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Hearty Eight-Pepper Vegetarian Chili

chili, peppers, food, cooking, recipes, stews

Eight pepper chili

I’m not a vegetarian but I do eat a lot of vegetables. I tend to make my chilis vegetarian, so that I can just add meat if I want. I’ve had an issue for years with digesting legumes so I make my own chili and adapt it so it isn’t  so bean heavy. First, I take the beans and soak them, draining the water off twice. I then boil them and rinse them again to remove as much as I can of the offending sugars.

I never use an exact recipe but below are the ingredients, more or less, for the chili pictured here:

  • olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • one yellow onion (or white)
  • one can peeled plum tomatoes
  • one can tomato paste
  • 1-2 cups kidney beans
  • water
  • 1 c. green beans
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2-3 stalks celery
  • 6 mushrooms
  • 1 Hungarian pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 tbsp. ground red chili pepper
  • 1 dried chipotle pepper
  • 1 dried habanero pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed pequeno peppers
  • 1 fresh red hot pepper
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/4 c. sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp. pepita/pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts

As can be seen, this is a bit of a kitchen sink recipe and all measurements are approximate. If I don’t count the black pepper there are eight other peppers in this particular dish. I usually don’t use fewer than five types. If you want a less spicy chili you can use bell peppers and sweet banana peppers. Fewer of the red and hot peppers, such as pequenos and habanero, will cool the heat of the meal.

chipotle pepper, peppers, chili

Dried & smoky flavored chipotles--creative commons Badagnani (on Wiki)

 

I always just make mine to taste. I put the ingredients in a slow cooker, chopping and slicing up the tomatoes, peppers, carrots and beans. I add the tomato paste and soak the chipotle or ancho chili in some water to soften. Then I chop the chili and put it and the water in the cooker, while I saute the garlic and onion in oil and add in the spices. I also cannot digest bell peppers but I’m fine with other types. All of these ingredients can be adjusted to personal preferences.

The beans are boiled separately (don’t add salt or they won’t soften properly). After they’re drained I add them, the nuts and the seeds, then let everything simmer in the cooker on low. In the morning I turn it off and toss in the sliced mushrooms and voila, it’s ready to eat.

This combo comes out medium spicy on my meter but more or fewer peppers will adjust the level. Of course, cheese and sour cream can take down the spiciness level. I found this batch was still just a touch too tart and tomatoey so I added about 2 tablespoons (by accident as I meant to put less in) of maple syrup, which took the edge off. You can use a bit of sugar to do the same thing. You cannot taste the maple syrup after all those spices.

I freeze this up in smaller containers and then if I want to add meat at a later date, it’s no problem. However, I find it so hearty that it’s rarely needed, and I’ve lessened the overall bean quota so that I can digest it. This recipe is vegan friendly as well.

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Peppers and All Things Spicy

When I was a child the pepper shaker sat on our table like an icon to some ancient belief system. No one used it. Instead we liberally abused the salt shaker, over and over and over again to the point where my mother and my brother salt their pizza to this day. I used to salt cheese and my younger brother would make a bowl of vinegar with enough salt in it to make it murky and then dip his potato chips in…till his lips went white. We were heavy salt abusers but we shunned pepper.  

Then when I was in art college my boyfriend made tacos one night and had a bottle of hot sauce. He didn’t warn me, in fact I think he took secret glee in letting me use this medium hot sauce.  I had no experience with hot sauce, let alone pepper. Needless to say I turned red and gasped at the spiciness. Before long though, I was loving it and would use huge amounts of Tabasco on my food.  

Then I moved to Vancouver and met my friend Hanocia, who is from the tribal state of Meghalaya in India. She had a whole different degree of spiciness and would carry a bag of peppers in her purse. They were usually red but sometimes green and I believe Thai chillies. I learned to eat these chillies with my meal or whenever Hanocia cooked. At one point we were roommates and she, her boyfriend, and I would sit around eating our meal and chomping on chillies till we were all sniffling. 

Hanocia and I once went out for drinks one night and ordered bloody Caesars (for you Americans  it is a cocktail made of vodka, clamato juice, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce). We finally just asked the bartender for the bottle of Tabasco. He gave us one of the small, table-size bottles that was about a third full. We returned an empty bottle. The bartender’s jaw dropped.  

