Build-Your-Own-Signature-Chili (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

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It seems everyone has an idea of how to best make chili. If you don’t, it might feel overwhelming to start. It’s really a great meal, as I’m sure you know already, so I thought I’d do up a masterpost on some of the different options you have! It’s a wonderful place to start cooking, very forgiving of your mistakes and easy to customize according to what you have on-hand.

Let’s go!

Tomato base + flavour base + herbs and spices+ protein + spice level + texture + liquid + toppings = chili

Tomato Base

I generally use canned whole tomatoes because I get to squish them with my fingers, a bit of tomato paste and whatever ripe fresh tomatoes I have hiding at the back of the fridge. For your tomato base, you can use any or all of the following:

  • canned whole tomatoes (with or without spices)
  • canned stewed tomatoes
  • strained tomatoes
  • fresh tomatoes
  • canned tomato sauce
    Plus Tomato Paste

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Flavour Base

Your flavour base is going to include all those wonderful vegetables that give the most basic amount of complexity to any dish. You may have noticed I add them to most things I’m cooking and they are necessary staples in any kitchen putting out homemade food. You can dice them or chop them large for more texture. They are:

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  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Celery
  • Carrots

Herbs & Spices

The herbs and spices that go into a chili are so wide and varied. I like the warm background notes of cinnamon and cocoa to balance out the spiciness and to complement the acidity of the tomatoes. I should say, the only non-optional one is the chili powder and you should use about 2 tablespoons for every serving of chili you’re making, but really taste and see what you like. Choose from any of the following and add a healthy pinch of any or all of the following:

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  • Chili Powder
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Marjoram
  • Bay Leaves
  • Savoury
  • Celery Seed
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Cilantro
  • Flat Leaf Parsley
  • Cinnamon
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Paprika (sweet, smoked, spicy)
  • Salt and Black Pepper, to taste

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Protein

The protein you choose to add to your chili feels rather unimportant compared to the rest of the fun ingredients, but that’s probably just me. Use whatever combo you want/have in the pantry!

  • Textured Vegetable Protein
  • Veggie Sausages, chopped
  • Lentils
  • Kidney Beans
  • Chick Peas
  • Black-Eyed Peas
  • Black Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Baked Beans, specifically the sweet Canadian/British kind
  • Literally any bean…
  • Extra Firm Tofu
  • Smoked Tofuprotein

Spice Level

I’ve put spice level in a separate category because every single person has a different idea of how spicy they would like their chilli. I like spicy food, but I also think just tossing in pepper after hot pepper is a lazy way of covering up a lack of complexity. Learn to balance your food. If you’re into far spicier food than your friends, maybe think about serving some sliced peppers on the side

  • Fresh Hot Peppers, any kind
  • Canned Jalapeño Peppers
  • Hot Sauce, such as Cholula or Tabasco
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Red pepper flakes

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Texture

Texture is the fun part! It’s where your creativity can really take over (or you can clean out the crisper)! I like to add sweet vegetables to my chili and to get a good bite, I always add butternut squash. It’s all up to your palate and budget, though.

  • Butternut squash
  • Any Winter Squash, like pumpkin or kabocha
  • Zucchini
  • Patty-pan squash
  • Sweet Potato or Yam
  • Eggplant
  • Corn, Canned, frozen or fresh
  • Bell Peppers
  • Mushrooms, canned or fresh
  • Leafy Greens, such as chopped kale or spinach
  • Golden Beets

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Liquid

Some liquid will need to be added to the chili. I added some leftover wine aperitif leftover in the fridge which had hints of chocolate in it, so it was the perfect addition to this. You might also try a little of any of these in addition to water:

  • Cold brewed coffee
  • Beer, something dark
  • Red wine

Toppings

To top your chili is totally optional, but dollop of this or that is really quite pretty. I absolutely love fresh cilantro on top of my bowl of chili.

  • Vegan Cheese Shreds
  • Non-Dairy Sour Cream or Cream Cheese
  • Chopped Cilantro
  • Corn Chip
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Green Onions
  • Lime Wedges

Once you have all your ingredients picked out, you can go about this two ways:

1. Throw it all in a slow-cooker  with a cup of water per serving (or pot and bring to a boil, then simmer for as long as you have).
2. Sautee your flavour base in a little olive oil, add the rest of your ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer for as long you have.

