Vegetarian chili, Southern style

Vegetarian chili with Low Country sensibilities gets its Southern accent from “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking,” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart.

A Palatable Pastime
Bulgar wheat makes a great substitution for ground beef in this vegetarian chili.

I have got a LOT of cookbooks.

You know when you have a lot, there is no possible way to use them all, but I can sit in the overstuffed easy chair and read them like romance novels because cooking is love.

Let me tell you "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking" by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart. is one huge book, perfect for armchair exercises bench pressing one or two, or just for getting lost in the pages for days on end. So how does one decide what to make?

Oh goodness. Did I ever tell you about the time I almost became a vegetarian? I was on board. My husband was on board. My daughter was taunting me with big puppy dog eyes asking “Mommy? Can you make me a hamburger today?” And I wasn’t into the change for ethical reasons. I love meat like the next person. But being without meat and cooking burgers … you know that smell? The all-humbling, take-me-to-the-diner please, extra-cheese please and don’t-forget-the-sauteed-onions smell?

It was just too much. But I did manage for awhile and at some point,  armed with a bevy of grains and legumes, I set out to recreate some family favorites, among them spaghetti with meat sauce and also, chili. I had found then that bulgur makes a great substitute for ground beef in these. It’s not so much a flavor thing, but a textural thing. It gives sauces and chili a lot of substance. And when it comes down to trying to keep beef (or the imagined idea of it) alive on the table, the bulgur became very important to me.

But I was very happy to see the vegetarian chili recipe (which is adapted from the cookbook "Nathalie Dupree Cooks for Busy Days") and that it used the bulgur so thumbs up on that, And I had not used black-eyed peas in chili before, although my blog readers know I eat those a lot. I was instantly game to try this.

It’s funny though. I usually have army mess hall quantities of black-eyed peas in my house. Dried, canned, frozen, fresh … except for the day I went to make this and all I had left was half quantity dried. And it was almost Armageddon to see I was down to my very last onion (that is about as rare as a huge blood moon in these parts), so I had to scale back. But this recipe makes a good amount  in a half quantity. I also was short on scallions and I always have those, too. I subbed in some minced jalapeno for a garnish because I like spicy. While searching the pantry for cans of peas I came across a small can of chopped green chilies that demanded I check the date. Since it would be up in about a month I threw it in, too. Chili is like that – very forgiving and this delicious recipe is no exception.

The flavor is more low country than what I always gravitate to (I am big on Texas chili) with a bit milder taste. I know people like that as I have been told by at least one reviewer that I use too much chili powder (I beg to disagree) but my Texas chili is big and bold.  This chili is different but wonderful and I found myself wondering how it would be with okra in it, because okra has a wonderful flavor and the texture can also be good if it is nicely browned, which in chili would do nicely. So this chili is very Southern indeed.

It also freezes well, so I have a little bit to tuck into my freezer stash, because even if it seems like I am constantly cooking, I have lots of times I don’t have time, don’t  feel like it or whatever reason. Even the best of cooks need a day off now and then.

Cooking is sauteeing the vegetables, adding in the other things and simmering until thick. It will indeed get thick as this is no watery chili. I added my peas late in the game so they would not overcook – you can decide based on their texture.

I hope you enjoy and find a chance to enjoy this book to its fullest. There is quite a lot of cooking info in it.

Vegetarian Chili
From "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking" by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart

Serves 8 to 10

2 tablespoons oil, cook’s preference
2 medium onions, chopped
4 large carrots, sliced in coins
2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds frozen or canned black-eyed peas or crowder peas, rinsed and drained
1 cup bulgur, soaked 20-30 minutes in 2 cups boiling water
1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock or broth
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground hot red pepper
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup plain yogurt
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 pound cheddar cheese, shredded

Refer to the volume for complete cooking instructions.

Related post on A Palatable Pastime: One-eye Jack's vegan chili

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