Friday, September 10, 2010

Pantry Staple Recipe: Vegetarian Beer Chili

Alyse and I were talking recently about cooking more vegetarian food at home.  It's hard to find healthy, tasty vegetarian recipes that have enough protein without tofu, since a certain man (ahem) won't eat it (unless he doesn't know it's there).  My mom made chili a lot while my brother and I were growing up, always served over rice.  We come from German stock in my family, and we ate a lot of meat - I can't remember ever having a chili which wasn't based on ground beef.  Mom's chili was a tomato based chili with black and kidney beans in addition to the ground beef.  And lots of tasty spices.  (Hi, Mom!)

Once I struck out on my own, though, and learned a little more about the impact of meat on the environment, I decided to cut some meat out of my diet.  (I really like meat so I didn't cut it all, I just decided to eat less).

For a long time my standard kitchen-sink chili was just a vegetarian version of my mom's, except I served it with cornbread.  It was a good, but a smidge on the watery side.  Then I tried my friend Josh's chili.  Josh's chili featured ground chuck and beer.  There were onions, bell peppers, and chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce.  The beer enhanced the umami flavors of the beef, so the chili was earthy and spicy.  The beer added something that plain old tomatoes don't.  Josh's chili was also rich.  Very rich.  The reason the chili was so rich was that Josh finished it off with a roux, which is a mixture of butter and flour which has been roasted/toasted/cooked to bring out the nuttiness of the flour and the butter.  I knew what my vegetarian chili was missing.

After a little bit of experimentation, I came up with the recipe below.  It is a marriage of my mother's chili (black and kidney beans, a can of stewed or crushed tomatoes) and Josh's chili (different kinds of peppers and a bottle of beer).  And I don't even miss the meat.  This chili simmers for a few hours and is finished off with a fairly young roux to thicken it right at the end.  It's best made on a lazy Sunday when you have time to throw together some skillet cornbread while the chili is simmering.   And it's even better for lunch the next day.  Just don't let your significant other have it all.

Vegetarian Beer Chili

This recipe is quite flexible and can be tweaked in any way you would like, which is why I'm fairly unspecific regarding the weight of each can.  If you like things really spicy, add more chipotle peppers, but be careful - when the chili cooks down these flavors will be concentrated.  If you like it really spicy, you could add some cayenne, though it really isn't necessary.  A teaspoon of ground coriander may also be a nice addition.

Note on the peppers: while fresh peppers would be nice, I really don't think you'll need them, due to the amount of time the chili is simmered.  Your budget will thank you - this bag of frozen bell pepper strips costs a fraction of the price of fresh peppers, clocking in at a $1.69 at Albertson's.

For the chili:

1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 bag frozen pepper strips
2-3 tablespoons chili powder (about a full palm full)
1 1/2-2 tablespoons cumin (about 2/3s of a palm full)
1/2 can chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can stewed or crushed tomatoes, no seasonings added
1 beer - any beer you happen to have in the house is fine, but the darker the better
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the roux:

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour

1. In a large stockpot (I'm pretty partial to my pride and joy, my Le Creuset stock pot) over medium heat, coat the bottom of the pan with a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Add the onions and sweat them.  While they are cooking, open the package of  peppers, drain the liquid (reserving it for later), and run your knife through the peppers on the cutting board a few times so they are in bite-size pieces.  Add to the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions are  no longer opaque.

2. Add the chili powder and cumin; sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.  Let the spices cook with the onions and peppers for 2-3 minutes so the spices can toast a little.

3. Run your knife through the chipotle peppers (careful about how many!  See note above) and add to the peppers and onions with what sauce is on the cutting board.

4. Add the beans, tomatoes, and beer.  Bring to a boil briefly and then reduce to a low simmer.  Cook for 1-2 hours, until the beer has cooked off and the chili has thickened to your desired consistency.

5. In a small saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter.  (If you are feeling really indulgent, throw an extra tablespoon in there).  Let the butter melt fully and add the flour.  Stirring constantly, watch the flour and the butter to make sure they do not burn - the roux will turn a golden brown (or a deep golden brown if you have the patience).  Add the roux to the chili immediately and stir.

6. Serve the chili hot with cornbread and fixings of your choice, including sour cream (I use yogurt), shredded cheddar cheese, onion, and/or cilantro leaves.


  1. Yum! I'm always looking for meatless entrees! Although I do eat meat, I don't want to eat it every single day. Thanks for visiting my blog! So glad the ampersand pillow tutorial will come in useful for you! :)

  2. Thanks Kelly! I feel the same way about meatless entrees. Looking forward to seeing new and interesting projects on your blog!


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