When the weather gives you a chill, I say make chili! It is the perfect one-pot meal for fall and winter. And the best thing about it is that it gets better with time, so it is the perfect make-ahead meal.
Originally, chili con carne was a simple soup-like stew made of chilies and beef, and in Texas "a bowl of red" still has no beans about it! But the thing that I love about today's "chili" is that the new definition allows for almost any combination of ingredients that make up a soup-like stew.
I make all kinds of chili — the popular ground beef and bean chili, a mean bowl of red, a white chicken chili with green chilies and hominy, and everything in between. But the chili that started my love affair with the one-pot wonder is my fire-roasted tomato and veggie chili.
When I was a just starting out, this was the dish that I made for housewarming gifts, or for friends who were under the weather, as well as for big gatherings when cash was short but friendship was large. I would make a huge pot of this chili and a skillet full of cornbread and that would be the party!
This vegetarian chili is so dense and "meaty" that you don't miss the con carne part and it is something that you can serve just about everyone regardless of food preferences. It is meatless and vegan, gluten-free and — most importantly — a delicious and hearty stick-to-your-ribs version of an American classic.
The key to a great chili is layering the flavours. I do this several ways. I roast the garlic before adding it to the chili, giving the dish a deep garlic flavour that is savory sweet instead of raw and sharp. I also caramelize the mushrooms and vegetables before adding the liquid, again deepening the flavour. Finally, I add a bottle of beer as the chili simmers. This gives the finished dish body and additional layers of flavour.
This also is a technique you can apply to any of your favourite chili recipes. Making sure that each category of ingredients (vegetables, aromatics, liquids, etc.) is fully seasoned before adding the other ingredients to the pot is the key to the rich, almost bottomless flavour. Just be prudent with the salt, as it will assert itself in every layer and you want to make sure that the chili is well seasoned but not over-salted.
FIRE-ROASTED TOMATO AND VEGGIE CHILI
Be sure to serve this amazing chili with a skillet of hot cornbread and a fresh green salad. To speed up this recipe, roast the garlic ahead of time. Once cooled, it can be refrigerated for a day or two.
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
1 large head garlic
1 pound sliced button mushrooms
1 medium red onion, sliced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes
Two 10-ounce cans Rotel tomatoes (tomatoes with mild roasted green chilies)
14 1/2-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cooked black beluga lentils (or one 15-ounce can lentils, rinsed)
15-ounce can chili beans
12-ounce bottle beer
6 tablespoons tomato paste
2 to 3 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
2 to 3 teaspoons ancho chili powder
5 to 10 shakes hot sauce, or to taste (optional)
Ground black pepper
Chopped scallions, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and oyster crackers, to serve
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Remove the outer layer of papery skin from garlic. Slice off the top 1/2-inch from pointy top of the head. Drizzle with about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Wrap the garlic in foil, then roast for 40 minutes, or until the cloves are golden-brown and soft. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high, heat a healthy splash of olive oil. Add the mushrooms, onion, bell pepper and a pinch of salt. Cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the vegetables soften. Set aside until the garlic has cooled.
Return the pot to medium heat. Add the roasted garlic by squeezing each clove out of its papery skin. Add all three tomato varieties (grape, Rotel and fire-roasted), lentils, chili beans, beer and tomato paste. Mix well, then bring to a gentle boil. Stir in both chili powders. Cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until thickened and the tomatoes are cooked down. You may need to mash the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.
Season with hot sauce, salt and pepper. Serve with scallions, cheddar cheese, sour cream and oyster crackers for topping.
Nutrition information per serving: 430 calories; 150 calories from fat (35 per cent of total calories); 17 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 48 g carbohydrate; 11 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 17 g protein; 1330 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."