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Hey, This Veggie Gig Ain’t Half Bad! February 14, 2013

Posted by Toy Lady in Cook's Illustrated, Cooking, random stuff.
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First, let’s get this out of the way.  In keeping with the season, let’s say this is a HEART-healthy post, how’s that?

It’s Valentine’s Day, so happy Valentine’s Day.


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Has anyone noticed that, when I post our weekly menu plan, more often than not, there’s at least one meatless (or mostly meatless, anyway) meal?

I’m gonna be honest – sometimes it’s not easy for us to come up something appealing to fill that slot – I, at least, was raised in a very meat-and-potatoes sort of household.  If there wasn’t a hunk of meat on the plate, it just wasn’t dinner.

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(Of course, my discovery of the Bean Guy has helped in that regard – if you haven’t had fresh, current season dried beans, truly, you don’t know what you’re missing!)

So anyhow, last fall, we received our November/December issue of Cooks’s Illustrated, and there was a recipe for “Best Vegetarian Chili” – now mind you, they qualified it  – this is the best  vegetarian chili, because, let’s face it, they’re already figured out the best BEST chili!

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Basically, there are a few things to remember when making a traditionally meat-full dish into a meat-LESS dish.

First off, there’s no meat, and there’s supposed to be.  So, unless we want to resort to fake meat (TVP? Soy crumbles? No thank you.), we need to make it so we don’t miss the meat – and use real, less-processed ingredients.

I’m a big fan of real ingredients – I prefer to do my own processing, thank you very much!

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We’ve learned over the years that there are a few flavor-boosters, or, I guess, even meat pretenders, right in our own kitchen!  One of them is mushrooms  specifically, dried mushrooms.

For some reason, when you add mushrooms to a dish, the meat just tastes, I don’t know, meatier.  And even when there’s no meat, it tastes meatier anyway.  I guess that’s why people eat portobello burgers, huh?

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Another meat-helper (NOT hamburger helper, though!), is soy sauce.  I don’t know why that is – maybe it has something to with the soy, I don’t know, but when I’m trying to meat something up, I frequently use soy sauce as a source of salt.  It just brings a little something more to the party.

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In this case, we also want to get some good sauteeing action – nothing says complex flavors like a little fond in the bottom of the pot, huh?  A little tomato paste added into the mix later on just helps that along.

Oh, and nuts!  This one was actually a new one on me – who knew that adding a few nuts – rich, meaty toasted walnuts – would add such great balance?  Don’t worry, though – they’re chopped pretty fine before they go in, so you’d never actually know they were there.

And finally, I used three – count ’em, THREE – kinds of beans – a cup each of black beans, great northern beans, and pintos.  Next time, I’m going to add a cup of red beans, too, just to, you know, keep things colorful.  I’m wild like that.

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Once we’ve got all the stuff assembled – and don’t get me wrong, it’s a LOT of stuff to assemble – then we can get to work.

Just remember, when it comes to chili, especially a chili that doesn’t have the benefit of meat, you get out of it what you put into it.

Kind of like a lot of things, I’d say.

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So we made a basic chili sauce first – slightly brown the onions, add your dried spices (chili powder and cumin, along with some oregano), the beans and some water, and into the oven it goes – after it’s come to a boil, of course.

A note on the water – something I’ve learned the hard way.  Depending on the age of your beans, they will soak up more or less water when you pre-soak them.  Fresher beans soak up more than old ones.  And what this means is that the fresher, more hydrated beans will actually need less cooking water – a LOT less!  The original recipe called for 7 cups of water.  I used 5.

Use your judgement.

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At this point, the chili only cooks for about 45 minutes.  It’s nowhere near done, though.  What we’re going to do is this.

We’re going to add our tomatoes (and juice) walnuts, and 2/3 cup of bulger, and shove it back in the oven for a couple more hours.  Yes, bulger!  I think this was a stroke of genius – what happens is that the bulger sort of mimics the texture of ground beef in the chili!

One last thing – when the chili comes out of the oven, it needs a good stir.  More a vigorous stir.  Then just let it sit for 20 minutes before you dig in.  There are reasons, but they’re all weird and science-y.  Something about stabilization and emulsification and, well, like that.

Just do it.

Because chili is, by nature, kind of chunky  and mushy and just full of flavor, you don’t actually “taste” the bulger – or any of the other stuff.  You taste. . . chili.  Pretty darned good chili at that.  And the texture – well, it’s just right.  It works.

Here is an adapted, printable version – give it a try and let me know what you think.



1. Laurie - February 14, 2013

Sounds really good. I think even my meat loving husband will like this.

Toy Lady - February 14, 2013

Thanks, Laurie – mine did! I was surprised by how good it was, myself. 🙂

2. Anne - February 14, 2013

NOM NOM! I made something very similar to this last week. It’s Moosewood’s Red, Gold, Black and Green chili. It also has bulgur, which I thought mimics the texture of ground beef quite nicely.

This whole meatless thing isn’t too bad if you like beans and legumes. 😀

Toy Lady - February 15, 2013

Well, it turns out I am a BIG fan of beans and legumes! Thought I’ll admit, I’m still a fan of bacon and rib steaks, too. 😉

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