Eric Akis: A tasty veggie chili for Halloween

Eric Akis

If you need a big pot of something to feed a crowd, perhaps for Halloween night, a bubbling cauldron of rib-sticking chili is a good choice, especially if you want it to be meat-free.

Vegetable- and bean-rich chilis can be just as satisfying as those made with beef or other meat. But to get to that chili “promised land,” it needs to be loaded with flavour, colour and texture.

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To achieve that with my chili recipe, I stocked it with 12 types of vegetables, including squash, yams, peppers, garlic, celery, zucchini, carrot and onion. For textural purposes, some vegetables were diced, some were cut in larger cubes, others were grated, and some — the corn kernels — were left whole.

That mix of vegetables added a diverse range of colour to my chili. So I decided to add in black beans, because I knew they would stand out among the green-, red-, orange- and yellow-coloured vegetables.

To flavour the beans and vegetables, I added fairly generous amounts of chili powder, cumin, oregano, smoked paprika and hot pepper sauce.

The liquid base for the chili is vegetable stock, hand-crushed Italian canned tomatoes, and passata, a smooth mixture also called strained tomatoes. I opted for the last two items because they have a richer colour and flavour than regular canned tomatoes and tomato sauce.

The chili recipe yields 12 servings of about 1 1/3 cup each. It takes a bit of time to prepare all the vegetables, so I spread the work of making the chili over two days.

On the first day, I readied the fresh vegetables for cooking. I also crushed the canned tomatoes. I then refrigerated everything until needed.

The next day, just before making the chili, I opened the bottle of passata and measured out the oil, stock, seasonings, corn, hot sauce, sugar and tomato paste.

It was then time to make the chili, which was easy, with all the ingredients at the ready.

You could serve the chili with tortilla chips for dunking or, if you eat dairy, with my cheesy chipotle cornbread. It goes great with chili and is not difficult to make.

Autumn Vegetable Black Bean Chili

Black beans and 12 types of vegetables simmer in this hearty, nicely seasoned chili. The recipe yields 12 servings. If that is too many for you, any leftover chili will freeze well.

Preparation time: 75 minutes

Cooking time: about 60 minutes

Makes: 12 (about 1 1/3 cup) servings

1 (28 oz./796 mL) can San Marzano plum (roma) tomatoes (see Note)

3 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced (cut into 1/4-inch cubes)

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1 medium green bell pepper, diced

2 medium celery ribs, diced

1 medium yam, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 cups peeled banana or butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 Tbsp chili powder

1 Tbsp ground cumin

1 Tbsp dried oregano

2 tsp smoked paprika

1 cup grated carrot

1 cup grated zucchini

3 cups vegetable stock or broth

1 (680 mL bottle) passata (see Note)

2 (19 oz./540 mL) cans black beans, drained, rinsed in cold water, and drained well again

1 cup frozen corn kernels

2 Tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, plus more if needed

• salt to taste

Place the can of tomatoes and their juices in a bowl. Use your fingers to crush tomatoes into small pieces. Set tomatoes aside for now.

Place oil in a large pot (mine was seven inches tall and 10 inches wide). Set pot over medium-to-medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, bell peppers, celery, yam, sweet potato, squash and garlic. Cook and stir these vegetables six to seven minutes, until the onions start to soften. Add the tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, zucchini and carrot and cook one minute more.

Add tomatoes, stock, passata, beans, corn, sugar and hot sauce to the pot and mix to combine. Bring chili to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Lower heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer.

Simmer chili, uncovered, 40 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the chili has thickened and become rich in flavour. Taste chili and season chili with salt, as needed. Add more hot sauce, if desired, and it’s ready to enjoy (see Eric’s options).

Note: Deep-red canned Italian San Marzano plum tomatoes and jars of passata, also called strained tomatoes, are sold at Italian food stores and many supermarkets. They’ll give this chili a rich tomatoey colour and flavour.

Eric’s options: If you want to further enhance bowls of this chili, serve it with toppings such as chopped cilantro or sliced green onions, grated cheddar or other tangy cheese, and sour cream or yogurt, or dairy-free versions of those items.

Cheesy Chipotle Cornbread

This yummy cornbread is rich with tangy cheese and strewn with bits of spicy, smoky chipotle peppers. It goes great with the chili. The recipe makes one large loaf that should yield 12 slices. If that’s not enough for you, double the recipe and make two loaves.

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Makes: one large loaf

• vegetable oil spray, for greasing

1 cup medium-grind cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup grated cheddar cheese (about 75 grams)

2 green onions, very thinly sliced

1 large egg

1 1/4 cups buttermilk (see Note 1)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 canned chipotle peppers, fairly finely chopped (see Note 2)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch non-stick loaf pan with oil spray (see Eric’s Options).

Place cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to thoroughly combine. Mix in cheese and green onion.

Crack egg into a second medium bowl and beat well. Mix in the buttermilk and oil, then stir in the chopped chipotle peppers.

Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the middle of the oven 45 minutes, or until the loaf springs back when touched gently in the centre. Cool the loaf in the pan on a baking rack for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a cutting board. Enjoy cornbread warm or at room temperature.

Note 1: Buttermilk is now sold in smaller 500-millilitre (about 2 cup) containers, but that’s still more than you’ll need here. Save the leftover buttermilk for another use, such as biscuits, mashed potatoes or salad dressing.

Note 2: Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapeño peppers. They are sold in cans in the Mexican foods aisle of most supermarkets. Unused peppers can be stored in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Eric’s options: If your loaf pan is prone to sticking even when greased, cut a piece of parchment paper the size of the bottom of the pan and set it there before spooning in the batter.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Wednesday and Sunday.

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