Thursday, 1 December 2011

And now for something completely different: Pumpkin & Black Bean Chili

I hadn't really intended on using my blog as a medium for sharing recipes, but between the requests I got after mentioning this meal endeavor over facebook (which were plentiful if you interpret a "like" as "me too please!") and the fact that my method varies considerably from what my cookbook decrees, a blog post seemed like a better place than a facebook note to explain exactly how pumpkin puree can make a tasty vegetarian chili. And, since finding new ways to use up my copious cache of pumpkin does make me very happy, it kind of fits the theme.

I'll start with the recipe as written in my cookbook, "One-Dish Vegetarian Meals" by Robin Robertson. It may be very good this way (I haven't tried, so I wouldn't know), and the pumpkin-pot idea sounds delightful:

Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili

This vivid contrast of the black beans and bright orange pumpkin makes this chili a perfect party food at Halloween time. Make it the centerpiece of your table by serving it in a large, hollowed-out pumpkin or an old cast-iron "cauldron."

2 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno chili, minced
One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
One 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
1 cup apple juice
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained if canned

Cut the pumpkin into 1/2-inch chunks and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved pumpkin, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, water, apple juice, chili powder, salt, and cayenne, and stir well. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 30 minutes.

Add the beans, and more water if chili is too thick for your taste. Cover, and continue to simmer about 15 minutes to blend flavours. Serve hot.
Serves 4 to 6

Note: one 15 oz can yields 1.5 cups of cooked beans.

As all my pumpkin is roasted and pureed, I used this handy pumpkin equivalent page to deduce that I should use 2 cups of cooked pumpkin. I assume the diced way would increase the variety of textures in the chili, but I'm not sure it would be worth the extra prep time. My kids are getting much better at amusing themselves before supper, but they do have their limits and Mommy is no master at carving up squash.

I lacked a jalapeno (and blogger lacks a tilde; shame on them), but, given that my children have both inherited my English wimphood in terms of spice-tolerance, I was happy to leave it - and the cayenne - out. I substituted a thumb-sized piece of fresh minced gingeroot, which probably changed the flavour profile considerably, but it pares so nicely with pumpkin that I couldn't just leave it sitting on the counter. I also heeded the call from the Slavic part of my palette by tripling the garlic. Thankfully the Scots insistence on deepfrying was suppressed, and I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with stereotypical Irish or Dutch cuisine to reference the rest of my heritage in this paragraph.

The first time I attempted this recipe, I didn't have apple juice on hand either (I don't usually keep it around), so I used a green grape and peach cocktail my husband had bought on a whim. It made for a fruity aroma and went well with the ginger. The second time around, the impulse-juice was no more, so I went out on a limb and pulled 500ml of spiced crab-apple sauce out of my freezer along with 750ml of pumpkin, mostly because that much pumpkin would make far too many muffins and those containers weren't going to use up themselves. I doubled the tomatoes, added a third can of beans and another tablespoon of chili powder, and it worked out just fine. Not to mention making for copious leftovers. Unfortunately, I can't recall how much flavouring went into that applesauce back in September, but I know it involved butter, honey, and far more cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and clove than the recipe called for. Once again, an excellent partner for that serendipitously added ginger, wouldn't you say? 

The first time around, I skipped a large portion of the simmer stage, as the pumpkin was already cooked and supper was already late, but it made for rather crunchy onions and ginger. The second time I let it sit as long as was prescribed with improved results.

So there you have it: Rachel's take on Robin's pumpkin & black bean chili. Not company fare, but a comforting meal for a cold winter's evening. So far we've had it with bread, but whence I pull leftovers out of the freezer, we'll be trying it with wehani rice.

We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

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