I’m usually pretty loyal to my mom’s Texas Tofu Chili, but I was in the mood for chili and didn’t have any frozen tofu, so I decided to try this recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance. The introduction to this recipe provides a very precise description of the kind of chili they were going for: Rather than the bland, chunky, bean and vegetable stew that most vegetarians try to pass off as chili, they wanted “a dark red broth, large chunks of meat, accompanied only by a few bits of onions, chiles, and spices.” Now, that sounds like my kind of chili! Unfortunately, it called for seitan, which I also didn’t have, so I left it out but tried to get some texture by subbing in 1 cup of frozen corn, 1/2 cup of brown rice, an extra cup of beans, and 1.5 ounces of cashews (suggested by Katrina). I used a mix of kidney and pinto beans, and rather than vegetable broth I used the bean cooking liquid. The recipe called for 1/3 cup olive oil, which seemed excessive, so I just used 4 tsp. I’m sure it would taste much more rich with 1/3 cup though, and if I wasn’t going to eat my chili with cheese or tortilla chips or avocado I would probably use 3 or 4 Tbs of oil, since this is a big recipe. Or perhaps I would add a bit of nut butter or ground nuts, which would go well with the mole theme. I didn’t have a red bell pepper so used a poblano instead. The recipe calls for 3 Tbs. blackstrap molasses, which seemed like a lot, so I put in 2 Tbs. and tasted it and decided it was enough–I don’t like my chili really sweet. Some molasses is probably needed to counteract the bitter cocoa powder in this mole-inspired recipe, but 2 Tbs. seemed plenty. The recipe also calls for 1 tsp. cinnamon, but the cinnamon flavor wasn’t detectable in the final recipe.
The basic flavor of this chili was better than I expected, but wasn’t quite right either. Chili demands a very precise balance of the key flavors: salty / savory / tomato / chili / spicy / bitter / sweet / acid. This recipe has sweet and bitter and salty but not enough tomato / chili / spicy / acid. I added another Tbs. of chili powder, which helped, but if I made it again I’d probably grind a mix of chilis myself and add that instead of store bought powder. I also added 3 Tbs. dark red tomatillo salsa which added more spice, more acidity, and more chili flavor. It probably could have used even more salsa but I didn’t want it to get too spicy. Next time maybe I’d leave out the jalepeno, and add more salsa instead.
Clearly, by leaving out the seitan I removed an important ingredient in this recipe. I think either seitan or tofu or something a bit chewy, even if only a small amount, is essential for a vegetarian chili. Otherwise it just tastes like spicy bean soup.
This recipe made about 14 cups of quite thin chili. Isa says it serves 6-8, which sounds right to me.