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How do you make the best Plant-Based Chili? Hang on, we’ll get there!
But first, who has the best Chili recipe, period? Is it Spicy, Savory, Sweet, Meaty, Tomatoey. Thin or Thick. How about pasta (I’m originally from Cincinnati, OH, so it was chili + spaghetti)? With Fritos, beans or no beans, or what about the varieties of chili powders. To each their own when it comes to chili.
Considering that I’ve been a Texan for a little over 5 years now, and it has been Texas’ official state dish since 1977, I’ll be making a lot more chili in my lifetime
Since you’re reading, you’re probably a chili lover as well. I have an extra fondness of Chili because it lends itself to Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, and it’s a favorite across all parts of the world. And apparently, the 4th Thursday of February is United States’ National Chili Day!
Chowhound lists 8 of the most recognizable chilis:
I’m talking about all things PLANT-BASED CHILI in this post! Wait for a min…….what? But, when you remove the meat, how do you get all of the wonderful smokey, savory flavors, and creamy textures, so you’re not horribly missing the animal proteins? That’s exactly what I’m here to teach you!
I’ll cover a little origin info about the Chili dish, 4 foundational basics of what makes a chili. Then I’ll take you through the cardinal ingredients, as well as 4 simple techniques + tools that chefs use to make the most spectacular plant-based chili, to satisfy all of your tastebuds.
At the end of the post, you can grab a sensational plant-based chili recipe. And in case you’re worried, this Chili recipe is PACKED with protein, rich in anti-cancer enzymes, colorful, and even better tasting the next day!
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise now that Chili originated straight out of Texas during the mid-1700s, what is present-day San Antonio, Texas.
The chili “recipe” was a classic medley of strictly meat, garlic, onions, cumin, and chili peppers, and was also a favorite of American Cowboys after those leathery days on the ranch.
Believe it or not, the Chili Powder ingredient (not to be confused with CHILE Powder, which is only ground chile peppers) didn’t make an appearance in Chili recipes until the late 1890s. Since Chili Peppers were such a regional plant and it was really difficult to transport food those days, there was a very limited number of fresh chili peppers any one area had available.
A man by the name of Willie Gebhardt started stocking up on chili peppers, dried and ground them, mixed with dried Ground Cumin and Oregano Seeds and began selling it in the form of powder, also called Tampico Dust (Chili Powder) at the time. Wa-la, chili powder made a regular showing in chili!
By 1893, the “Texas Chili” made a national presence in the United States during an Exposition event in Chicago. It seemed like there was a Chili restaurant on every street corner by the 1920s. By the 1960s the U.S. hosted official Chili Cook-off competitions, which are still extremely popular to this day. Now, you can travel all over the world tasting countries’ renditions of the Texas-native chili recipe.
The pivotal parts of making an exceptional tasting Plant-Based Chili is not just about substituting the meat, but determining HOW the meat gives Chili its unique flavors and textures.
A few years ago, when I was transitioning to more plant-based eating, it was my goal to take favorite family recipes I grew up with, and make them more or completely plant-based. If you enjoy animal meats, and just started eating plant-based it might feel like there’s such a steep learning curve cooking strictly with plant foods. Simply start eating more plant foods by adjusting a few of your favorite recipes—like Chili!
In the next several sections I’ll cover the basic Plant-Based Chili components, the chef-tested & most important ingredients, easy cooking techniques, and simple kitchen tools that you DO NOT WANT TO MISS.
BASE + VEGETABLE FLAVORINGS + PROTEIN/GRAINS + TOPPINGS
In this section, we’ll only go into detail selecting the Base and Vegetable Flavoring components of your Chili. In later sections, I’ll share some cooking techniques for the Vegetables, Proteins, and Grains.
Obviously, a rich, flavorful, and beautiful chili recipe first STARTS with a couple of ingredients making up your Chili Base. Otherwise known as the Foundation of your chili recipe.
