Spicy, Smoky, Stovetop Vegetarian Chili
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Last Greek Easter while standing around the lamb turning on a spit, a few of my cousins confessed:
- They had become mostly vegetarians.
- They had been making my meaty weeknight chili recipe without the meat.
These admissions, I should note, didn’t stop anyone from fighting over the crispy lamb skin, but they did inspire me to create a vegetarian chili recipe.
Upon returning home, I set to work with a few goals in mind, namely ease and flavor: I wanted it to feel as effortless (or nearly so) as the weeknight chili recipe mentioned above, but just as satisfying with good heat, smoke, and heft.
This recipe is the product of my experiments, a hearty mix of both beans and bulgur, a heap of vegetables, spices, and umami-rich pantry staples. It has nice spice and smoke, thanks to chipotles in adobo sauce, cumin, and chili powder. It yields a good amount — about 6 quarts — and it freezes well. I find it deeply comforting, and I hope you will, too.
Here are the details:
Vegetarian Chili: Key Ingredients
- Pinto Beans: As you may know, I can be a little particular about cooking beans from scratch. With chili, however, I don’t fuss so much — the beans need not be cooked perfectly. Here, dried un-soaked pinto beans go right into my Instant Pot with six cups of water for 40 minutes at high pressure followed by a quick release. The beans emerge cooked, but firm, and they soften up perfectly as they simmer with the other chili ingredients. Canned, rinsed pinto beans will, of course, work here as well.
- Bulgur: Inspired by a favorite old vegetarian chili recipe in The Frog Commissary Cookbook, I’ve added bulgur here, which, in addition to the beans, provides texture and substance. It doesn’t taste “meaty” but it adds a meatiness. Duru extra-coarse bulgur is my favorite brand. It makes excellent tabbouleh.
- Chili powder and cumin: Chili powder and cumin, two classic chili spices, provide heat and smoke respectively. I like to use a mix of chipotle chili powder and traditional chili powder. Chipotle chili powder is very spicy, but its got great flavor.
- Chipotles in adobo. Chipotles in adobo sauce are are dried, smoked jalapeños. I love their intense smoky, fiery flavor. As with the chipotle chili powder, you can tailor the amount to include depending on your heat tolerance.
- Vegetables: Here I’ve used nearly 4 quarts of chopped vegetables, a mix of onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. You can use whatever vegetables you like, just go big — a heap is key!
- Tomato paste: Just as it does with soups and sauces, tomato paste adds depth of flavor (umami!) to chili.
- Vinegar: A hefty splash of vinegar in soups, stews, and the like is never a bad idea, and chili is no exception. Colavita white balsamic is what I use for nearly everything, but any white vinegar you have on hand will work.
Here’s the play-by-play: Gather your ingredients:
This is the bulgur I love: Duru extra-coarse bulgur.
Cook your beans (or open a few cans): In the Instant Pot: 40 minutes, high pressure, quick release.
While the beans cook, chop the onions.
Then sauté them in olive oil.
While they cook, chop the peppers, then add them to the pot.
While they cook, chop the mushrooms.
Then add them to the pot with the onions and peppers.
Meanwhile, mince up some garlic, and add it to the pot.
Meanwhile, chop up some chipotles in adobo sauce, and open up a few more cans.
Add tomato paste and spices to the pot of vegetables and cook for about a minute.
Add the bulgur, chipotles, and crushed tomatoes.
Add the beans.
Add water and bring to a simmer.
Simmer for about 45 minutes.
Top with scallions, grated cheese, and sour cream if you wish.