Dec 282014

Red Lentil Vegan Chili

So, this started out in my imagination and on my shopping list as a New Orleans-style red bean soup. But on that particular day at my local Whole Foods, there was not a single dried red bean to be found. Not one. After getting the signature Whole Foods inexplicable inventory quirk shrug from a couple of employees, I grabbed a bag of red lentils. Clearly my exasperation at said Whole Foods inexplicable inventory quirk had overshadowed rational though, since red lentils and red beans have almost nothing in common, but for the word “red.”

This fact became more and more apparent as I made the soup. But somewhere along the line, I remembered the vegan chili that I loved earlier this year, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t pretty darn close. And every bit as delicious, if I do say so myself.

Now, a word about this veggie chorizo… In general, I do not live in the whacky world of vegan faux meats and (especially) cheeses. But I do try something now and then, and have found a few items that I truly love — and would happily eat whether it was vegan or not. Field roast jumps to mind. Tempeh is easy to work with and like. And a little tofu here and there. And then there’s this veggie chorizo from Helen’s Kitchen. I’m not saying that it’s going to fool anyone who is looking for authentic pork chorizo, but it’s really tasty. The texture is great, and the flavors — while more delicate than the real thing — are on the right chorizo track. I imagine you could amp up the flavors with some smoked paprika and maybe a hit of chipotle powder, if you’re looking for more of a spicy kick.

Finally, use your imagination on garnishes — which are half the fun of chili, if you ask me. Minced onions or scallions, crushed tortilla chips, and diced tomatoes. A drizzle of pesto — walnut pesto might be especially nice here. Caramelized onions. Whatever — it’s a versatile base of a chili. I ended up loving a generous swirl of vegan sour cream (hey, might as well at this point — and I like the Vegan Gourmet brand) and a handful of pepitas. Some cilantro would have been welcome here, too…

Pairing: American Pale Wheat Ale

Magic-Hat-Circus-BoyI don’t nearly as much about beer as I do about wine — but that’s half the fun when I’m trying to pair a beer with something. At this point in my beer pairing journey, I seem to only have one rule — and that’s to try to match the flavor intensity. This chili doesn’t just knock you over with chile powder or other bold flavors — it’s a little more subtle than that. So as much as I love stouts and dark beers — and as much as this rainy cold weather makes me lean that way in general — I think the chili would be completely overpowered. Wheat beer worked for me here — specifically:

Circus Boy ($9) is an American-style Hefeweizen brewed with lemongrass, from Magic Hat Brewing Company. Definite citrus aromas, low on hops, unfiltered, refreshing. I liked it! (Despite the name…)

Recipe: Red Lentil & Veggie Chorizo Chili

1/2 pound dried red lentils
1/2 pound vegan chorizo (Helen’s Kitchen brand recommended)
1/2 tablespoon Earth Balance buttery spread or other vegan butter
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/2 head garlic, cloves peeled and minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 tablespoon salt-free Cajun seasoning blend
1 bay leaf
kosher salt to taste
garnishes: vegan sour cream (Vegan Gourmet brand recommended), pepitas

Pick through the lentils to remove any debris, then rinse them thoroughly.

Melt the butter over high heat in a stockpot. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, celery and Cajun seasoning, and saute, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until mixture is tender and just starting to brown.

Remove the casing from the veggie chorizo and crumble into the stockpot. Cook for 4-5 minutes until starting to brown, then add lentils and stir to coat with oniony mixture. Add 1 1/2 quarts of water, along with the bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, then cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for about 25-30 minutes, until lentils are thoroughly cooked and starting to fall apart. Remove bay leaf and discard.

Ladle about half of the soup into a blender container and puree. Return to stockpot, along with 1 or 2 cups more water. Bring back to a fast simmer and cook another 10-15 minutes. Season to taste with kosher salt. Stir frequently to avoid burning/sticking on the bottom of the pot.

Note: when reheating, you may need to add additional water to thin it out

Serve with a swirl of vegan sour cream and a handful of pepitas.

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