There’s nothing quite like a big bowl of hearty, spicy, comforting chili to warm you from the inside out on a cold winter day. Our recipe repertoire includes several different kinds of chili: Dan’s famous, Texas-style sirloin chili that actually won an award; a healthier white chili made with ground turkey that we like to have simmering on the stove while we decorate our home and tree for Christmas; and the peculiarly delicious version that Cincinnati is known for. Since this was our first attempt at vegetarian chili, we used a recipe by the experts at America’s Test Kitchen from their book “Slow Cooker Revolution.” It was really good, with all the right chili-esque flavors and texture that you expect from a cold weather, comfort food favorite. As I usually do when trying a new recipe, at the end of the meal I asked Dan if he would do anything different with the dish. He replied, “Two things: increase the amount of chili powder, and add about three pounds of sirloin.”
The ingredient list is a bit long, but every item serves its purpose in the finished dish: 1 tablespoon vegetable oil; 1 onion; 1 red bell pepper; 1 jalapeno; 4-5 cloves garlic; 1-2 tablespoons chili powder; 2 teaspoons mustard seeds; 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin; 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano; 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth; 1 1/4 cups water; 1/2 pound (1 1/4 cups) dried black beans; 5 ounces white mushrooms; 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce; 1 bay leaf; 1 (15 oz) can whole tomatoes; and cilantro and lime juice for garnish. An observant reader might notice that the ingredients photo includes chicken broth instead of vegetable broth, which we didn’t have. So technically, our chili was not vegetarian that night. (And if Dan had his way, it never would be.)
Stem and seed the red pepper and the jalapeno, then finely chop them and the onion.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the veggies and cook until softened and lightly browned — about 8-10 minutes.
Add the garlic, chili powder, mustard seeds, cumin, and oregano and cook for about a minute. Fun fact: according to the original recipe, the mustard seeds are key, adding “an appealing pungency and the level of complexity we were looking for.” (Dan is still looking for the meat.)
Add 1/2 cup of broth to the skillet and scrape up the browned bits. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker.
Rinse the black beans well and pick through them to find (and discard) any rocks.
Trim the mushrooms and cut them in half if they are small and in quarters if they are large. Add the beans, mushrooms, remaining broth, water, minced chipotle chile and bay leaf to the slow cooker. Cover and cook until the beans are tender — 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.
When the beans are done, remove and discard the bay leaf, then transfer 1-2 cups of the beans to a bowl and mash them with a potato masher. Stir the beans back into the chili.
The original recipe calls for a 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, drained and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. We cut the recipe in half, so we used a 15-ounce can of whole baby roma tomatoes and cut each one in half. We drained them, but reserved a little of the juice just in case we needed it to thin out the chili a bit.
Serve the chili with a squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro and green onion, or whatever garnishes you prefer. Naturally, being a Texan, I served the chili the only acceptable way — over fritos with lots of cheddar cheese. You can take the girl out of Texas, but can’t take the Texas out of this girl. (But yes, Daniel, you can take the meat out of chili, and still have a delicious dish.)