I usually avoid vegetarian chili because I fear that it won’t be flavorful enough, but my husband has really laid off meat lately, and he likes his food to have a lot of kick, so I set about making a chili that would stand up to both of our flavor requirements and not include any ground meat. Sure enough, this chili delivers. In addition to chili powder, I’ve added a couple of dried red chilis (seeds and all) which manages to kick it up a notch. The other trick is to add all of the dried spices to the pot while there is hot oil in there to bring out all of the trapped flavors. While you are cooking, you should experience all of the fragrances. Adding dried spices to heated oil makes them truly fragrant.
The other trick to this dish is to make it in a pot that can transfer from stove to oven, like this Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron 5 Quart Oval French Ovens. After you’ve prepared the chili on the stove, you will bake it with the cornbread batter on top for about 30 minutes.
I loved the way the cornbread came out. It was light and fluffy and a great complement to the chili itself.
Zesty Vegetarian Chili with Cornbread Topping
Makes about 8 servings
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (I used frozen crushed garlic from Trader Joe’s)
2 dried red chilis, chopped finely
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp dried cilantro
2 tsp dried oregano
Salt to taste
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup medium grind yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup water
2 Tbsp canola oil
A few sprigs of fresh cilantro for garnish
1. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and green bell pepper and sautée until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sautée for an additional minute. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Add the dried chilis, cumin, chili powder, dried cilantro, oregano, and salt. Sautée until fragrant, about 1 minute.
2. Add black beans, corn, vegetable stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
3. Just before the chili has finished simmering, in a separate, medium bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and pour the water and the oil into the well. Mix with a fork until blended. Let sit for 2 minutes to allow the baking powder to do its thing. You will see the batter expand a bit.
4. Pour the batter over the chili and spread evenly to coat the top. Bake, uncovered, in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. The cornbread will be golden brown and springy and the chili will be bubbly. Let cool slightly before serving. Garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs.