January 18, 2009

My Vegetable Chili, the nostalgic version

Back in the days when my now husband and I started dating one of our favorite restaurants was the Sourdough Cafe. Located only a few miles from his work in the an open court of Summit Place Mall in Pontiac, Michigan, we loved their soups in sourdough bread bowls and great salads. Ok, I probably was the one loving the salads; John loved the bread bowls. I was vegetarian at the time and there was always a vegetarian soup available but what we both really loved was their vegetarian chili.

I've since made a million versions of this chili taking cues from their combination of ingredients but I'd like to think that I'm improved on their recipe. The key to the versions I make at home is the textures. By adding a few of the ingredients towards the end you get a better finished dish. In my chili, I add fresh green beans and corn at the end. Another more recent change I've made is to use Mexican oregano. Mexican oregano is mintier than Italian oregano and different from Greek oregano, which is more resinous. It works so well with the chile powder it's worth getting a hold of. However, the batch of oregano I have has lots of woody stems that don't soften when cooked. So I crumble the oregano and rub it through a sieve before adding it to the pot. I do this to only the amount I need and just before using because the flavor stores better in larger pieces. For another version of my chili with a similar method see last year's Kitchen Cleanout Chili, but here is the variation that reminds me of those first months dating.

Mexican oregano (from right: as purchased, sifted, stems removed by sifting)

My Vegetable Chili
Inspired by the chili at the Sourdough Cafe Pontiac, Michigan circa 1995-96.
Makes ~6 generous portions

1 large onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon neutral oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons chile powder (not the kind with other ingredients, I like ancho)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano *see tip in text above
cayenne pepper to taste, optional
1 (28 oz) can of whole tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can of whole black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 (15oz) can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups water
1/4 cup polenta or grits
2 cups chopped fresh green beans
2 cups frozen sweet corn kernels

-In a large soup pot, cook the onion, celery, peppers and garlic with the oil and salt over medium heat. Stir often and make sure you cook these ingredients down until they are very soft and stop giving off liquid. This should take at least 10-15 minutes.
-Leave the heat on medium and add the spices. Stir to distribute the spices.
-Lower the heat and add the tomatoes, beans and water. Use your hands to crush and tear apart the tomatoes.
-Then add the polenta while stirring, to prevent lumps. The polenta adds a corn flavor as well as thickens. Taste for salt and heat, add more smoked paprika or cayenne for more heat.
-Bring to a boil and then immediately turn down to a strong simmer. Simmer uncovered at least 45 minutes.
-Shortly before you are ready to serve add the green beans. Bring the pot back to a strong simmer and cook until the green beans are tender, approximately 10 minutes.
-Add the corn, stir, taste again for seasoning and serve. The frozen corn does not need time to cook, it should remain crunchy to add a contrasting texture.

This is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, a food blogging event created by Kalyn's Kitchen. The event is now run and documented by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything Once.

This week's guest host is Rachel from The Crispy Cook. Visit her site at the beginning of next week to see the roundup of posts.

You can also find Rachel at Book Trout (her bookstore blog) and the Cook the Books Club. I read the Cook's the Books Club first book, La Cucina, but didn't have time to make a post about it. I'm now halfway through the second book pick, The Language of Baklava, and enjoying it tremendously. The hard part will be picking something to make from it, everything sounds so delicious.


VeggieGirl said...

Mmm, mmm, mmm!!! Can't go wrong with a good bowl of chili.

Rachel said...

Great post! I have never used Mexican oregano but now I will have to consult my garden catalogues to see about planting a patch to experiment with. Thanks for sending this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging and I'm so happy you are enjoying Language of Baklava. I LOVE this book and will be cooking up a Middle Eastern feast soon for the Cook the Books event.

doggybloggy said...

chili, did you say chili? I will take it vegan, vegetarian, omnivarian, secular, non-secular - just give me chili!

Kalyn said...

Looks delicious! I love the idea of green beans in chili.

Jo said...

Yum! I love the idea of a veg chili! I'm so going to try this one soon! Thanks Maggie!

Christine aka Mistress of Cakes said...

I was going to make chili soon but I don't have any beef...this is great..and a lot healthier too! Thanks!

Daily Spud said...

That looks great Maggie. I use a similar set of flavourings in the veggie chili that I make but I've never come across Mexican oregano - not sure if it's available here in Ireland but I'll have to look :)

LeslieVeg said...

Its so cold in GA, and this looks so good! YUM!

Joelen said...

Looks like a delicious bowl of comforting chili!

Gloria Chadwick said...

Your chili looks wonderful. Would you like to enter it in my Chili Cook-Off at Foods and Flavors of San Antonio?

Laura said...

Wow, that looks great! I am going to have to try this one. Thanks!

shellyfish said...

Nothing like a good bowl of chili to warm you up!

PG said...

Had never heard of mexican oregano until now. Sounds really delicious, when I look at the ingredients! The smoked pimenton sounds quite interesting too.

anno said...

Is it possible for aroma to carry over the internet? I swear, this smells delicious -- and how could it not, with that hot smoked paprika, pungent cumin, chile powder, and wonderful oregano. I like the idea of using polenta to thicken the chili and maybe add a bass note to the corn. mmmmmmm!

cookingforaveganlover said...

I love chili! it's one of my favorite things to make and this one sounds great!

Hannah said...

I like chili alright, but these pictures are so enticing, I want to devour bowls of it now!

Jamie said...

Mmmmm does this look fabulous! I will definitely make this one; usually it is hubby who makes chili and does it with meat, but I would love a vegetarian one. Great!

Laurie Constantino said...

Healthy AND delicious. This sounds really great. The fresh green beans are a particularly nice touch.

racheleats said...

This is why I love food blogs - a recipe which catches my eye - it is usually the simple, seasonal, honest ones - and then makes its way straight onto my shopping list.
It's been ages since I made chili so this is a timely reminder.
I loved your little almond crust tarts the other day by the way.

Jo said...

Delicious recipe and great for one of those days when you just feel like doing veggies only.

Varsha Vipins said...

That looks so yum Maggie..Perfect for my taste..wow..:)
1st time here..you got an awesome space..:)

Yasmeen said...

Hearty bowl of spicy veggie chili is making me hungry,bookmarked!
The date syrup I used in the hot chocolate ,its available in middle eastern stores,I didn't spot them in any other local stores here.

Melissa said...

Wow! That chili looks so hearty and delishious1

TavoLini said...

Smart! I love the addition of grits in this, I'm sure the texture is fantastic. This is on my list! (you know I've been to Summit Place mall hundreds of times and never went to Sourdough Cafe--I missed out!)

Chef E said...

Yum I will have to make this. I love chili but have had to cut back on meat, and lots and lots of veggies...I already am an avid veggie cook to date, but chili just grabs me...

kellypea said...

Yummy chili! The green beans and corn added to this are a nice variation and I like your description of working toward textures. I have some Mexican oregano but have never taken the time to compare the taste to the others, and now I need to.

pigpigscorner said...

The chili looks great! Delicious with bread or rice =)

Superchef said...

loved this version of chili...especially with all those beans and the polenta! :)