Vegetarian Chili, Serious Eats Style

February 22, 2012 at 9:23 am (Beans, B_minus (2.5 stars), Fall recipes, Mexican & S. American, Website / blog, Winter recipes)

Serious Eats’ Food Lab column is similar to Cook’s Illustrated in that it seeks the absolute best version of a particular recipe.  But Serious Eats is a bit more adventurous.  Their recipe this week was actually vegetarian chili, which I can’t imagine Cook’s Illustrated will ever attempt.  I’ve tried many vegetarian chili recipes before, but I haven’t really liked any of them.  (Although I have liked the waffling recipes for chili-ish lentil soup and chili-ish black bean soup reasonably well.) In the end I’ve always remained loyal to my mom’s chili recipe.  The addition of the frozen, marinated, baked tofu raises it several notches above any purely bean-based recipe.  But Serious Eats titled their recipe The Best Vegetarian Bean Chili, so I had to at least give it a try.

My changes:

I followed the recipe carefully, with a few exceptions.  I couldn’t find fresh Costeño, New Mexico, or Choricero chiles, so I used some random sweet green chiles from the Turkish store here.  Some were short and squat and pale green and others were long and narrow and a darker green.  I didn’t add an Arbol or Casacabel, but did add one fresh jalapeno.  For my dried chiles I used a mix of guajillo and ancho.  I used a generic “yeast extract” instead of name-brand marmite or vegemite.  I added scotch instead of bourbon.  I pressed my garlic in my garlic press instead of grating it.   I used boiled-at-home kidney beans instead of canned.

I misread the recipe and pureed my peppers in the food processor instead of in a blender.  Probably this was a mistake, as I occasionally got a slightly tough bit of unpureed chile skin in the chili.

My notes:

I was surprised that the recipe says to reserve the chile soaking liquid, as usually this liquid is discarded.  I tasted it before adding it to the chili and it tasted a little bitter but actually pretty mild.   I think using it as the liquid for the chili was a good idea.

The recipe says to “set aside” the chopped chickpeas and tomatoes, but to save a bowl it should say to add them to the pot/bowl with the chile soaking liquid.

I ended up adding all the kidney bean cooking liquid (from home-cooked kidney beans), as well as another small can of diced tomatoes.  So in the end I had about 4.5 quarts of chili, rather than the 3 quarts the recipe predicts.

I tried adding the masa but it just immediately clumped up into little masa dumplings.  They tasted good but didn’t seem to thicken the chili much.

The alcohol did change the flavor of the chili, but I can’t explain how, and I’m not sure whether it was better or just different.

I’m not sure what the soy sauce and yeast extract added.  Maybe they gave the chili a deeper flavor?  I think to tell I’d have to try two batches side by side.

I was interested to see that Lopez-Alt doesn’t add much fat to this recipe.  (Just 2 Tbs. oil for several quarts of chili.)  As a result, he left plenty of room for garnishing the chili with avocado, cheese, or creme fraiche.  The chili also really calls out for some fresh garnishes, to add crunch and brightness.

Texture: The recipe author (Lopez-Alt) says he prefers to use canned beans in this recipe because “canned beans are a sure thing. They’re never over or undercooked, they’re never bloated or busted.”  Unfortunately, the canned chickpeas I picked up at the Turkish store were undercooked.  And even after simmering in the chili for 90 minutes, they never really softened up.  So although I liked the idea of providing texture by adding coarsely chopped chickpeas to the chili, in practice for me it didn’t work out so well.  The large kidney beans contrast nicely with the small bits of chickpeas, but I did miss my typical pinto beans, which is the bean I associate with chili.  Also, although the chickpeas helped gived the chili body, I really did miss the chunks of chewy, umami-full tofu in my mom’s recipe.

Flavor:  Lopez-Alt stresses the importance of a well-balanced mix of flavorful chiles.  Given the limitations of Saarbruecken, I did the best I could, but I’m guessing the chili would have been a bit better with a more interesting mix of chiles.  Still, the basic flavor was pretty good.  Certainly better than many vegetarian chili recipes I’ve tried, which haven’t tasted much like chili at all.  I did want a slightly more acidic chili, so I ended up adding an extra can of diced tomatoes.  Maybe next time I make my mom’s recipe I’ll replace the chili powder with a puree of fresh chiles and soaked dried chiles.

Conclusion:  I don’t think I’ll replace my mom’s recipe with this one, but I may borrow a few ideas from it to “beef up” her recipe.

Rating: B


  1. austingardener said,

    I agree. I never really like using chili powder. I have been putting the dried chilis I grew in the spice grinder and adding them. Didn’t I leave you a jarful? I have been grating garlic with my micrograter and like it better than using the garlic press. the recipe you tried or maybe just the write-up[ seems like too much work to me.

    • captious said,

      But those chilis are hot! Are they the only chilis you use in your chili now? Isn’t it too spicy?

      Yeah, grinding them dry in the spice grinder sounds easier than the soaking and pureeing. I wonder what the difference is flavor-wise?

  2. Texas Tofu Chili | The captious vegetarian said,

    […] Vegetarian Chili Serious Eats Style […]

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