I’ve never written about my cooking on this blog before, partially because my cooking methods aren’t very proper, and also because I didn’t think it was craft related, but I’m starting to think that’s bogus. I cook, and love to cook, a lot, and in almost every single way being a good cook is exactly like being a good crafter. You have to understand your materials and how to use them, think of the best ways to combine them to get your desired results, use “patterns” as guidelines if needed, and always keep your intended audience in mind. Sure, your materials may be corn and beans instead of fiber and cloth, but ultimately it’s the same process. Take some stuff, put it together, get some different – hopefully better – stuff.
With cooking, however, your audience looms larger in the decisions you make. Most crafters don’t work on commission but for themselves, so when you’re suddenly tasked to creating a meal and must not only satisfy yourself but also your family, you’ve got a tough nugget to crack.
Unless you’re serving actual nuggets, who doesn’t like nuggets?
Case in point – I worry about my own health a lot but I worry even more about the health of my loved ones like my Partner and my Dad. When you’ve got hard-core carnivorous or carbolicious men on your hands, it can be hard to get them to eat something veggiful. As a result I spend a lot of time coming up with veggie or vegan recipes that taste like heavy, fatty comfort food but that actually have not a single unhealthy thing in them. I used to try to find recipes for this, but over time found most vegan recipes wanted their healthy food to also taste like healthy food. Laaaame. That’s when I stopped using recipies entirely, and learned the best food comes from just figuring stuff out on your own.
To that end I want to share with you all how I make my luxuriously delicious vegan chili, which can be altered to be not-so-vegan if you want to up the ante a little. If you’re looking for a classic step-by-step recipe, tough. I don’t do that. Like I said – I think the best cooking in the world is like crafting and requires a lot of adjustment, feeling, and figuring things on the fly. If you want to be a really good cook and come up with your own recipes, you gotta be willing to go off the rails. The being said, I’ll do my best to explain how I make it in a way that you should be able to follow and alter to your own liking. Maybe you’re like me and you prefer this sort of cooking to a rigid recipe. If so, hurrah! You’re in the right place.
hot damn look at all that colorful yummies
1 large or 2 small yellow onions
1 large stalk celery (not pictured)
2 medium or 1 large carrot
A healthy neutral oil – I like grapeseed, but coconut would be great if you wanna be even healthier. You don’t need much.
1 package button mushrooms
~ 5 cloves garlic
1 poblano pepper
1 jalapeno pepper (you can omit this if you want a frutier, milder chili)
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 orange or yellow pepper
~ cup frozen corn or canned drained corn (not pictured)
1 large (28 oz) can unsalted tomato puree (or crushed if you like ’em chunky)
~ half a cup veggie broth (or chicken broth if you wanna be a heathen)
A few squirts tomato paste (I like the tube because you can store it in the fridge)
1 lime (two in photo cuz I wasn’t sure how much I would end up adding)
1 can black beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can small white beans
Spices to taste (I use salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cayenne, onion powder, and garlic powder. We’ll discuss this later)
Opt: Chips for the side, shredded cheese, sour cream
NOTE: ALL of the base vegetables can be changed and altered to your palate. You can put almost anything you want in here, this is just what I like. At your grocer think about what veggies you like and how they would pair with the tomato base and chili spices. Think about how they change when they cook and their texture might be altered with simmering in a sauce. Think about balancing flavors and textures, and when you’ll need to add things to get them cooked to the level you like. Don’t know any of this yet? Just start cooking and trying things, learning from successes AND failures. Always remember that recipes are guidelines that help you learn applications, NOT hard and fast rules, and the only failure in cooking is not trying your own ideas. You are the only boss of your sauce.
Yield: This usually feeds me and my bottomless 6ft 3 Partner for dinner, as well as enough for both of us to have lunch the next day. I’d say depending on your appetite anywhere from 4 – 6 servings.
Cost: At my grocery everything (not including the chips or dairy products) cost ~ $18, making it $4.50 – 3 a serving. Keep in mind that I live in NYC; where you live groceries might be cheaper.
Let me know if you’re interested in calories and I’ll do the math, but everything is yummy whole foods with no meat or added fats and the beans give you plenty of protein, so I think it’s safe to say this is a great well-rounded meal choice.
