Vegetarian Chili

I make this all the time, no matter what the season. I love chili.

This chili recipe is derived from the one my mom used to make when I was a kid. My mom’s recipe didn’t have chipotle chilies, Maseca, lime juice, or cilantro in it—all of those are my additions—but some vestiges of tradition remain. My mom always stuck in a bay leaf for seasoning and never bothered to remove it before serving the chili. As kids, my brother and I decided that whoever got the bay leaf in his or her bowl got a wish. Brian and I were always coming up with reasons to make wishes. My mother says that she just didn’t want to bother to fish the bay leaf out, and that it turned into a tradition because of how excited we kids got about it. I’ve made this chili for a lot of occasions—at least once I’ve planted bay leaves in everyone’s bowl just so nobody would feel left out.

If you would rather use canned kidney beans instead of waiting around for dried ones to get soaked and done, put them in at the same time as you would the dry ones and don’t cook the chili as long – just until the carrots & celery are tender-soft.

Canola or vegetable oil for sautéing
1 large, 2 medium, or 3 small onions, rough chop
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. dried oregano
1 chipotle chili en adobo, minced (smoked jalapeño chilies in a tomato-chili paste)
2 medium green peppers, rough chop
4 carrots, rough chop
4 stalks celery, rough chop
2 18 oz. cans chopped tomatoes (use Muir Glen Roasted Tomatoes – they come whole or crushed – if you can find them. Run the whole through the food processor for a second or chop them by hand if you’re more patient than I am)
1 small can tomato paste (you don’t HAVE to have this, but the chili will be thicker & super-tomatoey with it. I make it just as often without and it’s fine. I always forget to buy tomato paste.)
1 bay leaf
1 1-lb. bag kidney beans, sorted and soaked for at least 8 hours
1 1/2 c. frozen corn
juice of 1 lime
1/2 c. Maseca (ground corn flour; works as a thickener. Find in the Mexican foods section)
1 c. chopped cilantro
salt and pepper
hot sauce (I swear by Whole Foods private label hot sauce – not too hot but very flavorful)

Sauté onion in large pot for a few minutes; add cumin and oregano. Sauté until the spices release their aroma. Add garlic and chipotle chili and sauté briefly. When the onions have developed a little bit of translucency, add peppers, carrots, and celery, stir, and cook together for a few minutes.
Add tomatoes and tomato paste plus about one tomato can water, soaked beans, bay leaf, and pepper to taste. Bring chili to a simmer, cover, and cook until the beans are done, 1 to 2 hours depending on their age. (If you have a pressure cooker, cook under pressure for 25 minutes)
Add frozen corn, cook for an additional few minutes. Sprinkle in Maseca, (don’t dump it in; you’ll get clumps) and stir thoroughly. Finish with cilantro and lime juice. Salt to taste. It needs quite a bit if you use dried kidney beans; if not, the tomatoes and canned kidney beans may provide almost enough salt. Douse with hot sauce of choice.
This makes a stock pot, pressure cooker, or crock-pot full, probably eight to ten servings; it’s even better the second day.

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