Chili Cook-Off-Winning Vegan Chili

Every year my department hosts a chili cook-off. It’s one of my favorite things to participate in, as it’s so very fall. Until this year, us vegans and vegetarians had to compete with the meat chili submissions. Now, I strongly believe a vegan chili could be better than a meat chili….but that’s probably because I’ve been a vegan for ten years and have a somewhat different palette than most people.

Fortunately, this year the hosts decided to make a separate veggie and meat category. There were only two of us in the veggie round, and I have no shame in admitting that my competition deserved to beat me out. Although I made a very yummy chili based on this recipe, Shannon’s chili was extraordinary. When I asked how she managed to accomplish such a unique, but also very comforting and satisfying flavor, she revealed three secret ingredients: coffee, raisins, chocolate (!).

As soon as I heard that, I knew I had to feature it on the blog. So creative, so delicious, so win-worthy.

Shannon’s Vegan-tastic Chili
4 tbsp olive oil, grapeseed oil, or both
2 large onions
1 poblano pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
12 cloves of garlic (about one small head)
6 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp ground cumin
20 twists with the black pepper grinder
½ c apple cider vinegar mixed with 1 ½ c water
5 or 6 dashes of Liquid Smoke (or 1 tbsp of adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers)
3 cans (14 ½ oz) tomatoes (I prefer Muir Glen’s organic fire roasted or home canned)
2 cans (15 oz) black beans
2 cans (15 oz) kidney beans
1 bottle of hearty beer (I don’t like alcohol so I use Guinness Kaliber NA)
2 tbsp raisins
2 tbsp leftover coffee grounds (from your morning brew–I prefer Larry’s Beans Cowboy Blend)
1 tbsp cocoa
1 fresh tomato (green if you can get it)
1 bunch cilantro
1 lime

1. GET READY! Have your dutch oven ready to go. Finely chop the onions and reserve about ¼ cup to use as a garnish later. Dice the poblano and finely chop the jalapeno. Peel and coarsely chop the garlic.

2. GET COOKING! Get the oil good and hot in the dutch oven (medium-high heat). When it just starts to smoke add the onions, usually half at a time (you don’t want them to steam–you want them to have the space to cook and caramelize). Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the onions are golden and just starting to brown. Add the chopped peppers and garlic. Cook, stirring, until they start to sweat and you can smell the garlic. Then add all of the chili powder, garlic, and ground pepper. Keep stirring and as soon as the spices start to give off a powerful aroma, crank up the heat to high and add the apple cider vinegar/water mix. Stir and bring to a boil. Let it boil for a few minutes, and then add the dashes of Liquid Smoke (or the adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers), tomatoes, and beans. Stir and bring to a boil. Add the bottle of beer and bring it back to a boil one more time. Turn down to medium.

3. NOW LET’S HAVE SOME FLAVOR FUN! Take the leaves off about a dozen cilantro stalks and reserve the leaves; put the stalks in the chili. Cut the skin off about half the lime in one or two large chunks (it’s fine if some of the lime flesh goes with it); put the skin in the chili. Set your timer for 30 minutes. (Note: we’re leaving the stems and skin whole because we’ll fish them out in about 30 minutes.) Now get out your smallest blending system, be it an immersion blender, mini-food chopper, or mortar and pestle. In it put the raisins, coffee grounds, and cocoa powder. Add about ¼ cup of liquid from the chili pot. Blend until as smooth as you can make it. When the timer rings, take out the lime and cilantro stalks and mix in the raisin/coffee/cocoa paste a spoonful at a time. Keep tasting as you go–you don’t want so much in there that it gets sweet! Just enough to give you a lower register of flavor–think the opposite scale of the lime. :) Let it simmer on low, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours (or 3 or 4 hours on low in a crock pot). Stir occasionally to be sure to bring the goodness thickening in the bottom up to the top. Finally, add the finely chopped fresh tomato and let it cook in there for about 15 minutes.

4. FEAST! The chili is now officially complete! If you want the flavors to super meld and you are far more patient than I, refrigerate overnight and eat the next day with some vegan buckwheat cornbread. Be sure to GARNISH each bowl! If you are NOT vegan, I’d recommend doing so with non-fat greek yogurt mixed with the fresh cilantro leaves, a squeeze of lime juice, and a pinch of sage; don’t forget to sprinkle some of those finely chopped onions on top, too–but just a pinch! If you are vegan, garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and chopped onion.

5. THANKS!! Thanks, Raechel, for sharing my recipe!!! And for liking my chili!!  :)

Shannon, Chili Cook-Off Winner!

Thank you, Shannon! : )

Have you ever entered a chili cook-off? What’s your favorite chili recipe for warming up the colder months? 

14 thoughts on “Chili Cook-Off-Winning Vegan Chili

  1. Natalia says:

    This sounds amazing! I usually find recipes with ingredients lists this long to be quite daunting, but I’d be willing to give this a go.. Curious if there is anything I could substitute for the beer though? (I won’t be able to get non-alc beer here..)

  2. Lou says:

    This sounds amazing…. I suppose the cocoa would give it a “mole” type flavour, yes? And a bit of earthiness from the coffee? I love recipes with quirky ingredients – so much more fun to make/eat. Sounds incredible anyhow :)

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