bret and i used to make something we’d call dungeon chili*, a tomato-based chili with black beans, sweet potato, and rich notes of darkness and spice from cocoa, coffee, and chipotle pepper. it earned its name not from any particular flavor but from our habit of letting it simmer in the afternoon as we raided dungeons in video games. dungeon chili was a favorite of ours until we tried cooking it for family in new york; i won’t pretend to know why, but it came out tasting powdery and awkward like a big sad pot of over-effort sprinkled with cinnamon. know what i mean? ugh! maybe it’s precisely the flavor of trying too hard, but whatever it was, the experience effectively swayed me from throwing too much at any one pot of chili since.
these days when i think about putting together a new recipe from scratch, i’ll give myself a list of qualities and decide step-by-step how to accomplish each one. in this case i knew i wanted my chili to be wonderfully green, so i chose green-skinned mung beans, green chiles, and the green bell peppers from our CSA share. another quality i wanted it to have was a diverse and satisfying texture. i’ve had far more vegetable-based chilis than meat-based ones in my life, so i like to think i have approached the appreciation of chili without a bias in either direction, but one thing i had perceived as an advantage to many meat chilis has been their consistency; there’s something incredibly satisfying about the a chewy crumble offering contrast to the creamy, starchy beans and crisp sweetness of peppers + onions. i’ve dedicated a fair amount of brainspace to this and i think it’s a quality that any plant-based chili deserves and can easily provide. rather than going heavy on the beans for this chili, i sought variety from a combination of proteins: starchy beany goodness from mung beans, a lovely lightness and intrigue from soft-cooked quinoa, and a hearty chew from browned tofu. starch from the mung beans and creaminess from quinoa naturally thicken the chili to check off the final point of my list: a perfectly satisfying, hearty consistency.
this garlicky green chili is not only a refreshing change from the mysteriously dark (perhaps dank and dungeonous) tomato-based creation of the past, i think it’s a win for chili in general. instead of a pre-blended chili powder, this chili calls for a few singular spices and herbs: cumin, coriander, and oregano; focusing on a few bright, bold flavors to accentuate the roasted green chiles and the late season green bell peppers. together, the flavors of this chili are unmuddled, vibrant, and beautifully simple. it’s a unique complement of flavors richly integrated in a simple, appealing form, bursting with flavor and interest without being overly spicy (i’m lookin’ at you, momma). it’s a chili i’ll make again and again, and one i won’t hesitate to share with family and friends.
update 2/13/17 – this garlicky green chili is still on of my favorite things to cook and have on hand. since originally publishing this recipe, i have found that tomatillos are readily accessible where i live, so i always add a few of those to the mix. with the increased acidity and tang from the tomatillos, i find that i don’t need as much, if any, acid in the form of vinegar at the end of cooking. but sometimes i add a squeeze of lime because it feels right. i’ve updated the recipe to reflect these changes. xo
garlicky green chili
inspired by new mexican green chile stew, this vegetarian chili has a hearty texture and vibrant color and flavor from green-skinned mung beans, quinoa, and browned tofu, along with a rainbow of green peppers and plenty of garlic
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 block tofu, drained and crumbled
1 large onion, diced
8-10 cloves garlic, minced or crushed into a paste
2-3 large green bell peppers (or 5-6 tiny ones), diced
4 tomatillos, diced
1 7-ounce can roasted green chiles, diced
2 serrano or jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced (or keep seeds to retain some heat)
1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano leaf
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
⅛ teaspoon white pepper, optional
~3 cups cooked mung beans (from 1 cup dry)
1 cup quinoa, soaked 8 hours, drained + rinsed
water as needed for consistency
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
a splash of white vinegar or lime juice, optional
hot sauce (like cholula or yucatan sunshine)
chopped fresh cilantro to serve
warm a large pot on the stovetop over medium-high heat. pour in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. carefully add the crumbled tofu, stir to coat in the oil, and then let brown undisturbed for several minutes. when the bottom of the tofu has formed a golden crust, stir and break up the chunks, then let brown again for another few minutes.
if tofu has absorbed most of the oil, add another glug to the pan before adding the onions, garlic, and bell peppers. cook for five minutes or so until onions are translucent and softened.
add the tomatillos, green chiles, and minced spicy pepper, if using, along with the cumin, oregano, coriander, and white pepper. stir and let cook for a minute until spices are warmed and fragrant.
add the mung beans and quinoa to the pot along with a few cups of water and bring to a boil. once it bubbles, reduce heat to a strong simmer and let it cook for half an hour or so, stirring occasionally, and adding more water as needed — the mung beans absorb a lot (see notes).
when the quinoa and bell peppers have become beautifully soft, season with salt, lime juice if you’re feeling it, and a good few shakes of hot sauce.
serve in cozy bowls with more hot sauce, avocado slices, chopped fresh cilantro, or whatever you like. enjoy.
for extra rich, smoky flavor, you can roast the bell peppers ahead of time (remove the charred skin before dicing)
more chilis and soups
- congee (savory rice porridge)
- lentil soup with kale
- white bean & shallot soup with tahini
- garlicky green chili
- magical quinoa, vegetable, and red lentil soup + the idea of inspiration