Step 1: Chop up your onions, celery, and carrots to a medium to fine dice.
Now if you cook from recipes a lot, I may have already lost you. “But J,” you say, “shouldn’t I prep all my veggies first thing?” In most recipes the answer would be yes, and you would have a display of all your prepped ingredients known as mise-en-place. But here’s where the more neurotic chef is going to hate me.
I don’t do that shit. Instead I use my ingredient prep to time each stage of cooking the chili and chop as I go.
I know – a nightmare to many. Yes, this makes the cooking process kind of manic and frantic and imprecise, but it’s what I do. If you aren’t like me, use this step to not only prep the mirepoix, or onion, celery, and carrot, but also clean/chop the mushrooms and all four peppers. If you don’t have a garlic press you may also want to mince your garlic cloves. I’ll show you when I do these things and how I use them to time stuff, but I’ll also add approximate times for each step if the idea of prepping while you cook gives you conniptions.
As for how finely to chop everything, that’s also up to you. I like something between a medium and a fine so my chili has some texture, but not too much. More texture? Chop ’em chunky. Less? Throw it into a food processor until it’s freakin mush. This is total preference and doesn’t really change the cooking times much – just the final texture. I also slice the thin carrots into rounds cuz it’s pretty.
Step 2: Sautee the mirepoix in a splash of oil over medium/medium-high heat.
How much oil? Idk man, a splash is a splash. Cover the bottom of your pot with a layer and that should do it. You don’t need to pull out a measuring spoon or anything; it’s not rocket science, just onions. As for temperature, this may depend on your range size or if it’s an electric oven. Try for a temp that sizzles your mirepoix when you dump it in, but won’t burn it. Cooking temps can be hard and come with practice with your specific machine, so don’t sweat it.
Or do sweat it – the onions I mean! Ah culinary puns.
If you’re one of my ahead preppers sautee about 5 – 10 minutes. I’ll have a picture and description ahead.
Step 3: Wipe any dirt off your mushrooms. Stir your mirepoix when finished.
I mean it when I said I don’t pre-prep anything, and that includes cleaning your mushrooms. Maybe I’m lazy, but mostly I just hate down-time when cooking.
I wanna be working every second like a crazy lady. I don’t like the added moisture from washing my shrooms so I just wipe ’em with a paper towel to get off all the dirt, like a poor-man’s mush-brush. It’s ok if this isn’t perfect, don’t waste time trying to get it all off, it’s just dirt. While you’re doing this keep an eye on your pot and stir every so often to keep it from sticking.
Step 4: Roughly chop your mushrooms, keeping an eye on your pot and stirring occasionally.
You don’t need to be precise about this since thy’ll cook down to almost nothing anyway. Do the quickest dirtiest chop you can and that’ll be just fine. By the time you’ve finished, stirring the mirepoix occasionally, your onions should be soft and translucent, and a little bit of a brown layer, or fond, should have formed on the bottom of your pot. Our mushrooms are going to release a lot of liquid that will incorporate that yummy fond right back into the mix. Once that’s good, throw in the mushrooms and stir to incorporate.
Step 5: Add your garlic, stir to incorporate.
I like to use a garlic press here, but if you’ve minced them throw that in now. For my preppers, you’re going to cook this mixture until your mushrooms have reduced in size and most of their liquid has evaporated, maybe 5 – 7 minutes. For the kooks like me who are still chopping, read on.
Step 6: Chop up all your green-colored peppers, stirring your pot occasionally.
This means you wanna prep the poblano, the green pepper, and the jalapeno, stirring your pot mixture every so often to prevent sticking. Optionally you can arrange them into a circle and take a pretty picture.
Step 7: Once your mushrooms are reduced, throw in the three green peppers and stir to incorporate.
I like to cook these a bit more than the other colors of pepper to add a bit of texture difference and to really bring out the flavors of the poblano and jalapeno. For preppers, these will cook 3 or so minutes before adding the rest.
Step 8: Chop up your red and yellow/orange peppers, stirring your pot occasionally. Throw them into the pot when ready, along with your frozen corn and stir to incorporate.
Again, arranging into a pretty shape optional.
Look how incredibly delicious and gorgeous that looks. The colors!! It’ll be ruined by red goop soon, but for now bask in the variety.
