Yesterday, I promised you “serious vegan comfort food.” If chili and cornbread doesn’t qualify, then I don’t know what does!
It’s been a while since I made chili, but it’s absolutely one of my favorite dishes. It’s easy, filling, cheap, and freezes well. It’s a crowd pleaser, and it’s easy to modify. These days, I rarely make a chili that doesn’t involve sweet potatoes, but the rest is up for grabs: sometimes I use black beans, sometimes red, sometimes lentils; sometimes I make it spicy, and sometimes I make it sweet. I make it in batches small and large, eat it alone and with friends, in winter and in summer. And I always make enough for leftovers.
What I rarely do—and this is what makes Saturday’s dinner so special—is serve chili with any of the traditional accompaniments. Let’s face it, chili in my home is almost always plated with kale and avocado salad, and that’s it. But this weekend, I felt like putting together a more…traditional dinner. And that meant cornbread, hot from the oven.
Confession: I’m not the best baker. I can follow instructions well enough, and the results are always fine, but none of the creativity that I pour into cooking or uncooking ends up in my baking ventures. But I do love baking for other people (such as my mother, who can’t get enough vegan scones and muffins) or during the holiday season (because gingerbread smell makes everything better). Give me a recipe for vegan cakes, cookies, or crisps, and I’ll rise to the occasion.
When the recipe is as preposterously simple as Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s vegan cornbread (recipe up at the PPK), it’s a pleasure from start to finish. This is as simple as vegan baking gets, and it cooks quickly: the whole dish took me about 30 minutes to prepare. I made only two changes, but they’re important ones to consider if you’re into healthy baking:
- I substituted safflower oil for canola. Why? Because safflower oil is more stable at high temperatures; as you’ve probably read here or there, certain oils are potentially carcinogenic when heated at very high temperatures. Coconut oil and safflower are two of the safest, which is why I usually use them in baking and sautéing. There’s nothing too wrong with canola, but if you’re feeling truly vigilant about your baked goods, you may want to sub safflower oil instead.
- I substituted spelt flour for regular flour. I was a little worried that this would mess up the texture, but it worked beautifully. It’s a healthier flour to use (whole grain) and good for people with wheat allergies (spelt is a more ancient form of wheat, and many who are sensitive to regular wheat tolerate it better).
- Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly! Here’s the action:
After twenty-five minutes in the oven, it was hot and ready to eat.
But not without the chili!
What follows is my standard recipe for sweet potato and bean chili. It’s an amalgam of many other recipes I’ve followed precisely and loved—namely, Susan V’s Tunisian sweet potato stew and other sweet potato and black bean chilis I’ve found online. I like kidney beans in this recipe, but black beans or chickpeas or red lentils would all work nicely! You should modify spices as you see fit, and feel free to amp up the heat: I use only a dash of cayenne, but those of you who like it hot can add more.
Sweet Potato and Kidney Bean Chili (serves 4)
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 yellow onion
1 clove garlic
1 large stalk celery
I red bell pepper
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1.5 lbs sweet potatoes
1 small can whole or chopped tomatoes, (I like the Muir Glen brand; if you get whole, chop them)
1 can kidney beans, drained
1.5 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2-1 tsp sea salt
1) Sautee onion and garlic in coconut oil till translucent or slightly golden. Add celery and pepper, and cook till all vegetables are tender.
2) Add broth, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kidney beans, cumin, chili powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt. Bring to a boil, and then lower to a simmer.
3) Simmer for 30-35 minutes, or till sweet potatoes are very tender. Add more vegetable broth as needed as the chili cooks.
Rounded out with two slices of spelt cornbread and a simple romaine salad, this meal was comfort food at its very best.
With temperatures becoming ever more autumnal, this is the time of year to play around with this simple recipe. Modify it as you like, and let me know what you come up with!
Leftovers should keep in the fridge for about 3 days. And feel free to double the recipe and freeze half of it. If you live alone, you can make the recipe as stated and freeze half, too – you’ll have two good lunches or dinners, and two saved up for a lazy night.
There’s no better proof that vegan fare stick to your ribs than this dinner. Hope you try it out soon. Till then, I’m taking a poll: what’s your favorite vegan comfort food?