The story of chili always ends with the statement that it’s better the second day. So why don’t we just make it ahead of time and consider that first day as part of the cooking process? I do. My “vegan-ified” version uses pecans, which have a distinct richness and “meaty” mouthfeel, and play very nicely with the brown spices. The dried mushrooms are a nifty addition that I learned from Cook’s Illustrated. Not only do the pulverized mushrooms thicken the chili, they also add that forest-floor bass note that we interpret as “hearty.” I keep some dried mushroom powder in my spice rack at all times—whatever’s cheapest—and you should too. A spoonful will add a layer of complexity to vegan dishes and omnivorous dishes alike.
large heavy-bottomed pot
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
16 ounces button mushrooms, stems removed, wiped clean, and quartered
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
2 jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 cups pecans (about 7 ounces), toasted, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 cinnamon stick
Two 15-ounce cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 cups vegetable stock (or vegetable broth, and cut the salt by half)
One 15-ounce can tomato sauce
One 1-ounce package dried mushrooms (whatever is cheapest), pulverized in a blender
1 tablespoon kosher salt
In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil and add the fresh mushrooms. Cook, stirring only once, until browned, about 6 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot. Scrape the bottom of the pot and stir to incorporate. Simmer until the vegetables and nuts are soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate overnight.
HOLD IT? Keep the chili in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Reheat the chili in a pot over low heat, stirring often.
PLATE IT! My ideal chili-serving vessel would be the dolsot, which is an individual Korean earthenware bowl that retains tons of heat. You can find them online. Warm them up slowly in the oven, and then ladle in the chili. Or you can scoop the chili into a bowl. Garnish with whatever you like (see below).
BREAK IT: Chili is kind of an open-source recipe. Now that you’ve made it, customize it to your liking. Change the beans, add some greens, or even wrap it in a tortilla and fry it up like the chimichangas.
Tip: Before you do anything with hot peppers, put your latex gloves on.
Ramen of the Southwest
I like to think of chili as the ramen of the Southwest, so I arrange my garnishes on top, as opposed to just chucking them on. You can garnish it however you want. Here are some ideas:
Cheese or vegan cheese sauce
Tortilla chips (tossed in ranch powder)
Sour cream or vegan substitute
Scrambled eggs or vegan substitute
A pat of pumpkin butter
From The Laws of Cooking by Justin Warner, Flatiron Books 2015.
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