This answer to the question “what’s for dinner tonight” stems from my recent efforts to cook more with dried (versus canned) beans. I had dried black beans on hand, and not quite sure what to make with them, I turned to the idea of vegetarian chili. To be a successful vegetarian main dish, it has to be full of flavor. There’s no ground beef (or rendered fat) to give an otherwise lackluster ingredient list a leg up. Every ingredient has to contribute its own brilliant texture and taste, and they all have to come together as a unified dish.
I made this without a recipe and without a lot of chili-making experience in my background to support my hunches on these flavor combinations. I remember standing at the stove, adding one ingredient after the other thinking “will this ruin the whole thing if I add it?” or “does it really need all of this?” and “maybe I should just serve these sweet potatoes on the side.” Seriously: beans, then peppers, then a second kind of pepper, a third kind of pepper, tomatoes, and finally sweet potatoes. It felt like I was stirring this huge batch of chopped vegetables wondering how it would all come together into something that tasted like more than simply cooked vegetables. And it does. I think one of the keys is the chipotle peppers and using a bit of the adobo sauce. It helps elevate the flavors and has a somewhat smoky flavor the pulls all the ingredients together under the banner “chili.” Don’t skip these.
And at the end of it all, we had a fantastic dinner that was incredibly healthy and inexpensive to prepare.
Vegetarian Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 red bell pepper
1 poblano pepper
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
2 cups vegetable broth (use additional broth to thin the soup as needed)
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
3 cups cooked black beans (canned beans are OK to use – just rinse them first)
2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed and roasted
1 avocado, cut into 1-inch pieces
Garnish: chopped cilantro, lime, shredded cheddar cheese
1. Ensure the beans and sweet potatoes are cooked before beginning. Prepare the peppers (bell and poblano) by slicing them in half, removing the seeds, and then chopping them into one-inch pieces. Roughly chop the chipotle peppers.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and cook about 1 minute, then add the peppers (save the adobo sauce until the end) and cook the vegetables another 5 minutes. Next, add the vegetable broth, diced tomatoes, and black beans. Continue to simmer until the beans and tomatoes are heated through and soft and much of the liquid has reduced. Finally, stir in the sweet potatoes and adobo sauce and simmer about 3 minutes. If needed, add additional vegetable broth to thin the chili; it should be thick but spoonable.
3. Serve by spooning into soup bowls. Top with avocado pieces, chopped cilantro, a hearty sprinkling of cheddar cheese, and a squirt of lime juice.