Being from Texas, I was raised to believe that beans have no place in chili, but that is not something I ascribe to as an adult. For one thing, I don’t want to make both a main and a vegetable side dish if I don’t have to, and for another, I happen to like beans in chili. So there.
The secrets to great vegetable-based chili are the same as anything else: heat, seasoning and time. The ingredients are added with intention:
First the onion, then the garlic. Caramelize the tomato paste a bit, then stir in the spices, a splash of soy sauce for depth, and most of a pound of lentils. Simmer everything in vegetable stock until the lentils are tender, then scoop some out, purée and add it back for texture. Taste for seasoning and, well, that’s it. As far as chili goes, this is simplicity itself.
Lentil Chili is good right out of the pot, but give it a few hours (or days) in the fridge and it’s truly spectacular. Rich and hearty and meaty in a way that you wouldn’t expect from a meatless recipe. It’s particularly good after a long day, when reheated and topped with heaps of shredded cheddar, avocado, corn muffins, and anything else you like. Because, make no mistake, cooking at home is almost entirely about making what you like.
Chili “rules” be damned. This is comfort in a bowl.
makes about 6 servings
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium Spanish onion, diced small
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 cups dried green lentils, rinsed and picked over
7 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed 4-6 quart pot over medium heat. Add diced onion and sauté until it begins to take on color, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to take on color (about 7-10 minutes). Stir in chili powder, cumin, oregano, cocoa and cayenne, followed by lentils. Stir in soy sauce and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until lentils are tender.
Turn heat to low. Remove 2 cups of cooked lentils to a heatproof bowl. Let cool 5-10 minutes before pureeing with an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. Return purée to the pot. Stir and taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed.
Lentil Chili will taste good immediately after it is made, but is best after a few hours or a day in the refrigerator. Serve it up with cheese, avocado, scallions and/or any other toppings of choice.
Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.