The chilly breeze of autumn has brought with it many cravings for fall’s foods. The oven’s been on baking and roasting a few times already and soups and stews have already made appearances at the dinner table. This particular dish is a favorite. And, it’s not just because it’s delicious and wholly satisfying (it’s both to the nth degree), but because it is unassuming, too. It seems time consuming, but it isn’t. It seems spicy, but that part is up to you. It seems hearty and meaty; it is and it isn’t. This is one dish that even my most ardent carnivore friends would forgive for not having ANY animal protein in it, as they ask for seconds. They’ve even confessed that meat would “ruin” THIS chili. I’m not going to argue with that. We like this one just the way it is.
It should be noted that I have no problem with meat. Check out my Grass-fed Burger recipe if you don’t believe me. I just don’t think that meat needs to be part of EVERY meal and we have so many options when it comes to animal protein that it’s nice to have an alternative if you choose to forgo meat once in a while. I’m not espousing vegetarianism, I am afterall a recovering vegetarian, but there are several health merits to reducing your meat consumption while increasing vegetables, whole grains, beans, etc. Enter, Chili!
What’s most special about this particular version is the use of real red chili peppers. (When I’m in a pinch, I often add a pinch of cayenne or use red pepper flakes.) Despite the fact that peppers are a notorious nightshade, (see Late Summer Ratatouille for more on that), this little pepper has several health benefits, too. Peppers are famous for their capsaicin, that wonderful little quality that gives peppers its pungence and heat. It’s also responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects it has on the body. “Red chili peppers, such as cayenne, have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body’s ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots.”¹ Those are few good pluses for our cardiovascular system! Peppers are also loaded with beta carotene which helps boost immunity. Remember that goody, “eat the rainbow”, well red is a good place to start! Eating these spicy gems will clear your congestion and benefit your gut by killing bacteria that may be hanging around.
Remember that peppers and tomatoes are nightshades and should be balanced with a bit of dairy (not to mention it’s a bit cooling and is a nice contrast to the heat) so be sure to add that dollop of sour cream or some shredded cheddar. Your taste buds won’t argue with either!
3/4 C kidney beans, soaked overnight then drained and rinsed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced (Use of seeds is entirely at your discretion, but be cautious because the heat sneaks up on you!)
1 largish carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 t paprika
2 T tomato paste
3 large heirloom tomatoes, diced
1 bay leaf
1 C butternut squash, medium dice (You’ll have plenty leftover!)
8 C water or vegetable stock
2-3 T fresh herb of choice, rough chop (Cilantro is my default herb here, but parsley, sage or basil all work wonderfully here, too!)
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Creme fraiche or sour cream for garnish
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add onion and a pinch of salt. Cook onions for about 5 minutes until softened and then add garlic. Cook for 3 more minutes.
2. Add chili pepper, carrots, celery and paprika and cook for another 3-4 minutes and then add tomato paste. The tomato paste will serve to deglaze the goodies that have been cooking.
3. Add tomatoes, stir and cook for another few minutes. Finally, add kidney beans, bay leaf and water or stock. Cook the chili over medium heat for about 45 minutes. Half way through the cooking, add the butternut squash.
4. The chili is done when the beans are soft. Add the herb of your choice and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream. (I didn’t have either so I topped with an avocado creme and shredded cheddar. Yum, yum!)
5. Enjoy! With a thick piece of sour dough bread or a baguette and you’ll enjoy 2 times as much!