Rejoice, nerds and ascetics alike (and you know who you are), for your humble servant, the Irrev. Fr. Andrew, is passing on to you in tradition this, the recipe for the finest vegetarian chili you will ever eat. (If it is not, then that means you’re doing it wrong.)
This recipe originally started with a certain Mr. Gorski with whom I shared living space years ago, but in my vanity and wanton abandon, I took it upon myself to experiment with making it without any meat. And lo! there was an angelic-esque visitation, placing upon me not the monastic schema (for such a thing would never fit me, anyhow), but rather this recipe for perfect nourishment without the flesh of animals.
The annotation is for the nerds.
Superior Chili (vegetarian, hyper-annotated version)
6 cans (12 cups) of beans (black, red, pinto or cranberry, or a combination thereof), soaked or at least somewhat cooked
3 bay leaves
6 tbsp paprika
2 medium sized dried peppers, ground
1 tsp cayenne or other ground hot pepper
6 tbsp cumin
6 tbsp oregano
4-6 medium onions
4 big-sized fresh hot peppers
1-2 fresh bell peppers (I prefer red and/or yellow)
6 cans (12 cups) of tomatoes
1 bulb of garlic, peeled and smashed
splash of red wine (optional)
Preparation time: about 45-60 minutes
Cooking time: 3-5 hours
Put the beans in a big stock pot (as big as you got; no, bigger), under about an inch of water, along with the bay leaves. Bring the pot to a boil, and then back it off to a simmer. Now, make your chili powder.
Combine the paprika with the ground dry peppers and cayenne. Set aside. Heat a small pan to between medium and medium-high heat. Put in the oregano and cumin. Toast them in the pan, mixing continuously with the edge of a spatula to keep them from burning. When they start to give off a strong aroma and give off just a tiny bit of smoke, they’re done—this may be only 20-30 seconds, depending on heat, ambient humidity, etc. Add the paprika/pepper mixture, stirring for a few seconds until the whole thing is mixed up and warm. Remove from heat and set aside. This is the chili powder.
Chop up the onions and fresh peppers (exclude the seeds for milder spice level). Put some oil in a skillet and sautée the onions and peppers until the onions are translucent and the peppers are soft.
Add the peppers and onions to the big pot, being sure to include the oil, which is now full of oniony and peppery goodness. Add tomatoes. Add the chili powder. Add the garlic. You may also add a splash of red wine.
Stir pot, sample, adjust spices as necessary. You may wish to add some salt, but you should probably wait until it’s more done.
Stir occasionally, letting simmer uncovered. Expect at least 3 hours of simmering time, but 4 may be better. It really depends on how much liquid you’ve got in the pot. It’s done when the thickness is what you expect chili to have.
Feeds a small army.
Shopping: When shopping for spices, go directly to the Mexican/Hispanic section of the grocery store first. They often have bulk paprika, oregano, and cumin available at a fraction of what you’ll pay elsewhere in the store. They may also have your dried peppers in this section. Also be sure to know your fresh peppers by name, because the clerk at the checkout line will have to call in reinforcements while trying to look up what you’re buying.
The Joys of Capsaicin: Capsaicin is the chemical which makes hot peppers hot. When a pepper is dry, capsaicin remains relatively contained, but when you cut up fresh peppers, even the mild ones like I prefer, you get it all over your hands. It’s invisible. If you’re like me, you absentmindedly touch your face often in your life. If you do this while you’re making this chili, YOU WILL FEEL PAIN. Capsaicin doesn’t just burn your tongue and make things have that nice flavor, but it also will make your skin feel like it’s glowing. It’s not too bad until you rub your eyes or (God forbid) do anything involving the inside of your nose. Avoid touching your face if at all possible, and wash your hands multiple times when you’re done. A friend of mine (an accomplished cook) recommends using latex gloves for handling the peppers.
The Spice Must Flow: This recipe is made to feed a small army. Many armies like spicy food, especially if they are composed of Indians or South Americans. American armies, however, tend to have a variety of preferences, so I recommend that unless you’re planning on just feeding Indians, South Americans, or otherwise spice-enhanced peoples, you should plan for a milder chili and make extra cayenne available for those who want it. If you accidentally overspice, don’t panic! Add more tomatoes and beans. (You can also soak a raw potato in the pot for a while. It will absorb both saltiness and spice. Don’t leave it in there.)
Meat: This recipe can handle meat, but the addition of it will magnify the spiciness. Be forewarned, and be prepared to back off on the dry peppers and cayenne. If you do put in meat, use steak. (Why settle for ground beef? This is Superior Chili.) Sear it, then throw it in the pot after everything else.
Adjust, adjust, adjust: I tend to follow this same pattern pretty much every time, but I always end up adjusting as I go. The world’s a crazy, chaotic place, and this isn’t a formula. It’s a recipe, which is a starting point, not a commandment. This recipe is what it is here because I decided to keep trying things. I eventually learned that using a bean to tomato ratio of 1:1 provides a hearty flavor even without meat. (Most chili recipes use a 2:1 ratio.)
Timing: Especially because there are so many variables that can affect the liquid level, the cooking time is going to be long and could vary. Start this around lunch time to be ready for dinner. If it gets done before dinner, put the lid on, lower the temperature even more, and let it simmer so that the flavors keep blending. Longer is better. (And this will taste even better tomorrow after it’s sat a night in the fridge.)
1. From the Rev. Andrew Stephen Damick, based on a recipe received from Mr. Christopher P. Gorski.
2. I really like using a 5:1 ratio of black to pinto. I honestly don’t know if the flavor would be as hearty if it were a majority red, pinto or cranberry pot. I like to include some cranberry beans, as they impart a flavor not unlike pork. In any event, they should already be cooked. The ones in cans are somewhat cooked, but the dry kind are most certainly not. If you use the canned kind, do not throw away the syrupy liquid but include it in the pot. If you use the dry, throw away the initial water you used to cook them. You’ll need to add more water when you put them in the pot. Dry beans are cheaper and will also tend to retain their shape better in the final product, but you also have to soak them overnight.
3. The chief export of Hungary is paprika. Support the Hungarian economy. Make more chili.
4. I like anchos, which really are simply what poblano peppers are called when dried. W hen grinding the peppers, you can use your coffee grinder, but be sure to remove the stems first. Empty out the seeds unless you like your chili extra spicy. (Clean your coffee grinder out by grinding dry rice in it, then wiping out with a cloth or paper towel.)
5. Powdered or finely ground is best, but coarse is usually cheaper. If you buy coarse, you can grind it up more finely with a coffee grinder.
6. I like to use 2 ancho/poblano peppers and 2 anaheims. If you like heat, add serranos, habaneros, and/or jalapenos.
7. Fresh really is best, but if you get canned, make sure they’re not the kind with anything added to them. We’ll season and spice our own food, thank you very much. If you use fresh, you’ll need to dice them.
8. You can mince your garlic if you like, but smashing really is better. The best method is with a mortar and pestle. A secret I learned from Palestinians is to salt the cloves before you smash them into a pulp. It brings out the garlickiness much better. Of course you don’t have to use a whole bulb, but how can you ever have too much garlic?
9. A relatively flavorless oil is best. Olive oil or other oils with their own strong character don’t usually work here, but of course your mileage may vary.
10. DO NOT pansy out and buy pre-made chili powder. This is what makes this recipe Superior. Thank my former roommate. (I will not even tell you how to use pre-made chili powder with this recipe.)
11. You may also add a little garlic powder if you wish, but really, don’t bother. You have a BULB of FRESH garlic going in later.
12. No wait, add more garlic. MORE. Make sure you scrape every tiny morsel of garlic into the pot.