Spicing up the white

Vegetarian ChilliOut there it is all white. It has been white for months, now. Ice and snow and cold everywhere. The sun is nowhere to be seen, and the daylight pours in – each day longer, but each day colder – through a low, gray cloud curtain,  with a thin dust of snow.

It looks nice, but I am a southern person in my bones, there is no mistaking that.  And especially on week days, when I don’t have time to cover properly and dare the cold, I need some food to heat me up and give me the colour that has been drained from elsewhere.

The recipe I’d like to share is one I have been making for years and years with variations, almost every week. It started with meat, and then it turned to beans.  It allows for endless variations depending on what you have in your cupboard, requires very little attention, and the amount of spices and vegetables and colours is bound to cheer you up. Also eating it is big fun – a bit of this, a bit of that, you whip up your own combination and enjoy it. It is assembled in half an hour if you use a pressure cooker and cook the beans a day before (or use canned beans of course), a little more if you don’t have one – but it does not require you to actually do something in the meanwhile.

Who says that it is just the rest of the world who tries to make fake Italian food? We Italians love to give our personal interpretation on  foreign food. This chilli is a great example of it. It all started with a special issue of ‘La Cucina Italiana’, the cornerstone of Italian cooking magazines, on Mexican cooking, maybe ten-fifteen years ago. Me and my mummy played with the recipes and the keeper was the chilli – a meat stew with peppers and tomato and kidney beans and (then) exotic spices – and a white sauce made with yogurt, cream cheese and lime (we didn’t have sour cream in Italy). It was there that my lifelong affair with cumin started. Then, a few years later, a friend who came back from Sudamerica introduced me to the joys of avocado and guacamole. Then another friend gave me as a gift a cookbook on Mexico, and out there came the lovely black beans cream, one of the few recipes I had the ingredients for at hand.

I am not claiming this dish to be in any way authentic, but I find it genuinely funny and yummy, and it is also quite healthy – what more could you want? Of course, the ingredients I give can adapted to whatever you have at hand: just pretend each of the ingredients listed below reads ‘optional’: I am not joking. I made it without peppers (more paprika), without tomatoes (again, more paprika :)), without paparika, without beans (well with meat though)… The only things I have never tried without are the onions, and the cumin 🙂

Vegetarian chilli


80 g red kidney beans

60 g beluga lentils

60 g red split lentil

80 g quinoa

1 can tomatoes

2 onions

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 bell peppers, different colors

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon dried hot chilli flakes

1/2 tablespoon dried paprika flakes

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

large pinch oregano

1 bay leaf

salt, or about a tablespoon vegetable bouillon

black pepper, freshly ground

1 avocado
juice of 1 lime
2-3 spring onions
1 red hot chilli
pinch of salt

Lime coriander yogurt:
150 g full fat yogurt
zest and juice of half lime
small handful coriander leaves, chopped

120 g kidney beans
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2-3 spring onions
1 teaspoon butter

To serve:
salad leaves, chopped vegetables (spring onions, bell peppers, cucumber, tomatoes..), some grated cheese
ready-made flour tortillas

If using dried kidney beans: Soak the kidney beans overnight. Cook them in fresh water until tender (about 1/2 hour with pressure cooker).

Remove from the pot the cooked beans and their water and set aside.
Chop the onions (not finely), remove seeds and cores from peppers and cut into chunks. Heat the oil in the pot, add the onion and stir over medium heat until slightly browned. Add cumin, chilli, oregano, paprika powder and flakes, bouillon or a pinch of salt, bay leaf, and stir to warm the spices. Add the pepper chunks and let them brown slightly as well. When they start showing a tendency to burn, add the tomatoes and the kidney beans (remember to reserve the right quantity for the salsa, if making!) and about a glass of the beans cooking liquid. Bring to the boil and let it simmer ten minutes on a low heat (or put the lid on to your pressure cooked and let it go for five minutes).
In the meanwhile, bring another pan to the boil and cook the beluga lentils until quite al dente (15 minutes, depending on variety).
Add the red split lentils to the chilli pan, then after a few minutes the quinoa. If necessary add a little more liquid, but don’t exaggerate: the pulses should absorb most of it in the end. Stir occasionally.

In the meanwhile, wash and chop salad and prepare sauces.

Start with the bean sauce, if making: process the beans with a hand blender or food processor with a pinch of salt and some cooking liquid, so as to obtain quite a runny consistency. Heat the butter in a pan, add the cumin seeds, let them toast. Chop the spring onions and add them to the pan. Add the beans purée and let it simmer for a few minutes until a bit thicker. When it reaches the desired consistency, pour it into a bowl and set aside, until ready to serve.

For the coriander yogurt: just mix all ingredients, adjusting them to your taste. It should taste very fresh and a bit salty.
For the guacamole: just blend all ingredients with a food processor or hand blender. It should be quite hot and sharp.

When the quinoa and red lentils are almost done, add the beluga lentils, stir well, adjust walt, pepper and spices.

Brign everything to the table ,so that each person will create his own combination. I usually warm the tortillas before eating them, but it is your choice.


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