Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Vegan black bean chili

At Oakland Feather River Camp, vegetarian meals are offered in addition to the regular meat-based meal. The vegetarian meal is served on a separate steam line to avoid confusion. This allows vegetarian diners (and meat eaters who enjoy vegetarian cuisine as well) to select their meal without having to worry about meat products. Any food item placed on the vegetarian line is prepared without meat, poultry or fish.

I often serve the same entrée and side dishes on both meat and vegetarian lines. When chili con carne is menued on the regular menu, for instance, bean chili is placed on the vegetarian serving line. This simplifies production and allows the cooks to make efficient use of their time. While the chili con carne and black bean chili are cooked in separate pots, the beans for both entrees will be cooked in the same pot, then divided between the two applications.

When we have a number of vegans in camp, I instruct the vegetarian cook to prepare as many entrées as possible without animal products. This helps to avoid duplication of effort for the vegetarian and vegan population at camp. To please vegetarian campers, we place grated cheese and sour cream on the vegetarian line.

I began preparing vegan black bean chili for the Argonaut Farm to Fork Café in Coloma, California, in December. It quickly became a favorite of our customers. And I enjoy cooking the chili week after week. This recipe will supplant the one we were using last summer at camp.

Adapted from Chef Helen Lacono's gem of a cookbook, Kaua'i Farmers' Market Soups (self-published in 2013), the chili is a marriage of freshly cooked black beans with a rich puree of onions, poblano chiles, carrots, red bell peppers and garlic. A pot of beans surrounded by a smooth, mildly spiced sauce, makes for a wonderful bowl of comfort food.


Use the black bean chili recipe as a starting point, adding or subtracting ingredients to suit the tastes of your campers. For a chunky chili, skip the puréeing step. Simply cut the vegetables to uniform size, sauté in olive oil and add to the cooked beans.

For a smoky chili, replace the paprika with smoked paprika. Chipotle peppers add a smoky dimension as well. You can also roast the poblano chiles and red bell peppers over an open flame if desired.

For a meat chili, add 3-1/2 to 4 pounds grilled diced Italian sausage or cooked ground turkey to the chili. My favorite is a chicken and apple sausage.

3 pounds black beans
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound onion, diced small
8 ounces carrot, diced small
1 pound poblano pepper, diced small
1-1/4 pounds red bell pepper, diced small
1 ounce  garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 cup dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Tamari soy sauce
Vegetable stock

Pick over beans, removing discolored beans and foreign matter. Wash thoroughly. Place beans and salt in 10 to 12-quart stockpot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Add water as necessary to keep the beans covered. Simmer 1-1/2 hours or until just tender. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid if used to thin the chili.

Puree onion, carrot, chili pepper, bell pepper and garlic in a blender or food processor. In a heavy skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook puree mixture in olive oil for 10 to 15 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne, oregano and basil to puree mixture. Continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes. Add to beans in stockpot.

Add tomato, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce to chili. Simmer over low heat 20 to 30 minutes to develop flavor. Thin chili to desired consistency with vegetable stock or reserved bean liquid. Adjust seasoning.

Makes 6-1/2 quarts. Portion into 25 (8-ounce) or 20 (10-ounce) servings. If desired, serve over steamed brown rice and garnish with fresh salsa.

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