Chili con frijoles

I haven’t always been vegan. I’m certainly a better vegan cook than I ever was when I cooked with meat. Nonetheless, there were a few meat meals I made very well, most of which I’ve successfully and satisfactorily veganized; however, one dish remains: chili.

I’ve tried all the usual suspects. The tempeh, the highly processed veggie crumbles, mushrooms…. It’s not about texture for me, so seitan and tofu wouldn’t do. Chili made with ground beef has a dark, rich depth of flavor that I have not been able to master without the beef. But this chili is very good. Absolutely good enough to share with you. And I have more tricks up my sleeve that I’m going to try next.

One disclaimer: I am a native Californian. Chili in California most often has vegetables in it, and definitely has beans in it, even when it’s made with meat. When I was a kid, I remember seeing a can of chili con carne “without beans” on the shelf of a grocery store, and asking, “No beans? What’s in the can??”

Chili con frijoles

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • *2 frozen veggie burger patties, diced (optional)
  • 2 generous tbsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 28-oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups cooked navy beans
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels, roasted (from Trader Joe’s, if you’ve got it)
  • Salt to taste

Preheat a cast iron Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil. Once the oil is shiny, add the onion, and let saute for about five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients in order, chopping the whole tomatoes with your spoon,

Chili and fixings

Chili and fixings

stir well, bring to a boil, and then turn to low. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.

Serve with fried onions, Tabasco, and corn bread.

*I used Don Lee veggie burgers from Costco, which are made of quinoa and veggies, and are good quality without many weird ingredients.

Gratin of my dreams

I have an Aunt Carol who is fabulous. Truth be told, she’s my step aunt, but I’ve known her as long as I can remember, and she’s so awesome, I can’t not claim her. If my memory serves me correctly, in the early ’70s, she and her equally fabulous husband first moved to Bern, Switzerland, producer of – in my opinion – the world’s best chocolate, where they taught, sang, and accompanied opera. Then, they moved to northern Germany (#2 in chocolate, but it’s a close second), where they continue to live, teach, sing, and breathe opera today.

Now, as I said, Aunt Carol is fabulous, so being fabulous, she has to study and become fluent in Greek after the age of, like, 65. Well, she lives in Germany, which is about 5 minutes from Greece, and lucky me, she’s not vegan, but allergic to dairy, so I am the happiest beneficiary of her notes about Greek peasant food that she eats or actually participates in making. I live vicariously.

Based on Aunt Carol’s descriptions, I’ve added freshly grated turmeric to mashed or roasted potatoes, and improvised a pumpkin pie surrounded in phyllo, which always gets comments like, “Mmmm, it’s like baklava!” Tonight, based on her rough description of a casserole, I came up with this absolutely DELICIOUS gratin. I don’t know how much it tasted like the one Aunt Carol ate on her last trip to Greece, but I assure you, it made me swoon.

Greek eggplant and potato gratin

  • 1 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 lrg eggplant, thinly sliced cross-wise, about 1/4″ thick
  • 6 red-skin potatoes, sliced about 1/4″ thick
  • 1 14-oz can tomato sauce
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • Coarse salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425°. Spray a 9×13″ casserole pan with cooking spray. Heat a large cast iron pan over a little lower than medium-high heat. Add about 1/4 cup of oil to the pan, and fry the eggplant slices in batches, adding oil as needed, until golden or a little darker. Place the tomato sauce, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a bowl, and whisk to combine. Pour about a third of the tomato sauce into the bottom of the casserole pan, layer on half of the potato slices, half of the eggplant, one-third of the tomato sauce, the other half of the potatoes and eggplant, the onion slices, and the last third of sauce. Drizzle on whatever is left of the olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about an hour. Test the potato for doneness by poking it with a sharp knife. If it’s soft, uncover the gratin, and bake for another ten or fifteen minutes until bubbling. Generously sprinkle on the coarse salt (Maldon is my preference), and serve.