For many of us, food intake is like retail sales – peaking between Halloween and New Years’ Day, followed by consumption-related belt tightening (and literal belt loosening, alas) come January. I love a good indulgence as much as anyone – I’m a sucker for a home-baked treat – but I am also a big fan of balance. This chunky, flavorful, vitamin-packed veggie chili is my way of saving room for holiday season excess.
I know it’s November and past zucchini, red pepper and eggplant season in most parts of the country. But we’re only a couple of days out of October, so let’s pretend we’re having a late-harvest vegetable meal here. After all, chili is cold weather food. Any hard-core locavores out there can substitute butternut squash for vegetables you can’t find in your vicinity.
This recipe is adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Russo and Sheila Lukins, who were the Ina Gartens of the ’80s with their prepared-food mecca, the Silver Palate, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Their recipes are brilliant but also generally have a thousand ingredients, and I always imagine Julee and Sheila with their big ’80s hair and unlimited access to spices, specialty ingredients and fresh herbs, adding a dab of this and a dash of that as they compose recipes that make us home cooks throw up our hands in despair.
This is actually a pretty simple recipe, and I’ve simplified even more. But I have some original ingredients listed as optional for those of you who want to get fancy. But mostly this is about a pile of vegetables and some basic chili flavorings, cooked into a spicy, chunky stew.
The original recipe called for salting the eggplant and letting it sit for an hour to drain. I did this, and very little liquid was released – I’m not sure if this is because of late season eggplant being drier, or because eggplant is is bred drier these days, the way pigs are bred leaner. In any case, I skipped this step the next time, and it was just fine.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally learned to cut bell peppers around the core, like an apple, rather than cutting down the middle and having a mess of seeds. Now it seems so obvious.
When was the last time you cooked this many vegetables in one meal? I’m looking forward to gingerbread already.
Time to cook. Onions, garlic and peppers first.
Loads of eggplant (it really cooks down).
Add spices. Don’t be shocked by the amount of salt – all these vegetables need to be well seasoned. Remember when you use processed ingredients (eg canned vegetables, tomato sauce, taco seasoning, etc), the processors add a ton of salt that you don’t see.
Add green chiles and beans. Feel free to use any kind of beans you like. The original recipe calls for black beans, but I think some cannellini beans brighten up the look. You can also skip the green chiles if you want – they’re not in the original recipe either, but I like how they add chili flavor in a non-powdered form.
Add canned tomatoes and simmer.
Add fresh parsley (original recipe also calls for fresh dill and basil – but then we’d really be pretending it’s summer).
Add corn and a bit of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar for brightness.
Top with your choice of grated cheese, sour cream (or my favorite sour cream substitute, greek yogurt), herbs or slivered scallions. I also think slices or cubes of avocado would be amazing. You can’t go wrong.
A straight-up great chili, chunky and flavorful. You won’t miss the meat, and your kids won’t notice the eggplant. Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Russo and Sheila Lukins.
- 4-6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large or 2 medium onions, 1/4″ dice
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, 1/2″ dice
- 1 yellow bell pepper, 1/2″ dice
- 2-3 zucchini, 1/2″ dice
- 1 eggplant, cut into 1/2″ cubes
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons table salt)
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons good quality chili powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
- 1 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
- 1 4-ounce can diced green chiles
- 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
Herbs (any, all or none)
- 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup fresh basil
- 1/2 cup fresh dill
- Sour cream or greek yogurt
- Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, grated
- Avocado, cubed or sliced
- Scallions, sliced thin
- Heat 4 tablespoons (1/4 c) olive oil in large Dutch oven or soup pot. Add onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Saute for a few minutes to soften.
- Add diced zucchini to pot. Saute for a few minutes to soften.
- Add cubed eggplant and stir. If eggplant sticks to pan, add an additional 2 tablespoons of olive oil to pan. Saute a few minutes until eggplant is soft (it will cook down quite a bit).
- Add salt, pepper and spices. Stir.
- Add diced green chiles, beans, canned tomatoes and 1 cup water. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add more water to loosen chili consistency to taste (1/2 cup to 1 cup).
- Add corn and herbs (if using). Cook for another few minutes to heat corn.
- Add lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Serve hot garnished with cheese, sour cream, avocado and/or scallions. Serves 8.
- This is a great dish to make ahead, as it tastes just as good or better the next day.
- Substitute 3 cups cooked beans for canned. Or try any combination of beans (black, kidney, cannellini, garbanzo).
- The amount of heat will depend on your chili powder. Add additional crushed red pepper or a dash of cayenne if you like it spicier.
- Tortilla chips or cornbread make classic accompaniments.
Click here for the printable version: Veggie chili for printing.