Lentil, Bean and Vegetable Chilli
Without wishing to be too disparaging about other vegan chilli’s, I often find that I’m disappointed when following certain recipes for this dish. I find that flavour is regularly lacking, or is very one-dimensional and I can often just taste tomato, or cumin, and not a lot else! I think that the key to a good chilli is a balance of flavours: there should be spice, there should be richness, and there should be some sweetness (in my opinion). A dash of cocoa powder really adds depth to the dish (and doesn’t make it taste like chocolate), and a good quality vegetable stock is essential. I also like my vegetables chopped up really small (giving a texture more similar to mince) which is where a food processor really helps, but that’s just my preference. In this manner, the finely chopped celery, carrot and onion get fried off first, providing a strong flavour base, but also providing some of the bulk of the stew. Carrots and onions are available all year round in the UK, and celery just during the 4 or 5 coldest months (winter). Lentils and beans provide textural variety and a cheap, nutritious filler. My choice of beans are a mix of pinto and black beans, but use your favourites. If you prefer sugar/sweetener-free dishes, then you may leave out the agave- it’s still tasty without- but I think that it aids in balancing out the flavours, especially if the tinned tomatoes you use are slightly more acidic than usual. I find that this recipe can be quite variable and sometimes requires a slightly longer cooking time for the flavours to ‘come together’. Follow the instructions, but taste before serving: if the flavours are not ‘harmonising’ with one another, cook for a little longer. If possible, make in advance, as leaving it to sit for a while after cooking does nothing but improve the dish!
Extras: my favourite bit! I like to eat chilli with brown rice, some kind of crunchy vegetable and this cashew ‘sour cream’. Pictured, I have dressed some red cabbage with a simple balsamic vinaigrette containing extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Other great sides include: avocado, tomatoes, extra chillis, spring onions, fresh coriander, lime wedges, lettuce, tortilla wraps, corn bread, potato wedges. Of course, guacamole and salsa are great accompaniments to this kind of food and if you want to jazz up your rice, try this coriander and lime rice salad.
Final point! This recipe is cheap as chips, goes a long way and freezes wonderfully! What more reason do you need?
- 250g brown lentils
- 125g onion (1 medium)
- 125 celery (1 large stalk)
- 250g carrot (2 medium)
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1.5 tbsp ground cumin
- 1.5 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1.5 tsp garlic powder
- 1.5 tsp extra hot chilli powder
- 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 100g tomato paste
- 625ml vegetable stock (I use Bouillon powder)
- 1 x 400g tinned tomatoes
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1.5 cans (360g drained weight) beans
- 250g frozen sweetcorn
- 50g agave or maple syrup
- In a medium saucepan, cook the lentils according to packet instructions. They should take around 20 minutes when cooked in boiling water. You want them cooked well rather than 'al dente'; mushiness is fine here as they will melt in to the chilli and blend with the other ingredients, so no worries about overcooking.
- Meanwhile, whiz up the onion, celery and carrot in a food processor until all the vegetables are finely chopped.
- In a large saucepan, fry the vegetable mixture in the oil for about 10 minutes on medium heat, until softened slightly.
- Then add the cumin, oregano, salt, garlic powder, chilli powder and black pepper and fry for a minute more.
- Now add the tomato paste, stock, chopped tomatoes and cocoa and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Now add the cooked and drained lentils, beans, sweetcorn and agave and cook for 5-10 more more minutes.
- If you have time, allow to sit for a bit to let the flavours develop even more but if not, enjoy right away!