Friday, November 14, 2008

Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili: A Play in Two Acts

When: Fall, 1986

Where: A small suburban kitchen in Long Island, New York.


  • Kris, a precocious, bespectacled eight-year-old who is already four feet taller than every single one of her peers.
  • L, a Barbie-loving, bespectacled seven-year-old who is already much, much better at sports than her sister Kris.
  • E, a somewhat adorable five-year-old who is already becoming the terror of his sisters and the neighborhood bullfrogs alike.
  • Pa, a bearded, loving 37-year-old who’s already running out of culinary options, having been left to feed his children while his wife is stuck at work.
The kids are scattered all over the house. Pa calls them to dinner.

PA: Kids! Dinner!

KRIS: Coming!

L: Coming!

E: *mmph*

PA: E, please get He-Man out of your mouth and come to dinner.

E: Okay.

The kids assume their regular seats at the table. Pa places the evening’s meal in front of them.

L: What is this?

PA: It’s spaghetti squash and Texas Chainsaw Chili. Try it. You’ll like it.

KRIS: Are there hot dogs in it?

PA: No.

KRIS: Macaroni and cheese?

PA: No.

KRIS: But it’s SPAGHETTI squash?

PA: Yes.


PA: It’s a vegetable, Kris. It’s not really … Okay. Let’s move on. Take a bite of the chili, everybody.

L: I don’t wanna. It looks like guts.

KRIS: Yeah. Bug guts.

E: I’m scared Daddy.


Each kid spoons a microscopic smattering of chili into their reluctant mouths. Each reacts with the same level of consummate revulsion.

KRIS: I want hot dogs.

L: I want Mommy.

E: I want He-Man.

PA: Okay, look. Nobody leaves the table until your plate is CLEARED.

L: What if we have to go to the bathroom?


E takes a few hesitant bites, then wolfs the remaining vittles. A similar plate-clearing takes L over an hour.

L: Done! Bye.

Three hours pass. Kris remains at the table, food untouched.

PA: Kris, it’s time for bed.

KRIS: But … but …

PA: It won’t kill you, my child. I promise. Eat it.

KRIS: Nooooooo.

PA: Okay then. Bedtime.

KRIS: (makes sure Pa’s back is turned, then whispers to still-full bowl) Never again, chili. Henceforth, you are my one true foe. Your evil shalt not pass these lips for the rest of time.

PA: Huh?

KRIS: Nothing. G’night, Pa!

Cut to 22 years later. Kris is sitting with The Boyfriend on their couch, watching The Biggest Loser
and hoping – nay, praying – that Vicky falls into a vat of 80-calorie Banana Fudge Sundae pudding, never to return. Both Kris and TB are eating Cook’s Illustrated’s Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili.

KRIS: You know, I used to hate this stuff.

TB: What, reality TV?

KRIS: Well, that too. But mostly chili.

TB: Really? It runs through my veins. Like chunky, delicious blood.

KRIS: Once, I sat at a table for an entire night because I wouldn’t touch it.

TB: You’re weird.

KRIS: Thanks.

They resume eating the chili, and Kris wonders how she could have ever been so thick. As if to punctuate her deep, dark thoughts, The Boyfriend lets out a long, low fart. They both smile happily, thankful that life can be so good.


Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili
Serves 4 – 6
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipe.

CI Note: A combination of beans is better in this (kidney, black, pinto, whatever). Also, don't sub in anything for the pureed diced tomatoes, as the consistency is vital.

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans beans (see note), rinsed
2-3 teaspoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

1) Pour tomatoes and the accompanying juices in a food processor. Pulse 4 or 5 times, until it's kinda chunky.

2) In a large saucepan, combine tomatoes, beans, chipotles, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir and cover. Heat over high until it starts boiling. Drop heat to medium-low and simmer for the time being.

3) In a different large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. When very hot, add onion, chili powder, cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir. Saute until onions are soft and a little translucent, around 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic. Stir. Saute until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. 

4) Pour tomato mixture into onion pot. Scrape browned bits with the back of your spoon, if you have 'em. Drop heat to medium-low and cook about 15 minutes, until chili has a more chili-like consistency. Stir occasionally.

5) After 15 minutes, add corn and cilantro. Stir. Heat until corn is warmed through. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
For five servings: 292 calories, 7.9 g fat, $1.08

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes: 163 calories, 0 g fat, $1.89
2 (15-ounce) cans beans (see note), rinsed: ~680 calories, ~6 g fat, $1.50
2-3 teaspoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce: 6 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.30
2 teaspoons sugar: 33 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
salt and ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
2 tablespoons vegetable oil: 247 calories, 28 g fat, $0.18
1 onion, minced: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.30
3 tablespoons chili powder: 71 calories, 3.8 g fat, $0.12
2 teaspoons ground cumin: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
3 garlic cloves, minced: 13 calories, 0 g fat, $0.12
1-1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed: 199 calories, 1.6 g fat, $0.60
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro: negligible calories and fat, $0.33
TOTAL: 1458 calories, 39.6 g fat, $5.39
PER SERVING (TOTAL/5): 292 calories, 7.9 g fat, $1.08

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mandy.j said...

This receipe sounds great, I can't wait to try it. BTW, I also was hoping for Vicky to fall into a vat of pudding never to return :)

Laura said...

As a kid I only liked chili w/o beans. Is it even chili w/o beans?! Now I make chili (w/ lots of beans) all the time, yum!

Elizabeth said...

Laura, actually, true chili-heads (Texans) say it's not chili if there are ANY beans.

Michelle said...

Where does one find chipotle chiles in adobo sauce?

Kris said...

Michelle, in my grocery stores they're in the Ehtnic section, usually with the Latin food. Goya sells small cans for $1.50 or so.

Condie said...

Should it really be 3 tbsp of chili powder? I don't think that would equal out to 12 cents. I guess I'll soon find out.

Kris said...

Condie, I make my own powder from bulk products, so the price sounds right, but ... jeez you've got something with the amount there. I'll double-check when I get home and get back to you.

Kris said...

Condi! I checked. It is, in fact, 3 tablespoons of chili powder. Crazy.

Anonymous said...

This sounds really good, can't wait to try it. However, I cannot buy the chipotle chiles where I live (Tokyo) so any suggestions for a substitution?

Jimbo said...

Chipotle is a smoked jalapeno. Buy some fresh jalapenos and smoke them at home, or if that is too tough - cheat! Roast the jalapenos and add some "liquid smoke" for the flavor. The sauce is the curing of the chipotles in some tomato sauce (like an enchilada sauce). I would simmer them in that type of sauce after smoking/roasting, before putting in the chili. That should get you the flavor you are looking for.

Kat Cade said...

I made this recipe earlier this week and it was fantastic. I substituted bottled chipotle for minced chipotle chilies. Served it over a bed of fritos to make my variation of frito pie. It was a hit!