Saturday, December 15, 2007

vegetarian chili

I love my slow cooker. I got it at a church rummage sale, and while it may not be pretty (the exterior is harvest gold and beige, the crock dark brown), it's a great little workhorse.

I like to cook dried beans in my slow cooker, and chili is another favorite, because chili always seems to taste better when it's cooked for a long time. I've got a pot of chili simmering as I write this...

cooked beans (any variety, although I prefer milder beans such as navy)
1 large can crushed or diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons chili powder
3 grated carrots
salt to taste

If you want to cook the beans from scratch, soak 1 bag of dried beans in the crock filled with water for eight hours or overnight. I like to start soaking the beans first thing in the morning, then cook them as I sleep.

To cook the beans, drain off the soaking water, pick over the beans and discard any blemished ones, then fill the crock with water again. What I usually do is turn the slow cooker on high for a couple of hours (or until I go to bed), then turn it down to low so the beans can simmer all night. They will generally end up VERY soft and mushy (which I prefer. Don't like hard beans.)

Sometimes I leave the beans (especially slower-cooking ones, like chick peas) on high, and let the smell of them wake me up in the middle of the night, at which point I turn the cooker down to low. (And don't tell me that we have no sense of smell while we're asleep, as studies suggest. The beans ALWAYS wake me up when they need to be turned down...)

Drain the beans of their cooking water (some cookbooks recommend saving the "broth," but I find it hideous). Put all the chili ingredients in the crock, and simmer on high for two or three hours, or on low all day.

About the carrots: My mom always made chili with carrots. I don't know why. I don't always include them, but they add colour and more nutrients.

My favorite beans to use in this recipe are: navy (the small white beans that you usually find in Heinz prepared beans - they're nice and mild); black beans (they make me think of Carribean or South American stews); and pinto beans (if you puree the finished chili, you'll have some AMAZING refritos). If you really need to add kidney beans, by all means go ahead. I don't care for their tough skins, myself.

Store any leftover chili in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze it immediately to save for a future meal. Mmmm...

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