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.