my chili (officially the best)

OK, so. Two people recently asked me for two recipes, so here they are. Today: chili. Tomorrow: mujadara!!!

After this I might be a bit quiet on the internet while I settle back into frigid life in NY, so enjoy cooking!

So here’s my award winning chili recipe! It’s a bit of a to-do and is pretty damned deluxe, but it’s totes worth it. Here’s the basic recipe, but for the competition I changed a few things: First, I stirred in a whole ton of chocolate. It gives chili a really nice brick-red color, and a super deep dark roasty flavor. Just be careful that it doesn’t get near the bottom of the pot, or it can scorch and burn and lend an off flavor to everything. Stir it in when you’re done cooking. (Hey, if you have a cold cup of coffee sitting around, toss that in too. I really like the flavor.) I also put my home-frozen tomatoes through a food mill to get rid of the skins, because I wanted my chili to be all cheffy and smooth. It’s an optional step (and not necessary if you’re using canned tomatoes). And I put in just a little of a ramp pickle I made (made exactly like sauerkraut, but with ramps) because I wanted to bump up the bright, fresh, tart flavor and because it was one more local ingredient and I wanted to win the “most local ingredients” prize (in the end I was stuck in the veggie ghetto and won “Best Vegetarian Chili: Professional Division.”)

Three Bean-Tempeh Chili with Soft Polenta, Sour Cream, and Garnish Buffet

Yield: 12 cups. I’d double it and freeze some, personally. (Well, personally I make 7 times this recipe when I make it, but that’s just me.)

½ cup dried black beans

½ cup dried anasazi beans (or pinto)

½ cup dried kidney beans

(Sure, you could use canned beans. I’d say 1/2 cup dried equals one can. [Biting my tongue to not say anything further. There are a lot worse things than canned beans in this world, I’ll say that.])

1 dried chipotle chile (from your trusty local Latina market)

1 pasilla chile (from your trusty local Latina market)

2 ancho chiles (from your trusty local Latina market)

(Argh! I want to tell you that these are all dried chilies, but my dorky need for absolute correctness won’t let me because pasilla means a dried chilie—I’m not sure exactly what kind—and ancho means a dried poblano chile. Chipotle means that it’s a smoked jalapeno, so I put “dried” so you wouldn’t use, say, a chipotle in adobo sauce, though really that would be fine too and YES I AM THE MOST ANNOYING RECIPE WRITER EVER. If you can’t find all three chilies, you can use all of just one kind. But if you use all ancho chilies your chili will be hella mild. You can also use ancho and chipotle chile powder—I like Penzeys brand—but the chilies are definitely more tasty.)

8 oz. tempeh, crumbled

3 tablespoons grape seed oil

olive oil

3 onions, coarsely chopped

3 Italian eggplants, coarsely chopped (no good eggplants around? You can just skip these.)

2 orange bell peppers, coarsely chopped (red peppers are fine too, I like the color of orange better)

2 tablespoons dry sherry (optional, or water)

3 tablespoons dried Greek or Mexican oregano

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons ground cumin (if you wanted to, say, win a contest, you’d toast whole cumin seeds in a cast iron skillet, let it cool, then grind in a spice grinder.)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne, optional, for a hotter chili

9 cloves garlic, minced

2 (28 oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes (when I don’t have my frozen summery tomatoes, I use Muir Glen fire-roasted whole peeled tomatoes, and I didn’t get paid by them to say that, but if they want to send me a few hundred cans or so to thank me I’d be cool with it. And maybe here we could talk about YET ANOTHER SNOBBY COOKING THING I HAVE TO SUBJECT YOU TO. Don’t ever buy crushed or chopped canned tomatoes, ok? It takes 2 seconds to toss a can of whole peeled tomatoes into the blender and two minutes to chop them on a cutting board, and by doing so you’ll avoid the metallic taste of canned chopped tomatoes. Go for the gold!)

salt to taste, probably about 2 teaspoons

little bit of brown sugar

  1. Cover all the beans with 2” of water and bring to a boil. Make sure the water is barely simmering, or else it will break up the beans. Reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, 1 hour or until soft (it could be four hours, depending on how old your beans are. Keep adding water to cover if needed). Do not overcook. If needed, drain beans. Add 1 teaspoon salt to cooked and drained beans and set aside. (I never soak beans. Also? I cook mine with salt! I’m basically a crazy wild rebel, what can I say. I hesitate to tell you to cook yours with salt, even though I do think they taste better that way, and because salt helps them retain their shape, but if they are old they will take AGES longer to cook if you salt them at the beginning. It’s your call.)
  2. Cut off the tops of chiles, shake out seeds, and put in a medium bowl. Add boiling water to cover and soak, covered, at least 20 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid, and blend with enough reserved liquid to make a thick, smooth paste. Set aside. (This stuff is awesome to have around. You can make a whole ton and freeze it. YUM.)
  3. In a sauté pan, heat grape seed oil until very hot. Add tempeh and fry until golden. Add oregano, red pepper flakes, cumin, cayenne, and chili paste and fry one minute. Add garlic and fry until fragrant, one minute more.
  4. In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of oil. When hot, add the onions and sauté until slightly soft. Remove and set aside. Add a bit more oil, and add eggplant and sauté until soft. Remove and set aside. Add a bit more oil, and add peppers. Sauté until slightly browned. (Deglaze pan with sherry whenever necessary during this process to scrape up browned bits.) Add tempeh mixture and browned vegetables to pot along with chilies.
  5. Lower the heat to low and add the beans. Whiz tomatoes for 2 seconds in the blender, and add tomatoes with their juices and sugar to the pot. Cook, partially covered, 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. Cool, refrigerate, and reheat gently the next day. Taste and adjust flavors as necessary (you might want more salt, a touch of vinegar, more sugar, etc.)

