Monday, December 9, 2013

Mole Chick'n Chili

If you're a chili purist, you might want to look away. My approach to this classic dish would probably be considered apostasy to those who take their chili making seriously. It's not that I don't take it seriously, I do. I just don't have the options that they do. First, no meat (obviously). I usually use the soy beef crumbles in my chili and they're perfect for it. Second, no beans. We're pretty much a bean-free household, so the standard recipe for 3-bean vegetarian chili is not an option. Third, there are all sorts of weird spices and ingredients in it. This happened by accident one time ages ago when I wasn't paying attention and dumped a bunch of cinnamon into the pot instead of cumin. After it cooked a while, I found that I really liked what it did to the chili. After a while, I was adding other things, like chocolate and honey (or, as a vegan, agave nectar). I came to really appreciate the sweeter possibilities of chili.

One final indignity that might cause a chili champion to faint: Until now, I've never written the recipe down. In fact, there really is no recipe. I just wing it and it turns out a little different every time. Maybe there are mushrooms, maybe there aren't. Same thing with bell peppers, ketchup or beer. It just depends on what kind of mood I'm in.

Since I am now writing it down, I'm pulling together some of my best old ideas and some new ones. This is definitely an upgrade from the way I usually do it. I never really use chick'n in my chili, for example. Since this is more of a mole sauce, chick'n is a better fit than the beef crumbles. Gardein's Chicken Scallopini is well-suited for this kind of dish and is pretty easy to find in the freezer section at the store. Once it's browned up and cooked into the chili, it's hard to tell that it's not the real thing.

I can be a wuss when it comes to heat, so feel free to throw in a jalapeno or something with some more kick if this doesn't do it for you. I found it to be plenty hot, but not uncomfortably so.

3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes, with juices
2 tbsp chipotle chili powder
1 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 package of vegan chicken or homemade chicken seitan, and diced
8 ounces dark beer
1 cinnamon stick
3 strips of orange peel (no pith)
1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli)
guacamole or sliced avocados

In a large pot, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook them for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, bell pepper and poblano pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the chili powder, cumin and oregano and cook for another minute or so, until everything is coated in the spices.

Add the squash and stir it around to get it coated as well. Then add the tomatoes, beer, cinnamon stick and orange peel, along with a teaspoon or so of salt and a few good cracks of pepper. Stir it together and put the lid on. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and cook, covered for about 20-25 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

While that's simmering, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet and add the diced chick'n pieces. Cook it over medium heat, stirring it around until it's browned on all sides. Remove it from the pan and set it aside.

When the squash is tender, stir in the chickn' and cook it for a few minutes. Stir in the chocolate and add some more salt and pepper to taste. Fish out the orange peels and cinnamon stick before serving (or don't. I bit into an orange peel and it was actually kind of nice).

Garnish with a big dollop of guacamole or some avocado slices. Serve with lime wedges, vegan sour cream, tortilla chips, whatever floats your boat.

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