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Spring ahead with vegetarian chili

"Spring ahead! Fall back!" That's the simple memory device we've all been taught to remember which way to reset our clocks when daylight saving time begins (on the second Sunday in March) or ends (on the first Sunday in November). The practice aims to give people an extra hour of sunlight after their working days during springtime and summer.

I always think of daylight saving time's arrival as a sign that the bounty of spring, beginning March 19, will soon be filling up the stalls in farmers' markets. Yet, I'm also aware that we're still in the middle of winter, and bitter cold spells and even snow can still suddenly come in early March - something I've been well aware of ever since my two oldest sons chose to pursue their university educations in Massachusetts and upstate New York.

So at this time of year, I like to think about preparing dishes that still have the power to warm us up and comfort us if the weather turns chilly, yet still hold hints of the sunnier, warmer, longer days soon to come. And today I'd like to share that exact type of dish in my recipe for vegetarian three-bean and quinoa chili.

Any bean stew such as this one is, of course, a perfect choice to cook when the weather is threatening outside. It calls for long, gentle stovetop simmering, which transforms the kitchen into a warming, welcoming place and fills the entire house with rich aromas. The chile peppers that season the stew add their own uniquely warm flavor to the mixture; though I quickly have to add that this recipe isn't overly spicy, and you can certainly cut back on the chile quantities if you prefer milder results.

The beans themselves are a perfect example of the kind of stick-to-your-ribs food that will keep you feeling warm and satisfied for hours. And the quinoa, an ancient Incan grain that has become widely available and popular in recent years, adds more sustenance, being higher in protein and dietary fiber than brown rice.

But what about spring flavors? Look first to the fact that this is a vegetarian recipe, so it will very likely taste to you - and rest in your stomach - far lighter than traditional meaty versions of the dish. Lighter, brighter elements of the dish, including a generous amount of fresh lime juice and garnishes such as tomato salsa, sliced avocado, green onion and cilantro, also evoke warmer months.

The result is a surprisingly fresh-tasting, healthy chili that is not only a perfect way to welcome spring but also an ideal dish to enjoy as you start thinking of getting into shape for swimsuit season, which is just months away.


Serves 8 to 10

1 pound (500 g) dried white beans

1 pound (500 g) dried black beans

1 pound (500 g) pinto beans

3 dried guajillo chiles

1/2 cup (125 mL) extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup (250 mL) finely diced yellow onion

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons pure chile powder

1 cup (250 mL) tomato paste

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) canned crushed tomatoes

3 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 1/2 gallons (5.75 L) vegetable stock

1 1/2 pounds (750 g) quinoa

2 jalapeno chiles, halved, stemmed, seeded and deveined, and minced

1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

3 ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, peeled and sliced, for garnish

1 cup (250 mL) sour cream, for garnish

1 cup (250 mL) chopped green onion, for garnish

1 cup (250 mL) chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

1 cup (250 mL) prepared tomato salsa, for garnish

3/4 cup (185 mL) thinly sliced fresh jalapeno chiles, or pickled jalapenos, for garnish

The night before you cook, pick through each batch of beans, removing any debris or misshapen beans. Rinse the beans put into separate large bowls, and add cold water to cover by at least 2 inches (5 cm). Leave to soak overnight, adding water as needed to keep the beans covered.

The next day, put the guajillo chiles in a bowl, add enough hot water to cover, and leave to soak for 20 minutes. Drain. Carefully slit open the guajillos, and remove the seeds. Put the guajillos and a little soaking liquid in a blender, and puree to a paste. Transfer to a bowl, and set aside.

Drain the beans, and set aside.

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and onion, and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and saute briefly until fragrant. Stir in the cumin and chile powder.

Stir in the tomato paste, and saute, stirring until it darkens slightly, about 30 seconds. Add the drained soaked beans. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, with their juices, the guajillo puree, salt, and enough vegetable stock to submerge the beans completely. Cover the pot securely and cook, adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer, until the beans are cooked through and tender but still firm and whole, 20 to 30 minutes.

Stir in the quinoa, cover, and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes, adding more stock if needed.

Stir in the minced jalapenos, lime juice and maple syrup. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often. Taste and, if needed, add a little more salt.

Arrange the avocado, sour cream, green onion, cilantro, salsa and sliced fresh or pickled jalapenos in bowls to serve as garnishes. Ladle the chili into individual serving bowls, inviting guests to garnish their servings to taste.


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