Step 9: Add spices.
So this step is rough guys, not gonna lie. I don’t measure any of my spices. Not a one. I don’t even know how to measure them; I tried for the sake of this recipe but realized it would actually ruin how I go about doing it and would probably not be accurate as a result. How do I determine how much to add? Sight and smell. I use spice holders with shakers and shake it over my mixture until there’s some shaken everywhere, then I stir them in. If I had to guess, I’d say I add about 2 tsp of the cumin, turmeric, and paprika, a half tsp of the cayenne, and a tsp each of the garlic and onion powders. You’ll also want a heavy pinch of salt and a good 7 or 8 cracks of your pepper mill.
Ultimately you want to have a good fragrant mixture with cumin as the predominant smell and a hint of heat on the end from the cayenne. If you’re not sure, don’t worry. Err on the side of under-spicing as we will have a great opportunity to spice by taste later. I know some recipes you don’t have that luxury, but this one you do, and it’s a great way to learn how you personally like things spiced. People have lots of different preferences; you might want more cumin or less cayenne, or maybe you want to add something different to yours I didn’t think of. In the manner of Chef John, you are the Milli Vanilli of your chili.
Step 10: Add the can of tomato sauce, rinsing with the veggie stock, then add several good squirts of the tomato paste. Add the juice of one lime. Stir to incorporate.
The veggie stock isn’t just to rinse out the can, but also adds great flavor and extra liquid to your chili. The lime is technically optional as the tomato adds lots of acidity already, and you can even just add half of one if you want, but I love the flavor. I great tip is to use the inside of some cooking tongs to squeeze the lime, shown in the photo above.
Step 11: Add your beans, drained but unrinsed. Stir to incorporate.
Why unrinsed? Because there’s lots of good flavor in there that’s why! Make sure to get a little wooden spoon in there and scrape up all the goop from the bottom of the can.
MM, yummy goop. If you’re worried about adding extra fat or salt, however, you can go ahead and rinse them. 3 cans of beans too many for you? Omit the white beans.
Step 12: Taste and add spices as needed; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until mixture is thick and to desired consistency, stirring occasionally, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
Now’s your chance to add more spices if you want, but remember! This is going to reduce, making all the flavors more concentrated and intense. You want it spiced and salted juuuuussstttt below where you want the finished product to be to account for the reduction. I added a little more cumin, paprika, and salt. If you want to add any liquid spices, like sriracha, other hot sauces, or liquid smoke, this is also your chance. If you like it spicy I highly reccomend giving a good wallop of sriracha a try as the garlicky spice palate actually goes really well with western-style chili. Once it’s reduced, you’re done!
Serve and enjoy! Add cheese or sour cream to top if you aren’t vegan and want an extra oomph, and eat with a side of chips if desired.
Adding cheese is my weakness; it totally ruins the healthiness a bit but it’s so tasty. This stuff is also phenomenal on nachos. If you spiced this well though, you really don’t need anything else. It’s so good just as it is.
And here’s your proof that even the most carnivorous meat-lover – whether it’s your boyfriend, your Dad, or your partner who acts like a Dad – will clean this up with abandon:
Now that’s a clean plate.
I hope you guys enjoyed this maniacal take on cooking, and hopefully didn’t get too lost in the madness. This is my first try at explaining how I cook, and it was
fricken hard no easy feat. To me cooking is such a fun time to try stuff, make mistakes, and figure out what I like personally, so I never think about how I would explain what I’m doing. I think I’m a dang good cook, but I rarely if ever measure anything and do everything by taste, smell, and above all else experience. To me following a recipe to the letter, or boiling it all down to numbers and measurements, wastes an incredible opportunity to learn and understand how food works on a deep internal level. Making mistakes and working on the fly instead will make you a good cook even when you don’t have guidelines, and it will help you learn your own abilities without relying on what someone else tells you to do – an important skill in life on the whole. In fact the only time I find my food does suck is when I do try to follow a recipe exactly – everyone’s kitchen and hands work a bit differently anyway, and I get so frustrated at exactitude in something that’s just gonna end up in your mouth. The only place that matters is baking, and surprise – I suck at baking . . .
But dangit if I don’t make a mean chili.