I have to tell you about this chili.
I mean, it just looks like a bunch of funky stuff. Which it is. But it’s an awesome bunch of funky stuff… tomatoes, onion, and garlic, naturally. Cumin, cayenne powder, AND chili paste. Yesss. Black lentils and red quinoa, for heartiness and protein, but also because they are the perfect color for chili (thanks again, Tiiinnnaaa). Cinnamon, cocoa powder, and peanut butter… wait! Don’t make faces at me! I know those last three are more like dessert ingredients, but trust me…
This chili is largely inspired by ancient Mesoamerican culture (damn you, inner Mexican). If you are familiar with mole sauce in Mexican cuisine and how it’s made, the array of spices in this chili should not surprise you. There are many versions of mole sauces, but the most accessible types are general mash-ups of chili peppers, sweet and savory spices, herbs, nuts, seeds, and unsweetened chocolate or cocoa. The chocolate/cocoa adds a unique depth to mole, as well as this chili. In fact, you may find that many chili afficionados support the addition of chocolate or cocoa. Then there’s the quinoa, the “mother of all grains”, according to the Incas. Although most associated with Peru in origin, various types of quinoa have been grown throughout South and North America, and is therefore, totally appropriate combined with Mexican flavors. And I’m not gonna lie, black lentils just sounded cool to use in combination with red quinoa.
Vegan Aztec Chili
(Long list, yes, but easy to make. You can use other veggies if you’d like– bell peppers, sweet potato, greens, summer squash, etc. But definitely keep the onion, garlic and tomatoes. Quinoa and lentils of any color will do, also.)
2 medium carrots, chopped into small pieces
1 1/2 cups finely chopped mushrooms
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 cup black lentils
1 cup red quinoa
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp cocoa
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
2-3 Tbsp peanut butter (almond or cashew butter would probably work nicely as well)
2-3 Tbsp chili paste
2-4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2-4 Tbsp soy sauce
2-3 tsp vegan worcesteshire sauce
Seriously, this is the most laborious part. If you have a food processor though…
1) In a large soup pot, combine the carrots, mushrooms, onion, garlic and tomatoes. Bring to medium-high heat, and cook until reduced.
2) Add the quinoa, lentils, and EVERYTHING ELSE. Oh, and six cups of water. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. This should be enough time for the lentils and quinoa to cook thoroughly.
3) Add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust seasonings if need be. If it’s not rich enough for you, add some olive oil or extra peanut butter (but be careful, you don’t want too much peanut flavor). If you like it more saucy, add some plain tomato juice (or dark beer… that would be good… but let the alcohol cook out). For ultimate awesomeness, let it sit for at least 15 minutes so the flavors can party together. You can serve this with some avocado, corn chips, tortillas, pico de gallo, or if you’re not doing the vegan thing, some sour cream or farmer’s cheese.
Why, yes, you CAN eat chili from a mug!
But don’t eat the dried chili pepper… You’ll die.