When Cleaning the Fridge Turns into the Greatest Vegetarian Chili Ever Made

Last Monday I found myself in one of those occasional “food prep frenzies.”  With a fridge (too) full of beautiful produce from Headhouse Farmers’ Market, a huge pile of eggplants from my garden to dispose of, and a daunting week of work ahead, I made the decision to get cooking.

First up for an early dinner was an old favorite: Eggplant Tahini Burgers.  This time served with a raw Rainbow Chard Salad:

Aside from the poor year-old freezer burnt -> toaster burnt potato bun, they were DELICIOUS, as usual.  Maybe I’ll get into the details of these recipes later, although at this point they’re a major “winger.”

After slicing and dicing everything that my shitty refrigerator could have possibly ruined by freezing and thawing several times over (as it tends to do) to make a week’s lunches worth of raw salads, I went to work on turning what was left into a made-ahead dinner that could go for at least two nights. Those were the criteria I was shooting for, at least.  And while I know it’s still summer, I saw a can of beans sitting next to a pile of beat-up hole-ridden beet greens and some of my roof-top eggplants, and I couldn’t resist the thought of a nice chunky chili.  But with a serious lack of ground meat in the house (not that there ever is any ground meat in the house), I had to improvise: home-made ground tofu – whatttt.

After a serious dive into the deep dark world of internet chili-flavor forums and a frightening look into into the depths of my pantry, THIS is the beauty that emerged:

Attempting to recreate the hocus pocus that went into this is going to be a challenge,  so I ask that you bear with me, and take this recipe with a grain of salt.  But here it is:

The Best Vegetarian Chili Ever

Serves 4 or something

  • 3/4 block firm or extra firm tofu
  • 1 small eggplant, diced
  • 1 bunch white beet greens, finely chopped
  • 1 small tomato, diced (juice retained)
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can black beans, drained (save liquid!)
  • 1 can green olives, drained and halved
  • 26-ounce can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • tiny bar unsweetened very dark chocolate
  • tamari or soy sauce
  • clam juice
  • ground espresso beans
  • dark brown sugar
  • tomato paste
  • cumin
  • cayenne
  • ancho chili powder
  • oregano
  • star anise
  • clove
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
Prepare Tofu-Crumbles
  1. Cut tofu into strips like playing card decks and stack each strip in between as many layers of towels as you can.  Place something heavy on top and leave this way for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or two (the longer the better).  Pressing the liquid out of the tofu will help it maintain its form and texture as you crumble and cook.
  2. When the tofu is relatively dry to the touch, take each piece and crumble it with your fingers into bits – whatever size you imagine you would like in a chili.  Maybe some big, some small!
  3. Heat a frying pan and then add either non-stick spray or a bit of canola oil.  When hot, add **approximately** (aka go with your gut) 2 tbs ancho chili powder, 1 tbs cumin, 1/2-1 tbs cayenne pepper, and 1/2 the minced garlic you prepared.  Keep moving for a minute or two, until fragrant.
  4. Add the crumbled tofu (adding a bit more non-stick spray or oil if needed), and mix with toasted spices.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes before moving to allow the tofu to brown.  Then begin to stir regularly until your crumbles are looking crumbly.  Note that they won’t and shouldn’t be crispy or dark brown.  Retaining some of the mush factor is pleasant in the finished product.
  5. Set aside.
Make Chili
  1. Heat a large pot, then add either non-stick spray or a bit of canola oil.  When hot, add diced red onion.  Allow to soften for a few minutes.  Push the onion to one side of your pot, clearing room to toast up **approximately** the same amounts of the same spices you used in your tofu crumble.  This time, also add 1 tbs of ground espresso beans.  Bring up to fragrant levels, and then incorporate with onion.
  2. Add remaining garlic, and cook for another minute or two.
  3. Add eggplant, and cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add fresh tomato, and cook for another minute.
  5. Add can of roasted tomatoes, can of halved green olives, small piece (like 1 cm x 1 cm) of unsweetened dark chocolate, 1 tbs tamari, 2 tsp clam juice, 1 tsp dark brown sugar, 1/2 tsp tomato paste, 1/4 cup liquid from canned beans, 2 tsp dried oregano, 2 star anise, and 1 clove.
  6. Bring to boil, and then reduce to simmer.  Cover, and let simmer for an hour.
  7. Add approximately 2 cups finely chopped white beet greens, drained black beans, prepared tofu-crumbles, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Heat for another 10-15 minutes.
  9. Squeeze the juice of about half a lemon into the chili, stir, spoon, top with a dollop of sour cream,* and SERVE.
*can be served with any number of delicious chili toppings: sour cream shredded mexican blend cheese, feta cheese, fresh cilantro, avocado, chopped fresh corn, jalapeño, etc. etc. etc.
Note: I made this two days ahead, and then ate it over the course of two days, and it only got better.

2 thoughts on “When Cleaning the Fridge Turns into the Greatest Vegetarian Chili Ever Made

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