Grand Prize Vegan Chili

There are many recipes for vegetarian chili. And most of them are quite good, varying in spice and consistency. But prize winning chili–there’s the rub–prize winning needs to be out of the range of the ordinary. The trick is–sorry vegans– to think of your chili as if it’s going to be meat dish, not a sort of stew with a lot of beans. To this end:

The day before:

–Select and soak your beans overnight. You can use any type or mixture. While I generally just mix up a bunch of different kinds, for prize winning I lean upon hominy, chile beans and a few black beans. You want the ultimate equivalent of around 12 cups of cooked legumes ( I know corn  doesn’t strictly fall in to that category, but for now, pretend it does).

–Prepare a dense, dark, New Mexican chili sauce. I cheat with a bottle of prepared enchilada sauce but then add New Mexican ground chile powder (to taste, about a tablespoon but be careful with heat), caramelized 1/2 onion, chopped adobe chiles, a dash of any pepper sauce you have on hand, 1/2 cup of red wine and a dash of agave nectar. If you’re aiming for vegan greatness, brown some vegan ground round like Smart Round, again letting it caramelize in the pan. Then throw in a bit more wine to de-glaze the pan. (I don’t generally add the faux meat, but when you’re competing you might want to pull out all stops. This addition will add to the depth of flavor and consistency. Now, the secret: add 1-2 tablespoons of organic unsweetened cacao powder (sadly not a local ingredient). If there’s not sufficient liquid, add vegetable stock. Let all of this simmer together for a hour or so, and then marinate over night.

In the morning:

–Rinse and cook your beans. Don’t add any seasoning. Salt toughens cooking beans.

In the afternoon:

–Take 1/2 of your prepared hominy and saute it with a touch of olive oil until the kernels are popping a little in the pan.  Add the slightly browned hominy to your chile sauce. Heat and simmer.

–In another pot caramelize another 1/2 onion. Then add 4 finely chopped stalks of celery, 4 finely chopped carrots, 2 zucchini and two diced ortega chiles. Add 8 ounces of vegetable broth, salt as needed, and another 1/2 cup red wine. Simmer for at least 1/2 hour.

–Add the vegetable mixture to the sauce. Then add the cooked beans. Be careful with this. The beans will dilute the spice. Just see how many beans the sauce will bear. (You can always use the left-overs in a burrito the next day.) Simmer some more.

–Consider the consistency. If the chile is too thick, add more vegetable broth, water and/or wine. If the consistency is too thin,  you can either add more beans or add 1-2 tablespoons of corn masa (this will thicken your base). Again be careful. Once it’s in, you can’t take it out. And thickeners can dilute your flavor. (Because it’s easy for the masa to clump, I prefer to put the masa in a small jar with a bit of the chili sauce, and then shake. This way, no lumps! My mother taught me this trick.) Add a dash more cacao, if you like. (Don’t worry; your chili won’t taste like chocolate.)

–Adjust the spice. Add more chile powder or adobo sauce as needed. Add salt if you need to. If the chili is too spicy, add liquid and/or sugar or agave nectar.

I know this recipe puts a lot on you, the cook. But it’s individual. As the famous Tassajara cooking monk Edward Espe Brown says, cooking is about the process of discovery.

A word about ingredients:

You don’t have to cook your own beans and hominy. Canned will work just fine. But if you prepare your own beans you have more control over texture and salt. Depending too where you live you may be able to find fabulous, relatively local beans. (Rancho Gordo, in the Napa region of California has wonderful dried beans.) You can make your own vegetable stock, of course, and your own enchilada sauce. Again, look for local chiles, powders and regional sauces. Try and use organic and local vegetables.


Don’t use tomatoes. I love them too, but this will put you back in the more ordinary, chili soup kind of category.