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Vegetarian Chili – A warm comforting one-pot-meal

When I was in India, my knowledge of world cuisine was limited to pizzas (everybody knows they’re Italian!!) and Singapore curry noodles!! I hadn’t even ventured much into pastas! But my stay in the US for the past 4 years has taught me so much in terms of food (thanks to Food network!). My palate is quite adventurous and I love to try various cuisines, even though it ends up in mishap quite a number of times :P. Among all these if I had to pick my favorite, it has to be Mexican :) Hands down, yes, I am sure :) For one thing, it is spicy! And it helps that it reminds me so much of my comfort food, Indian food. Many of the cooking methods and ingredients are similar, and there’s rice and tortilla! Just like we have rice and roti in India :) The chalupa is a close cousin of the Indian bhatura (a deep fried bread). Salsa’s are the chutney’s. And there’s cilantro, the most prominent herb in Indian cuisine!! See the similarities yet?? And this bowl of chili is almost a version of Pav Bhaji with beans. So now you understand my love for this cuisine? It is what my taste buds are used to, yet with a unique flavor. Anytime I have to eat out and there’s a choice, I do tend to pick Mexican. And the greatest thing is that Venkat shares the same passion and love for Mexican food and hence its always an easy option :) In fact I have to thank him for having introduced me to all this wonderful food. Now it has become a part of our regular diet at home.

Chili is a spicy Mexican stew, usually with meat (beef) in it. It is a hearty one pot meal and I believe it is called chili because of the chili peppers used in this dish. A combination of various chilies are used in this dish. The most traditional ones being ancho, chipotle and fresh jalapenos. Chipotle peppers are dried smoked jalapenos and the Anchos are very similar to the dried red chillies that we use in India. Fresh jalapenos can be substituted with the Indian green chillies (serrano). But if you think so many chilies will make the stew extremely spicy, wait! They won’t, because the tartness and the sweetness from the tomatoes will balance out the spice very well. Canned tomatoes are best for this recipe because peeling so many fresh tomatoes can be quite a task. There is another variation of the chili that is quite popular, Chilli Verde (Verde means green in Spanish) which is made with green chilies instead of red and is equally delicious. But we’ll talk more about that in a later post.

Chili is one of Venkat’s favorites. He loves to eat a bowl with crusty toasted bread. I like all the traditional toppings, sour cream and avocado. And of course cheddar cheese! Chili is a really really healthy dish with just one Tbsp of oil for a huge pot of stew, but the rich toppings can spoil it totally! I cannot not have my chili any other way, a splash of lime juice, a handful of cheese, a spoonful of sour cream, a few slices of avocado and some cilantro to top it all!! You can also serve chili with baked potato. Split open a baked potato on an oven safe plate, pour the chilli inside, top with grated cheddar cheese and pop it in the oven (350 F) for 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Top with sour cream and cilantro and serve immediately!!

Note: You can you any type of beans in a chili. Black beans and kidney beans are the most traditional ones. But its really your choice, chickpeas, pinto beans, canellini (white) beans, anything goes! Also celery is a common ingredient in chili, but we are not really fond of it so I don’t use it. And canned beans make this a whole lot easier because beans have varying cooking times and it is not feasible to cook them together. But if you have time, soak the beans overnight and cook them until soft (I use a pressure cooker) and then use them in the chili.

Serves 4-5

Kidney Beans (cooked) – 2 cups
Chickpeas (cooked) – 2 cups
Lima beans (frozen, thawed) – 1 cup
Carrots (chopped) – 2 large
Green Pepper/Capsicum (chopped) – 1 large
Potato (diced) – 1 large (optional)
Onion (chopped) – 1 large
Garlic (minced) – 5-6 large cloves
Crushed tomatoes – one 28 oz can (about 3 1/2 cups)
Mushrooms (sliced) – 8 oz (about 2 cups)
Corn (frozen) – 1 cup
Jalapeno pepper – 1 no. (remove the seeds and ribs if you don’t want too much spice)
Salt & Pepper – to taste
Chilli powder – 2 tsp (preferably ground chipotle or ancho for authentic flavor)
Cumin seeds – 2 tsp (or 1 tsp ground cumin)
Dried Bay leaf – 2 no.
*Mexican seasoning – 1 Tbsp (optional, substitute with 1 tsp of dried Mexican oregano)*
Olive Oil – 1 Tbsp
Cilantro/Coriander leaves (chopped) – 3-4 Tbsp

*Note: Mexican seasoning usually has some kind of chilli powder in it, so adjust the quantity of chilli powder accordingly.

Suggested Toppings & Sides:

Sour Cream
Grated Cheese (cheddar and pepper jack are my favorites)
Avocado slices or Prepared Guacamole
Cilantro/Coriander leaves
Lime/Lemon wedges
Baked Potato
Toasted bread
Corn Tortilla
Fritos (oh yeah!!!)


  • Heat oil in a fairly large soup pot. Drop in the bay leaves and cumin seeds if using (don’t add the cumin powder now) and saute for 30-45 seconds.
  • Add in the chopped onion, garlic and chopped jalapeno, with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 4-5 mins, until the onions are soft.
  • Then mix in all the chopped vegetables and saute for 4-5 minutes. Add the chilli powder, cumin powder (if using) and Mexican seasoning (if using) or the oregano and saute for just a minute to release the flavors from the herbs.

Note: Mexican seasoning usually has some kind of chilli powder in it, so adjust the quantity of chilli powder accordingly.

  • Next add the crushed tomatoes, season with salt and let it cook for 15-20 minutes on medium heat. Cover the pot if you want to.
  • Now come the beans. Rinse the beans if you are using canned ones. Add in the beans and about 1 1/2 cups of water or vegetable broth. Mix to combine everything together and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to low and let the chilli simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring from time to time. This will help the beans absorb all the flavor of the broth and make them delicious!!

Tip: The longer you simmer, the tastier the chili is going to be. But if you are cooking for a long time, keep an eye on the moisture content and add water or broth as required.

  • You can use this wait time to prepare the toppings. I sometimes like to have baked potatoes with chilli, so this time is perfect to bake them. Scrub large russet potatoes and use a fork or a knife to make deep holes which will help the moisture escape during baking. Lightly coat the potatoes in some oil and salt. Place directly on your oven’s middle rack. Place a baking tray in the lowest rack to catch any drippings. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour until the potatoes feel soft to touch. Remove and immediately wrap them tightly in aluminum foils. This way they will keep warm until you are ready to eat them. Or just throw them in 400 F oven for 7-10 minutes to warm them up.

Serve the hot chili with sides of your choice. Don’t forget to add a splash of lime juice before you dig in!

You might also like:

Vietnamese Pho – Vegetarian Version

Gobhi (Cauliflower) Manchurian – Indo-Chinese delicacy

Roasted Tomato and Jalapeno Salsa – very HOT!

Vegetable Soup with Pasta

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