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Friday, August 21, 2009

(almost) the grit's vegan black bean chili

there's a restaurant in athens, georgia, the city where i went to college, called the grit. it is cheap enough for students, hip enough for touring indie rockers, and down-home enough for southerners. the twist is that they have an entirely vegetarian menu. the place is enormously popular, perhaps most especially because, though their dishes are meatless, they are soulful and comforting creations that happily and heartily contribute to many a "freshman fifteen."

my brother gave me their cookbook several years ago, and i've had a couple of their recipes make it into the rotation. i'd never tried their chili, but remembered to check into it when we signed up to provide a meal at rob's family reunion this weekend. with a big group like theirs, it made sense to me to offer a meatless option. not coincidentally, i had all the ingredients i needed on hand, including black turtle beans from the farmers market, and tomatoes from our garden.

i changed a few proportions, added some flavors, omitted the bulger wheat to have it be gluten-free, and altered the cook time from the original recipe. here goes.

vegan black bean chili
adapted from the grit restaurant vegetarian cookbook

2 cups dried black beans
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tps ancho chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 large green bell pepper, chopped
kernels from one cob of fresh corn (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, shredded
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/3 cup tomato juice
kosher salt
1 tsp brown sugar (optional)
prepared hot sauce (optional)
good quality olive oil (optional)

sort, rinse, and soak the beans at least 6 hours or overnight. drain and rinse soaked beans, and add to pot with onion, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. add water to cover beans, plus about 2 inches. bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until soft. add small amounts of water as needed during cook time. start checking them after about a half an hour so they don't overcook.

if the beans are too soupy after they've finished cooking, you can dip some of the liquid out and reserve it in case you need to thin out the chili at a later stage.

in a separate pan, saute the green bell pepper and the celery in olive oil until softened. (you may also want to add the carrots to the saute. i didn't, but might try it next time.) add pepper and celery, corn kernels, and carrots to the beans. stir in tomato juice.

in same saute pan, heat up more olive oil and add the tomatoes, cooking until they are hot and beginning to break down but are still holding some of their shape. scrape the tomatoes and any accumulated juices into the pot of beans and veggies.

bring to a simmer. at this point, start tasting and adjusting seasonings, beginning with adding kosher salt. i probably added close to a tablespoon, but did so at such small intervals that i can't be sure. adjust cumin and chili powder to taste. if it has a slight bitter taste, as mine did, add small amounts of brown sugar to take the edge off. after about a 15-20 minute simmer, or once veggies are softening up and the soup is thickening, turn off the pot and let it sit for about an hour. it will thicken further, and the flavors will marry. i stirred in a dash of prepared hot sauce and a glug of good olive oil to richen it up.

this is a very diverse chili! serve over rice, with cornbread, make into a burrito, make into nachos, or just have in a bowl topped with onion and cheddar cheese.

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