Many of us are now working, schooling, shopping and entertaining each other at home and from home. For those of us in big cities, we may also be cooking a lot more often than we had before. I used to do bulk cooking on Sundays so we'd have easy heat-up dinners during the week and my daughter always ate lunch at school. I am still doing some bulk cooking, but I am also thinking about things that are also easily stored, made with some packaged and frozen foods, and can freeze well. One of our favorite dinners to make is a big pot of chili and some homemade cornbread.
The origins of chili, or as it is/was known in Mexico and the Southwest, is chile con carne (the English version: chili con carne, or chilies with meat), which is a ground (or chopped small) red meat stew made with chilies and included beans native to the region. Also, as corn is indigenous to Southern Mexico, and spread both north and south from that epicenter, there were many peoples in the Americas that made any number of flatbreads, like tortillas, with ground cornmeal. Cornbread as we know it today is the result of European colonizers introducing wheat and leaveners to make bread and to make that bread rise.
The spice that we often buy in the store, simply labeled "Chili Powder," is generally a blend of spices which includes chili peppers, often paprika, oregano, black pepper, cumin, among other things. But what if you want to make your own? Like with many households that use specialty and particular spice blends (think Mexican, Peruvian, Indian, Italian, etc.), each home may have a slightly different blend. A good blend may include ancho chili (dried poblano pepper), dried cascabel chili ("cascabel" means little bell, like jingle bells, in Spanish and it gets its name because the loose seeds rattle around the chili when it is dried like bells), dried arbol chili (means "tree" and is red, small & skinny), some onion powder, some cumin, some black pepper, and some oregano. Important note: toasting your dried chilies in a dry pan a little bit before removing the seeds enhances the flavor! If you don't have these dried chilies in your pantry you can use: paprika, onion powder, oregano, pepper, cumin, like the store bought versions or even add things like curry to it, if that's your jam!
So, in honor of our favorite meal, that can be made in about 30-40 minutes, here is our version of a Vegetarian Quinoa Chili with Sweet Cornbread. The chili is actually vegan but the cornbread is made with milk and egg. We also make our chili at home with ground turkey, but any ground meat would do -- it's whatever your preference (ground venison would be DELICIOUS too). Buen provecho, amig@s!
Vegetarian Chili and Sweet Cornbread -- Serves 6-8
Ingredients for chili
1 medium onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 12 oz package of meat substitute (pictured, but optional)
1-2 cans tomato diced or crushed (depends on how loose you want it!)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can kidney beans (15.5 oz), strained
1 can garbanzo beans (15.5 oz), with juice
1 can black beans (15.5 oz), strained
1.5 cups frozen corn (or 1 can corn with juice)
1 cup barley or quinoa, cooked (optional)
1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
2 tablespoons corn meal (optional)
1 ½ tablespoons chili powder (more to taste)
1 ½ teaspoons of cumin
½ -1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depends on the heat, or omit)
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped fine
Cooking oil of your choice
Salt and pepper to taste
Note: I sometimes soak my kidney beans overnight and make a fresh batch for chili. This recipe was simplified with canned beans for a quick and easy one pot meal.
In a large pot, add 2 tablespoons of oil. Saute onions until translucent.
Add peppers and garlic and saute until fragrant.
Add spices and saute until fragrant.
If using meat substitute, add and cook until browned/cooked.
Add tomato and tomato paste. Heat through.
If using, add mushrooms. Cook about 5 minutes.
Add all beans, barley or quinoa, corn and cilantro.
Add cornmeal to thicken and give added flavor (optional).
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add a little water if too thick.
Let simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Adjust seasoning if needed.
Serve with white rice and cornbread.
Ingredients for cornbread
1 cup wheat or white flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cane sugar
1/3 cup oil
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare 11”x7” rectangle or 9” round pan. Grease it and lightly dust the bottom and sides with flour.
In a mixing bowl, combine and dry ingredients well.
Add the milk, egg, and oil to the mixing bowl and blend. Pour batter in to prepared pan.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes. The top should be slightly golden and a knife or toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean.