Steve has always talked about the vegetable chili he used to make in college. He has talked about how other students would appear in the kitchen when they smelled the zucchini sautéing in olive oil. Everyone loved it, he has always claimed.
Steve insisted. “My mom sent me to college with this recipe,” he always liked to remind me. Every now and then, he’d go through the folder with printouts of old recipes that he’s had for a couple of decades and he’d show me the xeroxed page from Parade magazine in 1986, with his mom’s handwritten changes and additions to the original recipe for “Red Hot Vegetable Chili.”
I was still not convinced. The recipe went back in the folder and we moved on to something else.
Then a week ago, we were hosting some friends, one of whom is vegan. As we were trying to plan a menu for the dinner we would cook for them, the vegetable chili came up again. This time I relented. We bought everything we needed and spent Saturday afternoon making it together.
I began to suspect that he had been right all along, that the chili would be good, when I put together the spices that went into it. That was a lot of spices. But it wasn’t until we sat down and I took a first bite that I really understood. This chili was exceptional, managing to explode with flavor without even a hint of meat. Every bite offered texture, a little heat, gentle sweetness, and sultry smokiness. I couldn’t stop eating it.
1/2 cup olive oil
4 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 medium yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 large red bell peppers, cored and chopped
2 28 oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 14.5 oz can red kidney beans, drained
1 14.5 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add zucchini and sauté until just tender. Remove zucchini from pot. Add onions, garlic and red pepper to the pot and sauté until just wilted, about 10 minutes. Lower heat to medium low.
Using kitchen sheers or two knives, roughly cut up tomatoes in their cans. Pour tomatoes with their juices in pot with onions. Add chili, cumin, oregano, pepper, salt, fennel and parsley. Stir to combine. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring often.
Stir in kidney beans, chickpeas, basil, dill, and lemon juice. Cook for 15 minutes more. Stir well and adjust seasonings to taste.
Serve over plain white rice or polenta.