Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Chili in the air


Vegetable chili is one of those recipes that I improvise with every time I make it. The backbone is the chili sauce and beans. The added vegetables are what ever is on hand.
Onion harvest from Hook Mountain Growers

Bell peppers, onions, zucchini, winter squashes, carrots, tomatoes, green beans, corn kernels have all found their way into my chili pot. I especially like this recipe when I am trying to feed those who don't think they really like vegetables. In other words, kids and other picky eaters. I love the addition of the winter squashes like pumpkin in this recipe because they add a sweetness to balance out the heat of the chilies and a thickness to create a belly-filling satisfaction.

A staple of all vegetarian restaurants, vegetable chili is worth making at home because it is easy, inexpensive AND you can make it taste the way you want. I think of recipes like this as something very fluid. It can morph in many wonderfully different ways. Thick or thin, sweet or spicy, chunky or fine, crunchy or soft. Or a little bit of all. That is the beauty of it. Dip into a chili recipe and boldly trust your instincts to guide you.

Vegetable Chili with Pumpkin
2 Tbs. Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
s & p  to taste
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
1 small zuchini, chopped into bite size pieces
4 Tbs. chili powder
2 Tbs. flour
1 Tbs. Tomato paste (I love to buy tomato paste in a tube, rather thank dealing with a partially used can)
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (you can used canned)
1 1/2 cups cubed calabaza pumpkin (substitute acorn or butternut squash if you like)
1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen is fine)
1 14oz. can kidney beans (white, pink, or black beans are good too)
1 teas. dried tarragon
1 teas. dried oregano
2 cups water
1 Tbs. sugar - optional

Heat oil in a large sauce pan and saute onions and carrots, seasoned with salt and pepper for 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the garlic and the zucchini and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the chili powder and cook for a minute, stirring it into the oil in the pan to create a paste. Add the flour and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, the tomatoes, the pumpkin, corn, the beans and the dried herbs and stir to combine the contents of pan. Slowly add the water till most of the vegetables are covered. You want this to turn into a sauce, not a soup. Only add as much water as you need at this point. Stir pan again to loosen the tomato/chili paste into the water. Lower heat to a simmer and allow chili to cook slowly uncovered for 20 minutes. Look at the pot every once in a while to make sure the chili doesn't get too dry. Add more water as needed. After 20 minutes taste the sauce to check on the balance of flavor. Adjust seasonings as needed. If you like your chili a bit sweet, add a Tbs. of sugar to the pot. Allow to simmer a another five minutes until vegetables are tender.

Love the idea of pumpkin in vegetarian chili. So perfectly "Fall".  Maybe just the idea that pumpkin is actually in a dish will interest my 5 and 4 year olds to try it! Right now all they know is that pumpkins should either have faces painted on them, or faces cut out with candles burning in them.

This chili sounds great, and I love to improvise. Depending on your seasoning, and whether you prefer it sweet or spicy, will determine what wine to use. But I would opt for red either way. If you like to "spice it up" a bit, as I do, choose a wine that will not exacerbate the heat, but rather complement and "mellow" it. Something with sweet fruit flavors. Perhaps a Shiraz. Australian Shiraz has a lot of concentrated fruit, with thick, jammy flavors. Lots of spice as well. So, I would either go in this direction, or look to a red from the Southern Rhone in France. Grenache and Syrah (same varietal as Shiraz) blends would be appropriate. Again, the wines provide a richness of fruit which will soften the spice. Be sure not to pick a red that is too tannic, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, as the spice in the food will make the tannins more pronounced and unappealing. A Zinfandel would also be wonderful with this dish. You don't want a wine that is too subtle as the bold, spicy flavors in the chile will wage war with the wine, the food ultimately claiming victory.  Heat in a dish can reak havoc with your taste buds, and a wine that is too mellow will be lost on them. So, something bigger and bolder like a California Zin with lots of spice will work well in conjunction with the firey flavors of the dish.

If you don't necessarily like firey hot chile, the flavors of the spices themselves call for any of these varietals. I would specifically stay away from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for this particular recipe. If red is not your "thing", try a Rose or perhaps a Riesling.


  1. Chili is a staple in my house when the chill sets in. Thanks for a vegetarian spin on it! Is there a good substitute for zucchini in the fall and winter? Want to stay eating seasonally as much as possible.

  2. It is pretty tough to find anything green in the winter, isn't it? If you don't object to frozen I would go that route. Not frozen zucchini, but lima beans would be good. I bet your tomatillos would work too.

  3. Hmmm. I have some frozen tomatillos. I'll give that a try, thanks!


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