Vegetarian Chili

photo of panch puran. You put the seeds in whole. You don't grind them.

Recipe Testers,

It is hard to begin this letter because I want to write about the three days I spent cooking with my grandmother in Solvang and the fantastic things we made from the delicious chicken livers, to the beautiful salade nicoise, to the almond crusted tilapia to the clay pot roast chicken, the chicken broth, the asparagus soup…all of it. It was so much fun! I set up the video camera to face my grandmother so I could cook but still record everything she was saying. (I highly recommend doing this!) While we were cooking from all her old recipes and cookbooks I was also trying to squeeze in some food for my uncle who is mainly vegetarian. I made him the vegetarian chili again, which everyone in my extended family ate and loved. And I know that I truly owe many of you that recipe, so I will force myself to type that out, even though it is always easiest for me to write about the most current thing on my mind. (Which reminds me that I need to send out the recipe for No-Chop Salsa again with homemade chips that I made for Jason and his brother while they watched the final four games on Saturday. And also Nirasha’s Orzo Salad since there are at least 100 new recipe testers on the list since I last sent that out. I’m typing this now to help me remember to do it!) Before I digress, back to the Vegetarian Chili recipe…

On my way to Solvang, I swung by Indo-China in Goleta to pick up more Panch Puran because I knew the friends coming up to cook with Granny would want some after they tasted the chili. So the owner of Indo-China told me they’d had a run on it this week and were completely sold out. I told her I hadn’t even sent out the recipe yet, just mentioned the ingredient last week and where to get it. I told her next time I’ll give her a warning for a special ingredient before that happens because the same thing happened a few years ago with the pomegranate paste and the passion fruit puree. Before I go into a detailed explanation on what Panch Puran is, I want to tell you a little bit about Indo-China market. Indo-China is a gem of a store. It is located in a strip mall in the K-Mart shopping center in Goleta. It is a tiny store, but is clean and busy and seems to have every unique ingredient I could ever need on its well stocked shelves: I buy the candied tamarind that is the secret ingredient in my guava gastrique…I wait for the shipment of the Yorkshire Gold tea from England…They have the Three Crabs Nam Pla (Fish Sauce) that I like…my favorite coconut milk…bulk spices including the licorice root I use for the lobster broth…whole nutmeg for my buttermilk pancakes…nishiki rice… mae ploy sweet chile sauce…..the list goes on and on. (I think I’m supposed to be using commas instead of ellipses, but somehow it read better that way!) They also have fresh kaffir lime leaves, galangal (kha) and all sorts of yummy English candies and biscuits. They also have the black currant and red currant preserves (I used the black currant as a foil for the chicken livers on the fresh white bread from the bakery.) I’ll stop even though I keep thinking of more and more things that I buy there. It isn’t exactly a secret to Santa Barbara locals since the store is quite busy, but if you don’t know about it, it is a treasure trove of ingredients. (The new order of Panch Puran will not be in until April 22 and she is going to call me to confirm its arrival)

Now to the Panch Puran: Hopefully by the end of the e-mail you will be used to hearing the name and it won’t sound exotic to you. It is as easy to shake the panch puran spices in the chili as it is to sprinkle in chile powder. Yes, I toast them first, but you don’t have to. You could just sprinkle them in and the dish would be wonderful. So don’t let the unusual name turn you off to using this addictive spice combination. Also, the best thing about the chili recipe is that it takes about 20-30 minutes to make and you can eat it immediately. Unlike other chilies and stews that need to cook for awhile, this one is ready right away. So in addition to being delicious and healthy it is also quick and easy. Panch Puran is an Indian Spice Mixture that is equal parts of the 5 following spices: Fenugreek, Fennel, Cumin, Nigella and Mustard. The Nigella seeds are the little black seeds also known as black onion seeds and I think would be incredible with anything having to do with tomatoes. So if you can’t get the Panch Puran the Nigella seeds alone will be an excellent substitute. Here is a link if you want to read up on them a bit more ( I also thought it was “just right” or “ironic” (in the way that everything in my life always relates to whatever I’m working on and I find just the thing I need just before I need it) that when I stopped at the Organic farm on the road to Najoqui Falls (just off 101 before you get to Buellton) they had a giant herb book and it was open to the page on, you guessed it: Nigella Seeds and all their names and uses. (Swing by the Organic Farm if you have the chance. It’s all on the honor system and you put your money in a big wine barrel)

