Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wayback Machine: Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili - A Play in Two Acts

Sweet readers, we're taking the week off to catch up on some real-life work. In the meantime, we're re-posting some of our favorite recipes and essays. This one is from November 2008. Enjoy!

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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