I often advise my clients to incorporate more meatless meals into their diet. Considering my client base (mostly middle aged men from the South), I’m pretty used to the eye rolls and incredulous looks in response. My best comeback is a rehearsed list of man-friendly vegetarian entrees, so they know meatless doesn’t necessarily mean baked tofu and steamed veggies – bean tacos, vegetable pizza, spaghetti with a meatless tomato sauce and vegetarian chili. But, I always felt a little guilty when I got to the last one. I‘ve had killer vegetarian tacos and I actually enjoy vegetable pizzas more than any I’ve had with meat. Vegetarian pasta graces our plates at least once a week. But until recently, I had never had a really good vegetarian chili. Many decent, a few tasty, but none that blew my socks off.
That is until I made this recipe. The secret is the mole-style sauce. Holy mole (sorry) it’s good! Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce made with dried chilies, herbs, chocolate (say what?), garlic and onion. Don’t be afraid of the chocolate! I’m not asking you to throw a Milky Way in your chili – the unsweetened chocolate adds complexity and pleasant bitterness that turns a basic chili into something special. Most mole recipes include more than 20 ingredients, but this recipe narrows it down to the 10 most essential.
Capsaicin is the spicy compound in chilies. More capsaicin means more heat. Much research has been done evaluating the benefits of capsaicin for a multitude of ailments – pain relief for arthritis, increasing metabolism, and decreasing risk of lung and prostate cancer. Use leftover ancho and chipotle chilies from this recipe to make the most richly flavored tortilla soup you’ve ever had! And don’t forget to garnish it with diced avocado!
Cumin is a nutty, smoky tasting spice commonly used in Middle-Eastern and Mexican cuisine. It has long been used to help with digestion – research indicates it may stimulate the secretion of the pancreatic enzymes needed to break down your food. Cumin is surprisingly high in iron – one teaspoon contains about 15% your daily needs. It is one of the most frequently used spices in our house, often starring in chili and homemade veggie burgers.
Cinnamon is one of the most researched spices. Most notably, cinnamon has a blood sugar lowering effect, which is achived through a couple of different mechanisms. Cinnamon delays gastric (stomach) emptying, which slows the absorption of carbohydrates and seems to enhance the effect of insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar. Research also indicates cinnamon may help prevent blood clots from forming. Mix cinnamon into baked goods, oatmeal or chia pudding.
A pungent herb often used in Mediterranean and Mexican dishes. The natural oils in the dried herb have antibiotic properties – oregano oil is even used to treat certain infections. Oregano has a high anti-oxidant activity from rosmarinic acid (named for rosemary), and thymol. Mix oregano into pasta sauces or Italian-style salad dressings.
- 2 medium dried ancho chilies, or 2 tbsp dried ancho chili powder
- 1 dried chipotle chili, or 1 tbsp chipotle chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted or ¾ tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- rounded ⅛ tsp cinnamon
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into ½-inch peices
- ¾ lb kale, stemmed and leaves coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp grated orange zest
- ⅛ tsp sugar
- 1 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped, about 3 tbsp
- 1 14-ounce can no-added-salt diced tomatoes
- 1¼ cup water
- 3 15-ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- If using whole dried chilies, slit the chiles lengthwise and remove the seeds. Open the chilies so they lie flat. Heat a dry skillet on medium heat and toast the chilies, turning and pressing flat with tongs, until pliable and slightly changed in color, about 30 seconds.
- After toasting, tear into small pieces. Pulse the cumin seeds and chiles in a (clean) coffee grinder or spice grinder until finely ground.
- Transfer to a small bowl and mix in the cinnamon, oregano and ¾ tsp salt. If using only spice powders, simply mix the spices together in a small bowl.
- Heat the oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the spices, stir and cook 30 seconds.
- Stir in the zucchini and kale, cook while covered, about five minutes. Add zest, sugar, chocolate, tomatoes and water. Simmer, while covered, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
- Stir in the beans and cook until it's warmed through, about 5 minutes.
- Serve with your choice of toppings - chopped cilantro, microgreens, avocado (!!), and sour cream all sound nice!