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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chili Sin Carne (y Tortillas)

Chili sin carne (chili without meat) is typically made with some sort of meaty "alternative" - often in order to placate vegetarianism or veganism.  However, I don't like tofu or textured vegetable protein on a good day, so I try to just incorporate a fair bit of protein via legumes.  This still makes for a vegetarian and vegan chili.

My normal, tried-and-true, recipe for chili sin carne, is essentially a '4-legume-stew'.  In fact, I've referred to it that way before.  I won't detail the construction of it, but basically it is onion, garlic, chili pepper, cumin, tomato, white beans, romano beans, green lentils, and refried (black) beans.  The chili is then put together much in the same way as any other stew, except for a bit of pre-rinsing and pre-soaking for the beans.

I'll make that 4-legume-chili sin carne at least once a month, and it often provides enough for at least three or four meals.  However, it does take a little while to make, plus I like to let it simmer for as long as possible (at least 6-8 hours) in the slow-cooker.

In any case, I decided not to make this, but instead a simpler, quicker, version of it.

So, this is really just a '2-legume chili'.

So, first I washed (rinsed) the lentils.  I used some dry, bulk, black lentils this time.  Then I soaked them in cold water for a couple hours.  After that, I even softened them a little bit by cooking them in some boiling water for about 20 mins.  If I was planning on simmering the chile all afternoon, I'd probably not need to pre-cook them, but it's important to me that this chile has a smooth texture.

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After rinsing them again after being cooked, they were ready to be added to the pot.

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Technically lentils do not have to be this much of a chore, but I find that a little lentil maintenance goes a long way.  Canned lentils still need a good rinse, but I find the dry lentils can get a little grimy and need several washes.  Regardless, it's always a good idea to inspect your lentils thoroughly, and a couple of rinsing stages improves your chances.

Next, I diced up a lot of onion, garlic and one jalapeno.  I would have liked to put two jalapenos in there, but my wife isn't as tolerant of chilis as I am... so I'll just mix up a hot sauce later for dipping.

Because texture is important in this kind of dish, I'm actually going to chop these diced veggies up even more with my food processor.  I have a decent Cusinart blender, but I don't like to use it (and clean it) unless it's for a big job, so I'll use my little (also Cusinart) hand mixer with chopper attachment:

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So, the veggies are essentially puréed, with some vegetable oil for lubrication, which will help ensure a consistent texture to the chili.

As you've come to know, I still need to sauté this a little bit before it's ready to be added (yes, even to something that's going to simmer for a while) = this is less about the texture and more about diffusing the flavours uniformly over a larger surface area.  

I'll explain:

Concentration gradients always work with particles (of any matter) moving from an area of high concentration to one of low concentration.  So, I like to send a good deal of those flavour molecules from the veggies (small surface area) into a larger liquid so that once they are diffused into the liquid (in this case the vegetable oil), they will have a significantly easier time diffusing again into the larger sauce (chili).  Remember that in a liquid, the particles are more spread out than in a solid, so if you have two liquids mingling, then any particles held in solution (suspended in the liquid) will have that much greater chance of spreading out evenly throughout the whole mixture.

Sorry for that... but hopefully it adequately explains why I like to sauté my flavour-packers before adding them to a liquid (sauce, soup, stew, etc.)  I will almost never cook with garlic or onion without doing this.  Adding these ingredients raw will ensure that you have a bland dish with tiny pockets of crunchable flavour.  I'd much rather have the veggies blander but the sauce more flavourful.  There are, of course, exceptions, and certain times when you don't need to do this... more often than not, when not adding them to a liquid (sauce, soup, stew, etc.), so like in a salad or something.  

I will say, as an aside, (and just as one example) that the secret to awesome flavoured breads is to diffuse your herbs or veggies into a liquid (like butter... mmmm...) and add that to the dough rather than their raw counterparts.  This is less of a big deal with dried herbs (like rosemary, fennel, etc.) but with 'wet', i.e. fresh herbs or vegetables, I find this to be general good practice.  Garlic bread absolutely needs to be done in this way... I even simmer the garlic in butter (on low heat) for a very long time and then strain the chunks of diced garlic out before adding.  But, then, I've said before, I'm a very textural eater.