After that, Tabasco really was what I called the McDonald’s of hot sauces, lacking flavor and with too much vinegar. I came to enjoy the nuances of the different peppers, even eating habaneros (or Scotch bonnets) where are 10 on a scale of 10 for hotness. Peppers are rated on the Scoville scale. The hottest is the Naga Jolokia or ghost pepper. I have never tried this one. The second hottest is the habanero or Red Savina. This pepper is of course super hot but has a fruity flavor. I doubt many could eat a whole one. When I’m putting it into a meal I probably put in less than a eighth of a teaspoon.  

pequin pepper

 

 I had achieved full pepper assimilation. I always seek out hot sauces though due to now having rosacea (a skin condition exacerbated by cold, spice and histamines) I can’t eat as much spicy foodas I once could . Alas. One does have to build up to it slowly, or risk serious burn. The hotter peppers, like the habanero, can physically burn the skin as well as burning on the way down.Black pepper too has developed from those early days. It’s fresh now, not some ghostly reminiscence of flavor. I have a pepper grinder of course, because nothing but fresh pepper will do. I once made an Irish stew where I put so much black pepper in that it was pretty spicy in it’s own right. It’s not as common to have hot black pepper but you can get there. I’m glad I came to learn about the pepper family and appreciate the nuances of the hotters types. I don’t intend on turning away any time soon, even with rosacea.

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Traveling in India: Food Culture

Okay, maybe that title is slightly misleading. When I was in India I ended up with dysentery so bad that I couldn’t eat much at all. But I do remember some of the things I ate or chewed upon.

I was in Meghalaya for a month and the Khasis tend to eat their food fairly plainly. Rice, chicken, beef, with these green, little bullet peppers on the side. Begung was one particular dish I remember (and the spelling is more phonetic than anything else). It was a dark green leafy vegetable chopped into small pieces and fermented or aged with something savory. Think Asian sauerkraut but completely different. They also made a beef jerky over the fire used to distill the local rice drink, kyat. This was like drinking very very green saki.

Khasis also eat a lot of boiled eggs. This got to be too much for us on the second day. At one point we got takeout. There aren’t many restaurants and takeout involved getting some kind of noodle dish served in a banana leaf. All biodegradable but now days they put those dishes wrapped in banana into a plastic bag for carrying and once you’ve finished eating you toss the leaf and the bag. It was a sad thing to see that Western culture was encroaching all the bad aspects there as well.

The one other item in Megahlaya that I tried wasn’t really a food item. It would go more into the realm of entertainment, or a side, or like smoking. This was kwai, or betel nut. The Khasis eat theirs fairly pure. You take a peppercorn leave–it’s actually a betel leaf though they called it peppercorn because of the peppery taste, put a dab of lime paste on it (this is not made from fruit). Then you take chopped up betel nut (or areca nut, which is similar to nutmeg in hardness and texture) and fold the leaf over the the ingredients. Then you chew and chew and chew. It’s very hard and takes the lime and the leaf to help break it down.

Betel nut is also a slight stimulant (and has been found to be a carcinogen). It tended to make me turn beet red, which everyone found quite funny. I didn’t notice more than a little rush. Many Khasis eat it often and it tends to stain the spit and therefore the lips red. One woman called it Khasi lipstick. Betel nut is eaten throughout India but it may be sugared, have candy sprinkles, spices or a host of other items to sweeten it up as it is pretty harsh and bitter. In India it is called paan.

Although I got into the habit of trying it in Meghalaya I didn’t continue in the rest of India because it was too sweet. Just as well since it is known for destroying gums and teeth because it is so hard. I remember being in some government buildings in India and seeing corners in halls stained red as if someone had been stabbed to death. People would just spit into the corners and it was never cleaned up.

Through the rest of India, I actually didn’t get a chance to try as much as the food as I would have liked. Dhal (a lentil stew) was common but I can’t eat lentils. And I also had dysentery, which prevented me trying many of the dishes I wanted. I do remember the yogurt being remarkably creamy and not bitter like it is here. You could get a salty or a fruit lassi, made from yogurt and they were a lot of what I survived on when I was very sick.

