You’re around here reading about “music” and “the arts” and “the creative process” and stuff like that, huh? Well, LET ME GUESS — you’ve got like a dollar, you’re looking for some food to cook on the cheap, and you’d also rather not stand around doing hands-on cooking shit for an interminable length of time because you have other shit to do. Good news; you’re IN THE RIGHT PLACE, because I was very accustomed for years and years to doing EVERYTHING on the cheap, and I have some ideas. Including — THIS MEATLESS CHILI that I’ve had in my life ever since I was in college, mere weeks after I moved off campus into a crappy apartment with two of my bandmates.
This is gonna solve some of your problems, provided you like beans and tomatoes. If you don’t like those things, you’re not in the right place after all; sorry.
Everyone hates “origin stories” in recipe blogs, including me, BUT: Credit where credit is due.
This recipe originally came to me from one of my earliest journalism mentors, Jackie Majerus, executive director of Youth Journalism International. YJI is a non-profit that trains kids around the globe on how to Do Journalism, and publishes their work. I was fortunate that when I was a teenager, Jackie and her husband Steve Collins (both seasoned reporters by that time, and the co-founders of YJI) were local to me. They’d have local YJI kids over for a hang during the holidays, and Jackie always had this chili simmering on the stove, because it doesn’t have meat, gluten, nuts, or dairy. Unless you want to add any, which is fine. I’m not a cop.
Over the years, I’ve decided to try adding one thing, then another, then another, and now it’s several notches removed from Jackie’s recipe. Hers was just black beans, red beans, canned onions, chiles, and garlic. But if you come to my house these days, you get THIS.
Okay, so here’s what you’re gonna do. You need INGREDIENTS. These are they:
1 red onion (something around the size of a baseball works well)
1 garlic bulb (like the size you get in one of those garlic sleeves)
+/- 7 serrano chiles (maybe aim lower the first time you do this)
3 15.5-oz. cans black beans
2 15.5-oz. cans small red beans (not kidney beans — they’ll fall apart as they simmer; small red beans will hold their shape)
2ish c. dried TVP chunks (a/k/a textured vegetable protein, soy chunks, soya chunks — OPTIONAL, but look for them at your local East Asian or South Asian market or hippie food store, or in the yuppie grains aisle of the supermarket, although those’ll prob be overpriced. It’s also sold as flakes — those work just fine if you can’t find the chunks)
1 15.5-oz. can chickpeas
2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes
2-3 whole plum tomatoes
Seasonings: salt, black pepper, cumin, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, etc.
First things first. Chop the onion and chiles. Crush or smash the garlic.
Rinse and strain the black and red beans in a colander. The chickpeas you don’t need to rinse, but you can throw them into the colander if having all the beans in one place means something to you.
Pour some olive oil into the bottom of a large pot, enough to coat the bottom generously. Turn up the burner to medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and chiles, and sautée briskly.
Pour in the strained beans, turn up the heat a bit, and stir.
After about a minute, add the canned tomatoes.
Add salt, black pepper, cumin, thyme, bay leaf, oregano, and any other seasonings you want. Put the lid on. Now we’re going to do some other stuff while that’s heating up to a simmer.
You’re gonna want to rehydrate the TVP. This might sound weird if you’ve never cooked with TVP, but trust me. TVP is good shit. It’s a soy thing that’s supposed to mimic the texture of meat, and it’s hella cheap, so if you use your imagination, you’ll come up with loads of other applications. I always have this stuff in my kitchen. It doesn’t have much flavor on its own, but it’s really easy to dress up. ANYWAY: Pour the TVP into a bowl, boil some water, and pour the water over the TVP. Sprinkle some salt and cumin on there, and stir it up so the TVP absorbs some of the flavor. It’ll rehydrate within seconds — you’ll need to add enough water so there’s still some water left unabsorbed at the bottom of the bowl after three or four minutes. When it’s done, strain out the excess water and add the TVP to the chili pot.
Now chop up your fresh tomatoes, and add those to the pot. Give it a stir.
Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to a simmer.
All right, cool. Now you don’t have to do ANYTHING except for stir occasionally and season some more. If it’s looking too thick, you can add another tomato. If it’s looking too thin, add some more TVP, still dry, right into the pot — it’ll soak up the juices.
Simmer for three or four hours. Serve over rice. One thing I used to do when I was SERIOUSLY skint was, I’d cook the chili with more serranos than I could really tolerate, and I’d cut the chili with a TON of rice. That was a great way to stretch everything. Rice is cheap too.
If you want, you can top off a bowl of this chili with some cheddar or a dollop of sour cream.
Continue trying this recipe again, optimizing it over time, adding and/or subtracting ingredients to your taste, for the next several years.
Bonus: Slow Cooker Version
Sautée the onion, garlic, and chiles in a pan. Dump pan contents into a slow cooker. Add everything else to the slow cooker. Turn on high until the chili starts boiling, then turn on low for however many hours. This may or may not cook down as much as the stovetop version, and may result in a thinner chili.