Sometime in the Fall, I got this email from my friend Maddie: “Hi lovely [sic], Any chance I could make a date with you for you to teach me how to make your delicious chili? I thought I could bring ingredients and some beer and we could cook together.” This is the Maddie who encouraged me to post my recipe for pizza toast. Also, the same Maddie of crack-broccoli fame, who is the best and most effortless-seeming cook and party-thrower that anybody knows.
|Maddie is a person you want to camp with, and not just because she's beautiful. This was the trip where I brought 25 foil-wrapped baked potatoes to reheat on the fire and also--wait for it--a huge pot of veggie chili.|
Maddie can make a pie from goat cheese and freshly dug leeks that will have you weeping with delight into your Prosecco. But she’s also the person who taught me how to throw a baked-potato potluck: invite tons of friends and their kids and ask them to bring stuff, then bake 30 potatoes, open 10 bottles of wine, and put out the game Boggle. Done.
“You don’t really need me to teach you to make chili,” I wrote back. “I probably learned from you in the first place.” But she insisted, and so we had to invite a lot of people over to give us an excuse for our chili-making lesson.
|This is my 11-quart IKEA stockpot, nearly full. The chili grows out of its barf-looking stage by the end of the cooking.|
|It's a lot of ingredients but, considering how many people you end up feeding, not really that much work.|
You just want everybody to feel welcome and well-fed and happy. Also, to never leave. (That’s where the wine and Boggle come in.)
So, this chili. Many of our friends and all of my daughters are vegetarian, hence the no meat. But sometimes I’ll make a pot of the meat kind also. The thing is? Chili with meat is easier in every way: the meat is good, if you like meat, and it adds all the satisfying texture and richness you’re looking for in a bowl of chili. In its absence, you need to pull some compensatory fast ones. That’s why I’m not using the typical flour to thicken this chili; flour doesn’t bring enough to the table. Instead, ground chickpeas add a nice nubbly thickness, while refried beans add a nice velvety thickness, and the whole thing turns out savory and delicious with little sweet bursts from the corn.
|A bowl of chili with crushed chips and a glass of dry, sparkling cider.|
It makes for a tangy, medium-spicy, highly seasoned bowl of deliciousness. Practically perfect in every way—and plenty of it.
Vegetarian Chili for a Crowd
(Feeds 20—more, even, if there are no hollow-legged teenagers in the mix)
A few notes: you can, of course, dramatically increase or drastically reduce this recipe as you see fit. You can even do it in an impromptu way, adding another couple cans of beans if more or hungrier people show up than you’d expected (the chili freezes beautifully, so don’t be afraid of leftovers). I am calling for real actual pure chile powder—the kind that’s made only from chiles, and that you can find where the Mexican food is. If you can only get your hands on the blended chili powder, then use much more of it, and reduce or eliminate the oregano, cumin, garlic, and salt, since those seasonings are likely included in the spice blend. Re. beans: I start with dried pintos, quick-soaked and cooked in the pressure cooker for 7 minutes, but canned are fine.
Carnal Variation: Add 3 pounds of ground chuck to the onions and celery and cook over high heat, crumbling it with a spatula until it is cooked-looking and browning in spots. Skip the ground chickpeas and the black beans but not the refritos; reduce the pintos to 3 cups or 4 cans.
¼ cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons mild chile powder (I use New Mexico)
2 tablespoons granulated garlic powder (I like this better than fresh for the chili, go figure)
1 teaspoon chipotle puree or powder and/or 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (for a little smokiness, if you’ve got it)
1 tablespoon ground cumin (ideally but not crucially ground fresh in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups dried pinto beans, cooked (plus their cooking liquid), or 6 (15-ounce) cans, not drained
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained (you can skip this, or increase it—depending on the crowd)
2 (15-ounce) cans refried beans (I use Trader Joe’s black with jalapeno)
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, ground with their liquid in a blender or food processor into a very coarse puree with lots of small and large bits
1 (28-ounce) can crushed or pureed tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans corn, drained (or 1 bag frozen)
0-3 tablespoons white vinegar
Grated cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, hot sauce, and crushed tortilla chips for serving. Also, cilantro and avocado would be good.
Heat the oil in a very large pot over medium-low heat, and sauté the onion and celery until it’s tender, about 10 minutes. Add the spices, salt, and sugar, and sauté for 15-30 seconds, until the spices are very fragrant. Add the pinto and their liquid, the black and refried beans, the ground chickpeas, the tomatoes, and the corn. Taste it, even now, for salt. If it’s very undersalted, add more salt at this point, bearing in mind that it will grow saltier as the liquid cooks off. I add just about another tablespoon. (The need for salt will depend on the saltiness of your canned or home-cooked ingredients.)
Simmer the chili, uncovered, over very low heat until it is completely delicious, about 1 hour. Taste for salt and tanginess: if it needs a boost, consider adding a tablespoon or 2 or 3 of vinegar. Serve with the garnishes. Cornbread is a good accompaniment, but it’s also great to bake a lot of potatoes and let people top their potatoes with chili. Yum.