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Vegetarian Chili? Try tempeh!

Posted by on November 18, 2013
Tempeh vegetarian chili with beans, topped with cheese, onion and avocado.

Tempeh vegetarian chili with beans, topped with cheese, onion and avocado.

In order to continue my quest of eating vegetarian six days out of 7, I have to be able to cook foods that offer variety, are full of flavor and satisfy.  When the cooler temps hit Austin, I started jonesing for chili, but worried about how I’d manage a vegetarian version that would be rich, comforting and so delicious that my meat & potatoes husband wouldn’t mind eating it.  I turned to Twitter, and my friend Lazy Smurf came through with a recipe that she declared was a favorite in her house.  My relief to see a recipe that didn’t involve a bag of frozen faux-meat crumbles was exceeded by my excitement that this recipe sounded like something I’d really find tasty.  It did, however, contain tempeh, a fermented soy product that I am not terribly familiar with, and set off my red flag warnings, big time.

My husband prefers his chili with cheese, onions and saltines.

My husband prefers his chili with cheese, onions and saltines.

I should not have worried.  I should’ve trusted a good Tweep wouldn’t steer me wrong.  The chili was amazing.  AH-MAZING!  My husband was two spoonfuls in when he looked at me in astonishment and said “This is good.  This is very, very good.”  I can’t promise that this recipe will satiate all meat eaters, but for my picky husband to be happily eating tempeh chili is nothing short of miraculous.  (Side note: my friend Lydia would have me make a PSA here that “real Texas chili does not contain beans, and most definitely does not utilize any other main protein than grass-fed beef, preferably local.”  And she is correct, but for the sake of this blog post and ease of googling if others are looking for a vegetarian chili recipe that kicks ass, I’m going to continue calling it chili, instead of “spicy veggie and tempeh Southwestern stew”.

I usually change up recipes to suit my taste, but I did very little tweaking for the recipe that Lazy Smurf shared.  You can view the original on the Post Punk Kitchen website, and my version is below.  I also highly suggest checking out Lazy Smurf’s Guide, which features all kinds of Austin Vegan-ness, and Lydia’s website, Understand Blue.  Lydia dishes out creativity and beauty on her site, and is helping keep my love for red meat thriving (on at least one day out of the week).  Her spirit animal is a brisket.

Tempeh & Bean Vegetarian Chili

1 – 8oz package of Trader Joe’s Organic 3 Grain Tempeh

1 large onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 large carrot, finely diced

1/3 of a large jalapeno, seeded, ribs removed, and diced

6 cloves garlic (or less, if you have vampiric tendencies), minced

1 Tb. olive oil, plus a dash or two

1.5 tsp. Low sodium soy sauce

3 Tb. chili powder (I used San Antonio blend chili powder from HEB bulk spices)

2 tsp. comino (ground cumin)

1/2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano (or 2 tsp. fresh, chopped)

1 tsp. Kosher salt

A few dashes of black pepper

15oz can organic pinto beans, drained, and rinsed well

1 cup dark beer (I used KBC Porter)

15oz can Muir Glen organic diced fire-roasted tomatoes

3 Tb Muir Glen organic tomato paste*

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

Juice from 2 Key limes (yes, the tiny limes)

About 3/4 cup of cilantro leaves (measure first, then chop them up)

In a large pot, add oil and cook onions, green bell pepper and carrots over med-high heat, until tender and beginning to brown (15-20 minutes) stirring occasionally.

At the same time, put tempeh in a large frying pan and fill with water until it is almost covered. Add soy sauce and let simmer over high heat, stirring occasionally. My tempeh was in one solid piece, and I let it soften, then broke it into smaller pieces.  When water is mostly absorbed, mash tempeh with a fork, so it’s crumbly but still chunky. Lower heat to medium and add a dash or two (about a teaspoon or so) of olive oil , saute for 15 more minutes.

At this point, your veggies should be fairly soft, and have decent color to them. Add jalapeno and garlic and saute one minute, then add salt and spices (except cilantro, you add that last) and saute a minute more. Add beer and deglaze the pot. Cook for 2 minutes. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, beans and broth. Your tempeh should be done cooking so add that as well. Lower heat to medium, stir it up and cover for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook 30 more minutes stirring occasionally.  Add Key lime juice and cilantro, stir well, and taste.  If you feel like it needs more salt or pepper, add it.  Stir well again, and serve.

I like to top this with shredded sharp cheddar, diced red onion and diced avocado, bu it’s equally good with a dollop of sour cream.  If you don’t add cheese or sour cream, your chili will be Vegan, extra points for you, but hey, I love dairy.  I baked cornbread muffins to pair with this, but my husband always grabs saltine crackers (which leaves me cornbread for me).  To each, his own.

*I did not understand how different organic tomato paste is from conventional paste, until I gave in and paid the extra for organic.  I’ll never go back to non-organic tomato paste.  The cloyingly sweet tomato paste I’d grown up on cannot hold a candle to the fresh, savory tomato flavor of the organic paste.  So good, I used my three tablespoons and saved the remainder of the can instead of tossing it like I’d usually do.

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