Again, the Base (Foundation) of your Chili is made up of:
Since Chili “develops” its flavor through simmering and slow cooking time, and frequently tastes better the 2nd day, it’s SUPER important to choose the right liquids. The flavors in the liquids will permeate everything in your Chili, so choose well!
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During my initial research on chili recipe spices and herbs, I started with none other than America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) resource, a longtime company, well-respected and recognized for years of testing recipes, cookware, and ingredients for the “everyday” cook.
Here are the recommended seasonings (include all or some of the following):
The 2nd part of your Chili is composed mostly of your vegetables, and perhaps mushrooms. When selecting which ones to include, think of it like this:
Aromatic Vegetable + Choose 2 (Root Veggie, Meaty Veggie, and/or Delicate Veggies)
There’s totally a reason it’s broken down like this! Also, much of the fresh produce I’m about to mention, I weekly stock in my Pantry or Fridge because they are the base of endless recipes. You can check out how to organize your Pantry HERE and how to organize your Fridge/Freezer HERE.
Vegetables such as Onions, Tomatoes, Garlic, Fresh Peppers, Carrots, and Celery bring a wonderful aroma to your Chili when you sautee or roast them. Select at least 2 for your Chili.
Zucchini, Summer Squash, and Corn are completely optional, but add a “freshness” or “sweetness” to Chili, which can be a nice contrast to spice and heat. These vegetables are best sliced into small pieces and put into the chili after you have added your liquids. Then you don’t end up with overcooked veggies.
Adding a “meaty” tasting vegetable to Chili blankets your dish with even more flavor. Select Crimini, Shiitake, or Baby Portobello Mushrooms. You can also use Cauliflower, just be sure to include it in small pieces, and after all of the liquid is added
What gives Chili (and other meat-centered dishes) their smokiness, depth, and savoriness is actually the result of amino acids called Glutamate. Glutamate gives foods their “Umami” flavors – the richness, smokiness, and depth I just mentioned.
Luckily, numerous types of plant-based foods offer delightful Umami flavors! According to culinary experts, to get the best umami gusto in your plant-based chili, select at least 2 of the following:
You might have also noticed that Tomatoes and Carrots are both Aromatics and Umami flavors. What a pair! In terms of Umami, whether you include all 6 of the ingredients or a few, your Chili will win in flavor intensity!
According to one of my FAVORITE culinary books The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, cooking techniques, such as browning, caramelizing, grilling, roasting, and sauteeing are all various ways to also get Umami flavor. By now, you’ve probably already picked up on the Umami theme in this post!
Here are a couple of kitchen techniques to enhance the flavor in your Chili:
I modified a couple of ingredients from the original Cook’s Illustrated Chili recipe:
(Recipe originally adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Best Vegetarian Chili)
Coarse Sea Salt
1 lb (2 1/2 cups) Dried Beans (1/2 Cannellini or Navy Beans + 1/2 Pinto, Black, or Kidney Beans)
1/4 Cup Ancho Chili Powder (recommend Simply Organic Ancho Chili Powder)
1/2 oz Dried Mushroom blend, coarsely chopped (If your grocer doesn’t have it, can also find here)
10 Fresh Crimini Mushrooms or Small Portobello Mushrooms, de-stemmed and roughly chopped in food processor
1/2 Cup – 1 Cup Red Wine
4 tsp Dried Oregano
1/2 cup Walnuts, toasted
1 (28 oz) Can Crushed Tomatoes, drained with juice saved (recommend Organic tomatoes, if you can)
3 Tbsp Tomato Paste (recommend Organic, if you can)
(Optional) 2 Fresh Jalapeño Chiles, de-stemmed and coarsely chopped
6 Purple or White Garlic Cloves, (mince garlic and let it sit for 10 min before cooking)
3 Tbsp Soy Sauce, Reduced Sodium
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Unfiltered (I get my favorite olive oil here)
2 lbs Shallots, finely chopped using a food processor
1 Tbsp Ground Cumin
7 Cups Vegetarian Stock (Reduced or Low Sodium, if you can)
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, chopped
Chopped Fresh Cilantro
Chili can be made up to 3 days in advance
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