This was one hell of a dish.
It’s been a while since I cooked anything from scratch (and the last time I did it I found a recipe that turned out to be rather bland) and I never ever use my Crock Pot as often as I want to, so when the email came around as a sign-up sheet for the Superbowl party, I jumped on the chili option. I was having a cold day, I guess, and it sounded so good, that I actually panicked that someone else would pick it before I could. I replied all as soon as possible to claim the dish, which was very soon because I am on the computer all the livelong day, and at the last minute, out of a misplaced sense of courtesy and tolerance, I asked if it needed to be vegetarian. No response. Over the next day or so, people replied to claim the chips and dip, or the dessert, or drinks, or whatever, but no word from the vegetarians. I sent one last call out Friday afternoon threatening meat, and wouldn’t you know that one person–Michael–is a vegetarian.
Dammit! I should have kept my mouth shut. For no particular reason beside the desire to create drama, I started bellyaching about having to find a recipe, about how I shouldn’t have said anything, about effort, about all kinds of crazy nonsense, although only to Husband and to BFF, both of whom had the good sense to not take it seriously. I lollygagged around Saturday morning, still without a recipe, and it wasn’t until the last possible minute that I looked online for a vegetarian recipe. I rejected the first one I found because I don’t think I liked the idea of adding vegetable broth or fake meat or ketchup or something. (There are some dreadful recipes online. It’s shocking to me how poor the palate is of most people. Half the stuff I come across uses canned, condensed ingredients and relies entirely on salt for flavor, and I’m not a skilled enough cook to separate the wheat from the chaff within a recipe–although I am much better than I used to be about identifying bad recipes before I shop for them.) I went with the second one, which appeared at the RecipeZaar Web site. It not only had five stars, it had seventy-four votes, so a lot of vegetarians were speaking up on its behalf. I was encouraged. The ingredients were all regular items (no fake meat or bouillon cubes), and it called for a fresh jalapeno, chili powder, and cumin (one of my favorite spices), and there were lots of comments.
Reading the comments on recipes is a very good way to judge them. Usually the people who comment are cooks who know what they are doing, and invariably they’ll talk about substitutions they make. This is recipe analysis, and only the better recipes can be analyzed, so you know you are getting something good. I was very pleased. I was still making a half-hearted fuss about it being vegetarian and therefore somehow this extra hassle, but even I knew at that point that it was just for show.
The trip to the grocery store was actually delightful. Filly was napping, so it was just Fella and I and they had a boy-sized grocery cart he could push. When there are two kids, we have to take the regular sized cart and they both have to ride in the basket (because they both have to do the same thing), but Fella pushed that cart like a pro. All the old people who shop at our grocery store (because I live in Old Person Central) thought it was adorable. The produce guy who is always so nice to us and cuts slices of fruit for us to try gave him a balloon. We purchased our cans and our cooperation cookies (which I am eating far more than my share of right now), and I was all ready to cook later that night. Well, ready to prep. The cooking time was six hours, and the party was at three, and I knew there was no way I’d be able to get my act together in the morning to have it done anywhere near nine. Even though some comments said that four hours or even two were enough, we had a breakfast plan. It was just too risky. Besides, I enjoyed the chance to be organized!
I pretty much followed the recipe exactly. I couldn’t find condensed black bean soup, so I used a can of regular black bean soup. I didn’t use any fresh jalapeno peppers, but I had a jar of those briny jalapeno slices so I threw about ten little pieces in. I always use more cumin than is called for, and I didn’t measure the chili powder exactly, but it worked OK–my batch wasn’t very spicy, but it was spicy enough. I added tons more fresh cilantro than a tablespoon. I went with the 29 oz can of crushed tomatoes option. I sauteed the garlic with the rest of the vegetables, and I know I used way more than two cloves. I chopped and sauteed what needed to be chopped and sauteed, and I drained and rinsed what needed to be drained and rinsed, and I measured out all the herbs and spices the night before. The next morning, I microwaved the stuff a minute or two just to take the chill off, and I dumped everything into the Crock Pot and stirred. It was the easiest thing I have ever done in the kitchen. I should have sliced the green onions and shredded the cheese the night before, too, but for some reason I didn’t think of it. Oh well. That didn’t need to be done before I started cooking, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Driving with a full, hot Crock Pot is always an adventure, but we didn’t have far to go. There was a place on the kitchen counter just waiting for it. I set out the cheese and onions with a tub of sour cream, and BFF brought a big bag of corn chips, and it was set. Unable to keep my mouth shut, I had to launch into my vegetarian spiel all over again, and BFF and I and a guy named Todd spent a good part of fifteen minutes joking about the vegetarian and trying to guess who it was. When Michael the Vegetarian finally revealed himself, he was so happy that I made a dish he could eat. I felt a little bad for the fauxfussing that I’d done. Besides, no one seemed to miss the meat. All five quarts were gone by the end of the game, and then the hostess cleaned my Crock Pot for me. I’m a little disappointed, because people who commented on the recipe said that it tastes even better the next day, but I am pleased that I was able to make something untried that turned out so well. And the food at this party gave it some serious competition. I don’t think I’ve seen so many tasty dishes in a private home before–there was hummus, guacamole, little hot dogs wrapped in bacon, chicken wings in some honey/cayenne/secret ingredient barbecue sauce, spicy cheese dip, sausages, and birthday cake shaped like a football. I didn’t even get to the burgers!
The numbers on this chili are very good, too. The nutrition data on the website says that the batch makes eight servings, but I’m sure it fed twenty people. The only fat in it came from the black bean soup and the olive oil I sauteed the vegetables in (I am ignoring the cheese or sour cream), and it’s tons of fiber. In Weight Watchers terms, I bet this comes out to one or two points a serving. I’m never quite sure what counts as Core, but the only thing that would take it out of that category would be the baked beans or the tomatoes, I think. It’s very healthy. There’s some recipe for one-point Weight Watcher chili that uses turkey, but I think this tasted better. I really can’t wait to make it again.