Finally to the to the chili and how I originally made it up: Just before Halloween I hosted our annual Homeschool Halloween Party. I had to think of something easy to serve a group of 70 so I decided to make chili, cornbread and salad. So it is about 3 hours before everyone is coming and I have a GIANT pot of chili and everything seems just right. Then I remember that Holly’s entire family is vegetarian and that about twelve guests are vegetarian. From the vegetarians I know well, they are usually disappointed when someone gives them “pasta” or a plate of steamed vegetables as the vegetarian option. (There are an infinite number of fabulous vegetarian recipes out there, so much so that we eat vegetarian at least once or twice a week because it is delicious.) I wanted to make something that would be as equally good and hearty as my classic beef chili. I just start throwing together things in my pantry and I see the panch puran and figure I might as well go in that direction. It turned out that by the time dinner came around most of the guests wanted to try both the beef chili and the vegetarian chili. And while my beef chili is very good and a classic, everyone had those bright eyes of amazement over the vegetarian recipe could they please have the recipe. I was shocked myself at how well it turned out and since I’d just thrown everything together on a whim I didn’t have a recipe. But one of the homeschooling families came for a sleepover with the purpose of working out that recipe and Madison Ahn wrote it while I made a version for her mom to make while they were camping. Then I didn’t make it again for awhile. Then it was lent and we’d eaten fish all week and it was Friday and I didn’t know what to do. So then I thought, I’ll make that vegetarian chili. (And I know the purpose of lent is that you are supposed to feel like you are making some kind of sacrifice or depriving yourself but somehow eating shrimp, salmon, crab, tilapia, quiche and vegetarian chili never feels like we’re suffering very much!) So we made it again and shared it with our friends and they again asked for the recipe. Now keep in mind that Jason and I both love red meat and chili of all kinds is one of my favorite foods. I also truly love a grilled steak and baked potatoes (with TONS of sour cream) and green beans as one of my favorite meals on earth. My friend, Stasia, said that if she got a recipe for vegetarian chili she wouldn’t even try it because they like beef chili so much. Yet she was the first one to rush over to Indo-China to buy the Panch Puran after she tasted it. Even when I made a giant batch of vegetarian chile and Jason had eaten it in his lunch for three days as leftovers, I figured he was sick of it and was going to give the rest away to my friend and he said “NO!" he’d happily finish it all. I’ve also served it to people who had no idea until afterward that it was vegetarian. So I realize I’m making a hard sell of this, but it is only because I know that those of you who haven’t eaten it yet probably wouldn’t try it because of the name and because of the unusual ingredient Panch Puran. I just want to tell you that it is worth it and it’s easy. If you have access to a Trader Joe’s, get the organic garbanzo beans. They are smaller than normal garbonzo beans and have a terrific flavor. If you can’t get them, just put in the ones you can get. (I’m going to type the recipe here as well as attach it. It seems to paste better on the blog if I just put the recipe within the e-mail)

Vegetarian Chili

Serves 8-10

The secret to this additively delicious chili is the Panch Puran, a Indian five spice mixture including: fenugreek, fennel, cumin, nigella and mustard. If you can’t get the panch puran the nigella seeds alone can be substituted. If you can’t find either, it will taste entirely different so chose a different seasoning. So far this has been a mild chili, but feel free to add something spicy if you’d like to.

1 large yellow onion, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt on onions

2-3 tablspoons Panch Puran (I just poor them in the bottom of the pan)
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained
1 15.25-ounce can kidney beans, drained
2 cups cooked black lentils, optional (I’ve only put these in when I have them)
2 cups corn, (fresh, canned or frozen)
salt to taste, (you need enough to make the tomatoes taste good)
2 zucchini, sliced and quartered
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
additional olive oil for sautéing carrots and zucchini
1 cup chopped cilantro
mint, chopped (optional)

sour cream for garnish
sharp cheddar cheeses for garnish

1. Get out a large frying pan (sauté pan) and a big sauce pot (7 or 8 quart size if you have it). You are going to put the spices and tomatoes in the big pot. But you’ll want to sauté all the onions and veggies individually before you add them to the pot. (night and day difference on sautéing the zucchini before you add it to the tomato mixture!)

2. On medium high, start caramelizing the yellow onions in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle some kosher salt or sea salt on them while they are sautéing. Turn the heat down to medium and stir occasionally. If they brown too quickly, add water.

3. While the onions are cooking, start toasting the spices. In a completely dry big sauce pot (like the one you’d make a big batch of soup or boil pasta in—7 or 8 quarts) toast the 3 tablespoons of panch puran. Just as they are starting to smell fragrant, about a minute or so, pour in the tomatoes. Then put the rest of tomatoes and cans of beans in the big pot.

4. When the onions are finished caramelizing adds them to the big pot. Without cleaning the sauté pan (frying pan) add another tablespoon of olive oil and start sautéing the zucchini. Add a pinch of sea salt and cook at least half-way. Add to big pot. Add a little more olive oil to carrots and sauté them. (If you want to add a pinch of garam masala to the carrots you can, but it isn’t necessary at all) When the carrots are just a little browned, but still firm, toss them in the pot.

5. Throw the cilantro and the mint in the pot. Add salt to taste. At the very minimum a half teaspoon of salt. I’d suggest two decent pinches of salt. (always use kosher salt or sea salt)

Spoon into bowls and garnish with sour cream and sharp white cheddar cheese (I used Dubliner Irish Cheddar, but you could use New York Cheddar or even a yellow cheddar.

Maili’s Notes: In the first two batches I put these cooked Black Beluga Lentils that they carry at Trader Joe’s. They’re wonderful, but not essential to the recipe. So I made them optional. I have not tried putting other lentils or putting uncooked lentils in. If you had uncooked lentils you would probably need broth and would need to increase the cooking time. You can substitute a variety of any kind of cooked beans that you want. So feel free to mix and match. For those of you that don’t like cilantro, skip it. The next time I make it, I’ll try some red pepper flakes or some chilies and see what it is like a bit spicier.

I’m going to send a recipe for the no-chop salsa again and will give updates on how to post to the blog.

Happy Cooking!



Nirasha said…
I was fortunate enough to taste this recipe made by no other than Maili herself. It is honestly one of the tastiest meals I have ever tried. The whole plate is bright and colorful. The flavors are strong but light. In my opinion, no other meat/seafood is needed.

I tried to duplicate this at home without the recipe and was missing the Panch Puran. It is a must!

Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. How lucky we all are that you let us in on some of your secrets! You are the bestest! :)
Nirasha said…
So I made this recipe again the other night and it turned out so yummy... of course! I really like spicy food so I added fresh dried chipotle peppers, coursely chopped. The smoky flavor in the peppers really added to the chili. I found the peppers at the Goleta Farmer's Market in California. I also was able to find the Panch Puran at Cost Plus World Market. I am not sure if it is good as the same 5 spice from the Asian Market but it worked for me.

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