Vegan Chili – No, This Isn’t a Joke

So based on my most recent posts you might assume that I’m just some asshole that likes to force his opinions of various food items and restaurants while having no real culinary skills to bring to the table.  You would be about 35% accurate on the first part of that statement but I can actually cook a little bit.  My problem is I rarely cook the same thing twice so I’m really not great at one particular dish.  The nice part about this is I’m pretty good at cooking pretty much anything you could think of.

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Most recently I dabbled in a cooking without the use of any meat or dairy, which was a real challenge for a guy like me.  More accurately, I wanted to make the meatiest tasting chili I possibly could using no meat products.  I know, I know, why would I do something like this?  I did this because it’s interesting to me to do the research on different processes and ingredients that would challenge me and grow my culinary knowledge. I’m not all about just smoking large portions of meat and eating tacos.  I’m in this for the adventure and a deeper understanding.  #zen

So in my research, I found the best information from one of the better food writers/experimenters on the internets, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  I like to think of him as a worthwhile replacement for Alton Brown, until Good Eats comes back.  If you are interested in the science of food and/or some alternate techniques, check out his Food Lab column on Serious Eats.  A lot of his content is higher level and goes into a ton of detail but it’s all worth a read.

I decided that if I was not going to use any meat, I was going to have to get flavor from as many different places as possible.  The most obvious place to start was creating a chili paste rather than use a chili powder.  Now, creating a chili paste sounds like it might be difficult but I can show you how its done in only two steps.  Better yet, I can provide photos.

Step One: Obtain a bunch of dried chilis.  For this, I used Arbol and Ancho chilis.  Add them to a large pot with water and simmer until soft.

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Step two: Add chilis to either a blender, food processor or use an immersion blender.  I added two canned adobo peppers for a little smokiness.  Then you know, blend them all up in a paste.

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Cool, now you have chili paste.  This stuff will taste completely different than a store bought chili powder and won’t make your family hate you because of the heat.  It adds a nice smoky, sweet spicy base to the chili for you to build on.  If you have a Mexican grocery by you an entire bag containing twenty of these guys can be purchased for the same price as a store bought container of chili powder that will give you about as much flavor as wood shavings.  If you prefer a powder, you can simply leave them dry and grind them up in a food processor.

The next question for me was how do we replace that hearty, rich taste of ground beef? I could step up all the other ingredients but how would I do this without using some terrible soy protein beef crumble replacement?  I quickly found my answer in three different ingredients.

The first is a product called Marmite, which is a yeast extract that adds that heartiness to chili usually created by adding meat.  Marmite is famous in Britain as a spread for toast, but it’s the real MVP in your life if you’re looking for a meat replacement in stews and soups. The second was using a soy sauce to replace the saltiness and give a little tang. The third is beans, lots of beans.  I used three different types, with all three giving it a different meaty texture.

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I would like to stop here and reiterate that you shouldn’t use meat substitute products. They lack any kind of meat texture and simply just aren’t very much fun.  It’s much more fun to experiment with different ingredients and techniques to create your own.  Plus, they’re all pretty gross.

Moving on to the beans.  Beans are really the magic ingredient to any vegetarian chili. Add as many ingredients as you want to enhance the taste but vegetarian chili is absolutely gross without some bite and texture.  The obvious solution is black beans and chili beans.  Simply throw them in for the last twenty minutes of cooking and you have a hearty chili.  Taking it a step further — get some garbanzo beans, aka chickpeas aka the great white bean, rinse them to get the shell off, pulse them in a food processor a few times and you have yourself the cheapest and easiest ground beef substitute you can find.  They will absorb every little bit of the chili paste, the marmite and the soy sauce. Oh, and I heard they’re healthy too.

From there it’s all the usual ingredients you would normally add to your chili in the amount that you like them.  A can of tomatoes, an onion here, a few cloves of garlic there.  A dash of cumin, some oregano.  I always like to add some masa, or corn flour, to the mixture for the last ten minutes of cooking to give it a little corn flavor.  That’s the beauty of chili though, add whatever you want.  If the base ingredients are good, you’re all set.

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If you’re a recipe person, here’s a recipe for you.  As always, I encourage you to make this yours and experiment.  The keys in this are the Marmite, soy sauce and garbanzo beans.

  • 8 dried chilis (arbol, ancho, whatever you like)
  • 2 whole chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans chickpeas
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes packed in juice
  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves garlic (i really like garlic)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon marmite or vegemite
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, drained
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons masa
  • Salt pepper (obviously)

If you’re the kind of person that needs step by instructions with your recipes here’s where I need you to get dangerous and just throw all of this together and see how it turns out.  I will say that you should add the flavoring ingredients first to build some character, then add the liquid to expand that flavor, then add the texture to absorb that flavor.

I hope you will enjoy this and try to make your own vegan chili.  If a guy with a pig tattooed on his arm can have some fun with this then so you can you.

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