I love chili, and so I was intrigued when 101 cookbooks posted a recipe for a vegetarian chili made out of lentils and chickpeas and grains. Despite being a bit skeptical about a chili made from lentils, I immediately wanted to try it.
I followed the directions except that I couldn’t find a serrano so subbed in a jalepeno pepper (with seeds), and I haven’t seen whole chipotle peppers here (canned or dried), so I used 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder instead. Finally, I haven’t seen crushed tomatoes in Germany, so I used a can of whole tomatoes, breaking them up with my hands before adding them to the soup. I used a combination of big, pale green lentils and tiny black lentils. I used some kind of fast-cooking German barley and medium grind bulgur wheat. For the vegetable broth I used a mixture of salted and unsalted Rapunzel bouillon cubes, but I ended up adding another 2 tsp. of kosher salt as well.
My lentils took more than 45 minutes to cook–more like an hour. Perhaps my “simmer” was too low, but I was having problems with all the liquid rising, and the bottom of the pan drying out and burning. You really need to stir this every five minutes or so to keep the bottom from burning.
After the lentils were cooked and I tasted it, I decided my whole tomatoes didn’t cut it and added another small can of diced tomatoes. I would have added even more but that’s all I had. It also didn’t taste enough like chili, so I added more chili powder and more cumin. I added the final 2 cups of water as well. After that it tasted pretty good. I really wanted to add some salsa, because I thought it needed some acid and punch and more tomato flavor, but I didn’t feel like opening one of my precious few jars of salsa. The chili was a bit spicy, but I probably could have added another 1/2 tsp. of chipotle powder without it being too hot.
As warned, this made a huge pot. My 6 quart dutch oven was full to the brim after my final additions. Really I should have used an 8 quart pot. Six quarts of chili is a lot. I think if I made this again (and I’m likely to), I would make only half or three quarters of the recipe, depending on if I am having company or not. Overall, it didn’t quite seem like chili, but it didn’t quite seem like lentil soup either. The recipe lies somewhere in between the two. Whatever you call it, it’s hearty and satisfying and pretty healthy. We ate it with a big salad and cornbread / corn muffins, and it was quite a nice meal I thought.
The chili was quite tasty with feta, but I liked it best with creme fraiche.
Update April 2010: I learned from last time and made only half the recipe, but still it made a massive amount of soup. I made this dish again but this time I used the whole chipotle pepper. Again I had the problem that the lentils and grains sunk to the bottom and started to burn. I’d love to know how other people avoid this problem. Again I thought the recipe wasn’t tomato-y enough, nor did it have enough chili flavor or acid. I didn’t doctor it though. I tried eating the chili with sour cream and really disliked it. I forgot that I never like sour cream! I froze more than half the chili, and it defrosted just fine, as you’d expect (due to the lack of veggies). Forgot to say: I couldn’t taste the “secret ingredient” ginger at all. Maybe it adds something, but I seriously doubt it. One Tablespoon of ginger for 6 quarts of chili? I don’t think anyone could taste it.
Update August 2010: I made half the recipe, and this time it all got eaten up relatively quickly. This time I started the chili in my dutch oven on the stovetop, then moved it to the oven to finish cooking. It didn’t burn at all! I increased the cumin to 1 Tbs. and increased the garlic a lot as well. I put in 2 Tbs. of ginger (rather than the 1/2 Tbs. called for.) I added about a cup of tomato sauce in addition to the can of whole tomatoes, and somewhere between 3/4 and 1 cup of chickpeas. I used unhulled barley and it cooked just fine. To try next time:
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 8-12 small/med garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 2 Tbs.)
- 2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
- 1 14-ounce can of whole or diced tomatoes, with juice
- 1 cup of low-salt tomato sauce
- 5 cups unsalted vegetable broth
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned is fine)
- 1 1/8 cups black, brown, or green lentils (or combo), rinsed and picked over
- 1/3 cup hulled barley or farro
- 1/3 cup medium or coarse-grind bulgur wheat
- 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt