Ok, enough about cake! With all the holiday decorations packed away and the cookie tins emptied and washed, I’m feeling a desperate need to move on to clean, healthy, functional foods. How about you?
The thing is, just as we vow to eat better, live greener and become healthier in the coming year, two calendar events pop up to destroy our best-laid plans: Super Bowl and Mardi Gras. If ever there were two events focused on unhealthy food in a “pig out” environment, these qualify. The English translation for Mardi Gras, as we all probably know, is FAT Tuesday. Enough said.
So can we come up with a party dish that is traditional enough to hold its own at the buffet table, tasty enough to win over junkfoodies, sensitive enough to include all diners regardless of food-related sensitivities, and healthy enough to keep us committed to our vow of better eating in 2017? The answer is YES.
Who has not seen chili as a main offering at Super Bowl parties? Who has not overindulged in spicy beans and peppers during Mardi Gras? And you still can with this protein rich, gluten-free, vegan chili that features complex flavors and textures from pumpkin and quality spices to protein-packed adzuki beans and quinoa. And if you really want to, of course you could add some broiled shrimp, grass-fed ground beef and pork or even bacon…ok, maybe a small chunk of Andouille sausage. Just ask Don (sigh). But try it as it is presented here first and see if it lives up to my prediction as a soon-to-be party favorite.
- Two to three tablespoons peanut oil
- One large yellow onion, well chopped
- Two large bell peppers, chopped (One green and one red is nice.)
- Four cloves minced garlic (Or try garlic scapes if they are still in your freezer from last summer, just chop and add in with the onion.)
- One tablespoon each whole cumin and coriander seeds, crushed slightly
- One heaping teaspoon hot sauce, more or less to taste (Homemade Harissa was my go-to here.)
- One tablespoon high-quality (meaning no added salt) chili powder
- One teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
- One, half-inch cinnamon stick (not cassis, which is hard and much less flavorful)
- Three cups vegetable stock (homemade or commercial)
- Four cups tomatoes, crushed (I used two bags of chopped tomatoes from my freezer, but a high-quality canned version would do fine. If you use canned, buy the largest can you find and be sure to include the juice.)
- One cup adzuki beans, soaked overnight and partially cooked for about 30 minutes (Adzuki beans are my bean of choice whenever red beans are called for. They have an amazing array of healthy benefits. This step can be done a day ahead)
- One half cup quinoa, rinsed well (This amount of quinoa makes the chili exceedingly thick, which can be nice. But if that’s not what you want, use a quarter cup and increase your stock by a half cup.)
- One cup pumpkin puree (Since I still have several pie pumpkins in the basement, I roasted one a couple days before making my chili, pureed the flesh and let it drain overnight in the frig. Another option would be a standard can of organic pumpkin puree.)
- Two tablespoons raw agave nectar
- One quarter cup minced cilantro
- The juice of one medium lime
- One-half cup of shelled pumpkin seeds (green), lightly toasted, salted and ground fine
- Sea salt to taste
- In a large Dutch oven, heat the peanut oil and the slightly crushed cumin and coriander until the spices become fragrant, about one minute.
- Add the onion, a dash of sea salt and sauté until tender and translucent, about three to five minutes.
- Add the bell pepper and garlic with another dash of salt and continue to sauté for another three or four minutes.
- Add the hot sauce, chili powder, cinnamon stick and chipotle powder and cook and stir until you can smell the spices and everything is beginning to blend, about two minutes.
- Add the vegetable stock, pumpkin puree, crushed tomatoes, agave and beans. Stir well to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer partially covered for one hour.
- Stir in the quinoa and continue to simmer steadily for half an hour, until the quinoa is fully cooked.
- Add the cilantro and lime juice. Stir and serve.
- Garnish with toasted ground pumpkin seeds.
Note that the prep and cook times do not include the time it will take you to soak and precook the beans or prepare the pumpkin, if you are using fresh.
Also, my chili powder, as I’ve mentioned before, comes from a little guy who makes his own and sells it at the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico. But Penzeys is another good, possibly more accessible, option. They have a wide range of chili powders with variations of heat intensity from which to choose.
The idea for garnishing this chili with ground pumpkin seeds came from one of my favorite celebrity chefs, Rick Bayless. Chef Bayless is truly a renaissance human being: successful restaurant owner, cookbook author, environmentalist, and star of the award-winning PBS Show Mexico—One Plate at a Time. I have learned so much from this amazing man—not only how to make great south-of-the-border recipes but also how beautiful it can be to embrace cultures different from my own and to understand the people and traditions that contribute to the great food on my plate. Chef Bayless makes it clear that there really are no walls between people, food and culture. We only grow and become better when we celebrate each other–our similarities and our differences. We all have something to bring to the table.
Green pumpkin seeds (pepitas) contain zinc, an important mineral for keeping us healthy. If you are vegan or even vegetarian, you’re ability to find zinc in food is challenging because zinc is plentiful in red meat but not a lot else. In addition to zinc, there are quite a few other benefits to this little powerhouse. Chef Bayless uses this ground toasted pumpkin seed powder a lot, and I know why… flavor. It’s just incredible what this simple addition can do to salsas, guacamole and soups. Give it a try!
Coming Clean and Green
Yes, tis the season for turning over that new leaf, cleaning up the diet and making impossible promises to ourselves to be better people. And even though I really think “New Year’s Resolutions” are pretty much self-defeating, I believe the intentions behind them are headed in the right directions. Trying to be better, whether we are talking about what we eat, how we live our lives, how we take care of each other or how we treat the Earth, can never be a bad thing. Somethings bound to stick.
This is why I’m so excited about the January issue of Delicious Living Magazine. Cover to cover, it is full of helpful information, great recipes and green techniques to help us be the best we can be. Here are two of my favorite articles:
“Avoid food waste: 5 products that reuse ingredients” introduces us to five new products that embrace reusing ingredients rather than throwing them away. From reinventing “ugly” fruit to recycling meat trimmings, these products are great examples of new, innovative and tasty uses for underutilized ingredients that would otherwise end up in the landfill.
For instance, I can’t wait to try Repurposed Pod Cacao Juice, which repurposes the Cacao pulp (the fruit surrounding the coveted cacao pod, which is used to make chocolate). This pulp is typically a chocolate-industry byproduct, but Repurposed Pod salvages the pulp, juices it and then high-pressure pasteurizes it into a sweet, tangy beverage. Sip alone, or add to cocktails for a surprising mixer.
Another must-try for me is the ReGrained Honey Almond IPA Bar. While I’ve never been a beer drinker, this yummy power bar has peaked my interest. Did you know that only 10 percent of the ingredients used to brew beer ends up in a pint? ReGrained rescues the fiber-rich “spent” grain and pairs it with sumptuous ingredients: oats, organic honey, organic ground flax, cinnamon, almonds and more for a tasty snack (sans the alcohol).
And then there is the challenge of recycling all that paper, plastic and metal. Sometimes I think the reason we fail to recycle isn’t that we don’t care; it’s that we are unsure what can and can’t be put in the recycling bin. Complicated codes and too much information can deter our best efforts. Take a look at this great info-graphic shared by Delicious Living from Junk King to give you nine simple ways to recycle better.
As we embark in earnest on this new year, may we keep our promises to ourselves and to others with kindness and understanding. And may kindness and understanding guide our journeys as we greet the Earth and all its people each day. What are you striving for in 2017? Let’s share.