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My Signature Chili Recipe for Two

1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 large can tomatoes
1 fresh tomato, chopped
1/4 cup chili powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup dry brown lentils
1/4 cup chickpeas
1 large bell pepper, chopped small
1 small sweet potato, chopped small
1 cup water
1/2 cup wine aperitif

Heat oil in a medium sized pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, garlic and carrots and let them start to sweat. Salt them and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring often to prevent sticking. Reduce heat to low and let the chili simmer for at least 20 minutes, but keep in mind, the longer this simmers, the better it will become.

Chili Troubleshooting 101

Question: Help! My chili is a little watery and lacking that rich, dark red colour I’m used to seeing!

Answer: It’s one of two things – 1. Your vegetables are not fully cooked yet and they have not released all their water. Keep it cooking and it will reduce down to a more suitable consistency. 2. Your tomato base is the thing that is too watery. In this case, you should add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and you should be up to speed. You might also add a couple tablespoons of cornmeal and let that cook for another fifteen minutes or so.

Question: My chili is too spicy! Can I fix that?

Answer: Easiest way to fix this is to make sure that you add the ingredients from the spice level category in conservative amounts and taste throughout to make sure you achieve only the spiciness you want. If you’ve already done it, add more vegetables from the texture category, some more beans or tofu, cinnamon and cocoa powder.

I did this once. I added a 1/4 cup of cayenne pepper instead of chili powder. Ouch. It was probably the only meal I’ve never been able to fix. Don’t do that.

If you have any concerns, let me know so I can add them into this troubleshooting guide!

 

French Country Vegetable Soup for Two (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free and Oil-Free)

In my quest to make quick and easy dinner recipes in small portions, I’ve taken to testing them out in the day in between my other activities. This helps ensure they are really low-prep. This soup is inspired by Amy’s Kitchen’s French Country soup but is lighter in consistency and richer in herb flavour.

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Ready to go in half an hour! The ingredients are really flexible, so add or subtract as you see fit. You want to add a potato or a handful or rice, go ahead! Red pepper or fresh basil? Do it! Soup is fun and easy!

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Soup

1 cup white beans (any kind you like, really)
540 ml canned tomatoes (diced, whole, stewed, anything)
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon lavender (if your herbs de Provence does not contain it)
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons dried chanterelle mushrooms, re-hydrated according to package directions.
1 litre of water
Handful of leafy greens, your choice (optional)
Black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients, except the leafy greens and black pepper, in a pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and let simmer for fifteen minutes, or as long as you have! Just as you’re ready to eat, toss the leafy greens into the soup, taste for seasonings and serve hot.

Copycat Dragon Bowl

All right. There’s this yuppie vegan restaurant in Montreal; It’s always very busy and they run a very tight ship. Their immensely popular Dragon Sauce is a rite of passage for anyone living or visiting this interesting island. I’ve seen one or two copycat recipes online but let me tell you – they vastly overestimate the quality of ingredients that make up this delectable sauce. I suppose because it’s vegan, served over healthy ingredients and chockful of nutritional yeast, they go out on a limb and guess it has maple syrup and a whole host of other expensive items. Nah, I’m here to tell you as someone who knows someone who worked there and someone who has worked in industrial sized kitchens – that is not the case.

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What it is is sweet, tangy and full of rich umami flavour. This is a quick sauce to whiz up and what you put it over is up to you, but this is my no-fail suggestion for your first tries.  The most skilled part of the preparation is the tofu and I’ll guide you right through that. This is very satisfying while remaining fresh and not too heavy on your stomach. It’s absolutely a stunner, too. Sure to impress with very little effort.

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Dragon Sauce

Covers at least 4 brown rice bowls

2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
1/4 cup  granulated sugar (yep, sorry to break it to you, this sauce is made with copious amounts of sugar)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Pulse until thickened. Taste and adjust any of the ingredients for the balance you like (more salty, sour, etc).

Golden Brown Tofu

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1 lb firm tofu, 12 equal slices (quartered, then each quarter into thirds)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high. Add tofu slices, laying them all flat. Sprinkle with garlic salt and let tofu brown on each side, for about ten minutes.

Dragon Bowl Ingredients

Brown rice
Steamed broccoli
Sliced radishes
Shredded carrots and beets
Romaine lettuce

Assemble as you like. Let your imagination run wild: you can add anything you want to this bowl. Smother with as much sauce as you like. Eat often.

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