Main Courses

Mom’s Chili, If She Was Vegan

Here is Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce, circa 1970s (my sister kept the index card): Brown 1 pound ground beef, drain. Add 1 Tablespoon salt, half an onion chopped, half a stick of butter, 1 (large) can tomatoes cut up, and 1 large can (2 small cans) tomato paste. Cook covered in 275-degree oven 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

No oregano? Not even McCormick Italian Seasoning blend? Look at the salt! Why add any butter? (Mom would’ve used margarine and butter interchangeably.)

Our mothers, if they weren’t foodies, stuck to the basic American cookbook of their generation. Less spicy than now, never mind whether kids prefer milder foods.

I was looking for Mom’s Chili, though positive I didn’t have that card. It was the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, and no vegetarian chili recipe ever has come close. Mom’s spaghetti (not pasta) meat sauce provided the clue:

Simplicity. Veggie chili always is a stew.

This is a loose recipe, but gosh it worked. Adapt to your pantry and taste. The bulgar wheat is to give the appearance of ground beef but not needed.

Note: I cooked the beans with a pressure cooker, no presoaking, for speed but also for tasty, thick bean broth. Two or three cans of beans would work, as would soaking then cooking dry beans on the stovetop, or any other method.

Adding a small sheet of kombu (dried seaweed) or a teaspoon of ground ginger to beans before they cook is optional, said to reduce gas later.

  • 2 cups dry red beans (I used adzuki), sorted to discard foreign matter then rinsed
  • 7 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (half a large or 1 whole medium)
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of chopped tomatoes with green chilies (such as Rotel)
  • 1/2 cup bulgar wheat (optional)*
  • 3-4 teaspoons low-salt vegetable broth powder
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • Salt, pepper and maybe chili powder to taste

Combine cleaned beans (no soaking), water and oil in cooker, Bring to pressure and cook 15 minutes, release pressure gradually, about 30 minutes.

Add to the cooker all the remaining ingredients except the “salt, pepper and maybe chili powder.” Bring to boil then reduce to simmer, cooking 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Eat a spoonful to test, adding to taste a little salt and pepper or perhaps chili powder or similar seasoning. [I added salt and pepper but found the spices from the can of tomato-chilies enough.] Serve immediately, but waiting at least one hour, reheating and retesting for salt and spices, is recommended.

Chili thickens as it cools. So when reheating, add 4-8 ounces water, or tomato or V-8 juice, for desired consistency.

Top with the usual chili fixin’s. Makes 6-8 servings.

  • NOTE: Black beans work well, too; they require 22 minutes under pressure then gradual pressure release.
  • NOTE (10-2016): Bulgar, being whole grain, is a healthy carbohydrate. A wheat-free alternative, if the carno look and mouth-feel is wanted: Start with 1 1/2 cups dry beans and 1/2 cup dry lentils (instead of 2 cups dry beans).
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