Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Vegetarian Chili for a Crowd

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.
It's so picturesque to eat with all the games and art supplies in the background.
“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.
I know it’s kind of a thing now, the idea that you would make a giant vat of something easy and inexpensive in the interest of maximizing your party-throwing capacity. There’s the Friday-Night Meatballs folks, for example, or my Pasta for a Crowd. But honestly? It’s the best idea. Because you want your house expansively, generously full of the people you love, you do. But you don’t want to spend a week layering a short-rib terrine or marinating plucked sparrows.
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.)

Once the cans are open, the chili is halfway made.
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.


  1. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Speaking of things that are a thing now, how do you feel about not soaking beans? Because all of a sudden it's everywhere.

    1. I quick soak them, but mostly so that I can begin to salt them that way! I put them in the pressure cooker with water to cover and about 2 tablespoons of salt, then boil, turn off, cook in an hour. I find they burst less than they do if you don't soak. But I love that it's a controversy!

  2. Anonymous12:08 PM

    sounds delicious and inspiring! emily

  3. thank you -- it's in the dinner-queue! (and also thanks for the soup recipe last week.)

  4. I'll give it a night of bliss!!!

  5. You know those roasted chickpeas you shared with us a while back? The ones that I love so much? I am wondering if those would add a little something in terms of flavor and texture here or would they just get lost?

    1. Oooh. Interesting! Report back if you try it, okay? xo

  6. Since this is comment number 6 that means I'm invited for dinner right?!?!?! Awesome! Also- you need to do me a favor and do a "when I go camping this is what we eat and what I bring." We're going for the first time since having children this spring. And I read the baked potato idea and just smacked my head at the brilliance of it!

    1. Come on ovah! Yes, okay, that's smart, about the camping food. I should do a major food packing list. . . xo

  7. How did you know I have to make chili for a swim-a-thon tomorrow?!!!

  8. Allyson6:03 PM

    Hunkering down for our predicted 2-3 feet of snow. I might be making this, since if we lose power, we'll have our gas cooktop, but no oven.

  9. I can't wait to make this! It's on the menu for tomorrow when we're snowed in. :)

  10. This looks quite fabulous! And with all those flavours, I can imagine it would be beautifully fragrant and tasty too :)

  11. I don't have a crowd, so I hope it goes ok to halve or quarter the recipe... I am the lone vegetarian visiting my parents for the month. This could be my daily fare.

  12. Anonymous11:22 PM

    Made a triple batch tonight for a supper at church. Many compliments. Thank you for this great recipe.

  13. I cooked this for about 25 party goers on a couple of camp stoves over the weekend in Priddy. Worked fantastically.

    Chris :)

  14. I'm so grateful to have found your lovely recipe and will be making a double batch on Friday for a church event on Saturday. Thanks so much!

  15. Made this for my son's first birthday which was Fiesta themed! I did both the carnal and veggie version. It was a massive hit! Thank you x