I’m afraid I never got to try curries and other local dishes. By the end of the two months I was too sick to remember much about the food, except to stay away from the Campa Cola, which was made in Italy but shipped to India because it was carcinogenic. What fun. It’s one regret, that I never got to try more foods while there, especially because I love spicy.

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The Spice of Life

I grew up in a pretty whitebread Canadian family, where roast beef was served on Sundays with baked potato and frozen (but of course cooked) vegetables, which I always thought were gakky. Liver was also dished up once every couple of weeks, along with the ubiquitous brussels sprouts (which I do like). I figure this must have been one of the rare fresh vegetables of my youth.

Other delicacies included tongue, which indeed looked like a monster tongue, “beans I like,” which was an insipid concoction of watered down tomato soup, lima beans and wieners, and meatloaf with bacon laid across it. All of these things were liberally salted, beyond liberal really as my mother was a huge salt abuser, along with using some oregano, seasoning salt and other suspect spice blends. They made things salty but nothing was spicy.

Every set contains a salt and a pepper shaker and ours sat on the table like some iconic god, visible but unknowable. I’m sure the same shaker of pepper lasted ten years. Of course, the prepackaged pepper of yesteryear was mostly flavorless, like those little packets of pepper you get in fast food restaurants: mostly color and no taste.

So I knew nothing of spice. The closest my family ever moved towards spicy was chili powder in the chili. And lots of salt. Salty badness. My mother still puts salt on pizza, one of the saltiest foods out there. She’ll assault with salt before tasting.

When I was in art college, my boyfriend invited me for dinner to his place one night. It was student fare but tacos with a bottle of hot sauce. He didn’t warn me that it was “hot” hot sauce so I was a little overwhelmed with that first taste. But then…my tastebuds awoke and I began to experiment more with this. I also started drinking Caesars (for you Americans, it’s similar to a Bloody Mary but instead of tomato juice with the vodka you use clamato [tomato and clam juice and sugar–not as gross as it sounds] with Worcestershire and tabasco).

Then another of my friends talked about some manly man test they did which involved either drinking tabasco or putting a lot in the drinks. I think I particpated in the second part (I was never stupid enough to drink it straight) and my penchant for spice continued.

I then moved to Vancouver, where I met my friend Hanocia, from a tribal state in India. She carried a bag of chili or serrano peppers in her purse to eat with her food. We would go out and drink Caesars where we usually just asked for the bottle of tabasco. We returned an empty bottle to the bartender one night with at least two inches gone from it. His jaw dropped as he stuttered, “I’ve never seen anyone use so much.” And we weren’t even sweating the spice.

Then I moved in as a roommate with Hanocia and her boyfriend, where we would all sit eating the normally spiced food but with a bowl of chili peppers on the table. It wasn’t hot unless you were sweating and your nose dripping. By this time I had achieved the cast iron stomach needed for the truly ferocious peppers. I even had a poster of all the peppers on my kitchen ceiling (the only space for it) and it became my goal to try them all. When I went to India, Hanocia’s people, the Khasis, tend to eat their food plain but with a bowl of peppers. At the end of the evening I had more stems along the side of my plate than anyone else. Beau goggled and said, “Wait till I tell the girls at work, and you’re a white person too.” (A note: all peppers come from central America and did not originate in Asia.)

Over the years, I did sample as many peppers as I could find, right up to the scotch bonnets or habaneros, that rate 10 for hot on a scale of 10. They are so hot that few people can eat a whole one and they can blister you. Many people can’t eat these because the heat burns away any flavor, but I like habaneros because they have a fruity flavor under that atomic heat. (I”ve since found there are hotter peppers but I haven’t tasted them.)

I’ve made five pepper chili, which has included serranos, jalapenos, Thai chili, pequenos and habaneros. I don’t count or use bell peppers (I react to them) because though supposedly all peppers are of the nightshade family these are considered different. Maybe they’re nightshades but the others aren’t, but all are peppers.

My love affair with hot peppers has developed over the years and friends have gone to other countries and brought me back another bottle of hot sauce. I have about 15 in my fridge at any one time. It just goes to show that a white kid from the bland food sticks can attain heights of chili pepper hotness. But alas, my champion pepper chomping may have hit an end as rosacea is exacerbated by spicy foods. I’m still hoping though because I do love the taste way more than black pepper, though that will do in a pinch.

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