I hear it’s fantastic, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Best Vegetarian Chili I Never Tasted

I love a challenge. I hosted a baby shower for the radiant and ever-gracious Jess D last Sunday, and it was a rare occasion to find more vegetarians and vegans on the guest list than otherwise. Regretfully, I may have harbored a tinge of culinary resentment toward the sans-meat crowd back when I had endless, uninterrupted prep time before parties to spend on crown roasts, sushi, and various fowl. But now that I average two diaper changes while waiting for my morning coffee to percolate, I’m grateful whenever the time-consuming task of meat preparation is rendered null.

Obviously, my tried and true Vegetarian Appeasement made the spread, but I needed one more vegetarian entree, having been physically unable to hold back from applying the bacon topping to You Ain’t Leavin’ Mac & Cheese. Somehow, I was able to locate the recipe for a meatless chili I made six Labor Days ago, combing through search results on Epicurious until I found one with a familiar, ridiculously long list of ingredients.

‘Vores of all walks claimed to enjoy the chili, but one should never take guests’ compliments as honest criticism. I’ll admit that I don’t eat chili of any kind, ever, so I had no idea what was going on in those bowls. However, Mr. P revisited the leftovers twice, legitimizing it as an official victory.

I find it inordinately satisfying to approach meals I prepare and events I host as competitions with myself. None of my children put up a fair fight at anything other than Candy Land, and I no longer work in an office environment (where competitive baking is always encouraged), so I have no choice but to set my own bar progressively higher in order to routinely best past selves. A disconcerting side effect of my approach to staying sharp has been my inner monologue’s shift to a dialogue, with definite manager and underling roles.

In addition to barking orders at my underling and maintaining a high level of hustle in the kitchen, my manager enforces our unnecessarily rigorous weekly schedule, ensures everyone is dressed and fed by eight, and gets us all strapped in the car and on our way by nine. My underling wonders if my manager has been overbooking us lately, but the former doesn’t get a say. Fortunately for my underling, my manager (who’s also in charge of menu planning) is a voracious carnivore, and while this chili is now a standard in our vegetarian repertoire, we’re still not eating it.

You don’t even know what economic means.

Impoverished Single Person’s “Chili”

Mr. Smith is Rhode Island’s most efficient driver. He can forecast door-to-door travel time between any two points within the Ocean State to within a minute, averages about two left turns per month, and has logged zero accidents in the thirty-two years I’ve known him. D’s knack for balancing quality with minimum energy and resource expenditure becomes wizardry in the kitchen, and this week he shares a recipe from his undergraduate days at Brown, during which he drove cab, impressed the hell out of girlfriends’ parents, and elevated bachelor cooking to an art. My father anticipates that “purists from Texas and other regions will argue with the name,” but since I don’t touch chili, ever, I wouldn’t know.

A suggestion from Mr. Smith: “this recipe will produce about two quarts of chili, or a dozen servings at maybe $0.80 apiece to go with rice or macaroni (or commando). The single impoverished person will eat two servings within an hour, keep two to four more servings in the fridge for the coming days, and freeze the rest in single-serving Ziploc bags.”

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large green pepper, diced
1 medium/large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb hamburger
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 or 2 15-oz cans plain tomato sauce
2 15-oz cans spiced pinto beans (drained unless seasoned)
some canned, sliced jalapeño peppers
1 tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper

optional:
1 medium yellow pepper, diced in addition to green pepper ($$)
cayenne pepper
1 C sauteed sliced mushrooms ($)

Put the oil in a cast-iron pan over medium-high and heat it until it’s hot. Sauté the pepper for 3 minutes before adding the onion and, once that becomes translucent, add the garlic and continue to cook until it just starts to brown (or, as my father instructs, sweat the garlic). Empty the vegetables into a large bowl and set them aside.

In the same pan, cook the meat over medium-high heat until you’ve eliminated all pink. Pour in the vegetables (and optional mushrooms) and combine with the hamburger. Add the crushed tomatoes, 1 can of tomato sauce, the pinto beans (and the water if it’s been seasoned, otherwise toss it), and 1 tbsp chili powder. Cook and stir until it boils, then reduce the heat to medium. If the chili seems too thick, add the second can of tomato sauce.

Proceed to add fiyah. Use a garlic press to mince 8 or so jalapeño slices and stir them into the chili. Taste and repeat until you’re happy. Mr. Smith confides that he occasionally adds a little cayenne pepper “to complicate the hotness.” Finish it off with salt and pepper, but “never garnish with cheese; that’s weird.” I, on the other hand, will just have the cheese (though after typing up this post, I might actually give it a shot without the beans).

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