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So, I'm sautéing the veggie purée, and I'm going to add the cumin.  A lot of cumin.  About 1/4 cup of seeds, but then milled finely in a mortar and pestle.  That goes into the sauté mix about 3-4 minutes before being done.

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This purée then goes into the pot.

Next comes the shameful part.

I really do advocate the use of real tomatoes, and real white beans, but in a lot of cases it's just plain easier to use a can.  Some day I'll likely write about how I feel about some canned goods vs. others; in a nutshell, however, my philosophy is really simple: read the ingredients.  The simpler (and fewer) the better, and if you pick up a can of tomato paste and the ingredients just say: "Tomatoes", then I don't see anything wrong with using that... especially since a small can of paste is less than $0.50 and contains close to a couple dollars' worth of tomatoes.

So, I put in a small can of tomato paste, and a regular-sized can of browned beans (white beans).

Mixed it all together, added a good pinch of salt, and it simmered in the slow-cooker for a couple hours only.

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Before taking the chili off the heat, I prepared some homemade corn-flour tortillas.

Ahora las Tortillas Frescas:

I've simplified this recipe, through successive tweakings, over the years, to basically be just flour, salt, and water.

  • Corn flour (yellow), for corn tortillas of course, and not to be confused with corn meal.  About one cup.
  • A pinch (~1/8 tsp) of salt.
  • About a tablespoon of cumin seeds, loosely milled - so... ground, but not as finely.
  • Enough water to make the mixture runny... and frothy when whisked.

Once this is mixed, heat a pan or skillet to medium high.  Keep a whisk handy because this batter contains two very different densities, and the flour will 'settle' on the bottom after only a minute or two.  Test the pan for readiness before adding mixture.  Whisk batter and immediately pour into pan.  You can do this without cooking oil if you use a non-stick pan, but I find even just a little spoonful of vegetable oil before pouring in the batter, adds a very pleasant crispness to the tortillas.

When you add the (very watery) batter to the hot pan, it's going to splatter.  It's going to splatter violently, and loudly.  Don't be afraid.  An apron helps... as does some mariachi music in the background.  If you use oil, expect more splatter (oil and water don't mix... add one to the other, they'll act distant and standoffish... add one to the other with heat in the house, and you've got a Jerry Springer episode).  So, just be careful.

Once the mixture completely dries in the pan, and begins to turn golden on the underside, and around the edges, flip it over gently.  This takes longer than you'd think - even on medium high heat, these suckers will take a good 4-5 minutes per side - and if you're encountering even the slightest resistance or gumminess in trying to get under it with your flipper, then it's likely not ready yet.

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If you're going to make up a big batch of these (I'll eat 3-4 of these in one sitting, and my tiny wife will even do 2 or 3) you can keep the tortillas warming in the oven at around 160° while you fry them in batches.

This can take a while.  Just to do 5 of them took me about 30 mins.  If I'm going to make a larger batch, for multiple people, I'll just bite the bullet and get a couple pans going simultaneously.

That's it.  

Here are some non-vegan vices to which I succumbed:  I made up some condiment ramekins, as I am often wont; in this case it was some 0% greek yogurt (or sour cream if you want... but seriously try the fat-free greek yogurt cause that shit is awesome), some shredded cheddar, and a small thing of hot sauce.  A while back, my mom brought me back some kick-ass habanero sauce from Mexico, and ever since then, it has been my hot sauce of choice.  

A couple splashes of habanero mixed with some cracked peppercorns for texture is a great dip in a pinch.

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I might also chop up some raw chives to go with this... or even shred some fresh lettuce... but I didn't.  This is already a very veggie-laden meal with a ton of fibre and roughage.  If this were a chile con carne, rest assured there'd be a couple more ramekins with chives and lettuce.

Anyway, if you don't want to use the yogurt or the cheese, then this is wholly vegan, otherwise it is simply vegetarian, but in either case it is a relatively quick and easy chili sin carne, and one of my favourite treats.

It is so delicious I can often forget that it's healthy too.

1 comment:

  1. Great alternative to meat. I would never think of making tortillas from scratch ... great job!