Obviously, you can eat this the same day, but the flavor is much more developed the next day.

So I have this disease* where my hands (and feet) hurt like hell whenever they are exposed during the winter. Thus my highly unsanitary gloves. It was COLD. Who had the idea to do this thing outside, anyway?

Soft Polenta

Yield: 1 ½ cups (about 3 servings)

I never measure when making polenta, so these quantities are rough guidelines. Just make sure it’s super duper runny when finished, because it thickens up in a few minutes. Just keep adding olive oil and salt until it tastes good. Making polenta is not as scary as people always make it out to be—it’s porridge!

3 tablespoons or so olive oil, divided

¾ cup good stock or water (I like water mixed with wine best)

1 ½ cups cold water

sea salt

½ cup polenta

  1. Bring 2 tablespoons olive oil, stock, water, and a large pinch salt to a boil. Turn heat to low and add polenta, stirring with a whisk or fork or wooden spoon.
  2. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until polenta is soft, 15-20 minutes (it will start to pull away from the sides of the pan). Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and serve while hot.

Tofu Sour Cream

Yield: 3 cups

This makes way too much sour cream, you might want to halve the recipe. I think I originally learned this recipe in cooking school, and I’ve been tinkering with it ever since. I normally can’t stand tofu-based sauces, but this one is, admittedly, really lovely. For the contest I stirred in some chopped chives.

½ cup lemon juice

½ cup grape seed oil

2 teaspoons salt

4 scallions, white part only

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons mustard

1 lb tofu

  1. Combine all ingredients but tofu in blender or food processor. Process until smooth, then add tofu and process until smooth and creamy.


(Apart from the 10 zillion other labor intensive things,) what makes this chili super special are the garnishes. Obviously, no need to go insane finding them all.

tofu sour cream

1 large red onion, thinly sliced on a mandoline

small red tomatoes (heirlooms best), diced,

1 bu scallions, chopped

1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1/2 cup chopped basil leaves

2 ripe avocados, diced,

4 limes, quartered

2 cups sunflower sprouts, trimmed

To serve

Make sure the chili is hot. Make sure the polenta is hot. The garnishes should be nice and cold. Put the polenta in a bowl—ideally one of those wide, shallow pasta bowls—and top with the chili. Have the garnishes out in ramekins or small bowls and let people go crazy customizing their chili.

“HOLY SHIT I AM SO FUCKING COLD. Also, Brittany’s hair is always so shiny—I wonder what shampoo she uses?”

*Self-diagnosed, but still! My fingers turn blue outside in about 1 minute! (Waaaah, don’t make me go home in January!)

11 Responses to “my chili (officially the best)”

  1. brittany

    your hair looks equally shiny. but, bumble and bumble everything. i highly doubt there’s anything vegan/fair trade/anti-capitalist about it and it’s insanely expensive, but, i’m addicted.

    that was a great day. but, yes, freezing.

  2. Erin

    I had this chili and I voted for it! Thanks for posting the sour cream recipe. I must admit, I have been mourning the absence of (dairy) sour cream lately for chili (my newest winter obsession, what a coincidence). You know, i just want something sour and creamy. I was thinking I could make a cultured cashew cream, but I don’t even know where/how cashews are grown/harvested.

    Reading your blog has become one of my favorite wintertime pastimes!

  3. Erin

    I found a company called Just Cashews that sells certified fair trade and organic cashews. Have you heard of this company? I think I might order a 25 pound box of raw cashews, as long as they seem legit.

  4. lagusta

    Hmmm…no, I haven’t heard of them, but it sounds good. Are they super pricey? If they’re not like double what HAN (what I call your sweetheart’s place of employ) sells them for, I’d definitely be good for some…I think theirs are organic, no? Argh, I could be wrong.

  5. Solana

    Lagusta! I’m shopping for this chili recipe, but I cannot find grapeseed oil in Porto (crazy I know) I tried a few health food stores but alas nada. Can I substitute a different oil for example olive oil? It is pretty slim pickens for health foody stuff here, and or “gourmet” as the guy at the grocery told me..haha yummy I cant wait to get cookin this chili!

    • lagusta

      Yeah, you can do almost any neutral-tasting oil, like corn oil or things like that. Olive oil will be really nice, though technically you’re not supposed to brown veggies in e.v.o., but it will be tasty and nice, to be honest. Yay! Let me know how it goes!

  6. Vee

    Hahaha at the chopped tomatoes. Rachel Ray actually advises people to buy pre-chopped onions though…what’s with that?


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