I added some tobasco along with the sour cream and cheese for a little more kick. Awesome!

    • pcandres says:

      Thanks. It’s a great chili. As you say, it isn’t particularly spicy, but that’s what makes it work for everybody. I’m glad your adaptation worked. Try this week’s pork asada. That’s spicy

  2. Jame says:

    I appreciate all the vegetarian options you have shared on this blog… But it was especially nice reading about vegetarian dishes being more of the focus of the piece. Bravo! I particularly liked that comment that you have had to set aside portions so that your vegetarian friends and family members would actually get something to eat! Many non-veg folks forget that they can eat everything offered – if the veg dishes run out, they can go with the meat. Not us vegetarians! Thank you for that note and your thoughtfulness. (Used to happen a lot when I went “family style” with friends at Chinese restaurants, too. Most people don’t think about it and take a good heaping serving from all the dishes. I’m left with one or two small servings from the one or two vegetarian ones… Argh. I tend not to do “family style” much anymore.)

    • pcandres says:

      Yes, well, it’s easier when you have someone serving who’s sensitive to the issue. Of course, the next installment isn’t all that vegetarian at all. Although I am trying to imagine a portobello asada dish. It seems rife with possibilities. Thanks for the comment. And on behalf of all the omnivores out there. I’m sorry.

  3. Titania says:

    You know I’ve made this one many tmes and that means it has evolved. One of the things I’ve added is a generous amount of cumin, usually about 1 T., just a little ‘mother love’.

    • pcandres says:

      I just discovered I didn’t have any cumin in my pantry. I agree that cumin is a welcome addition. But the dish is more mainstream without it.