Well, okay: not all about chilli.
I first made a pot of chilli about four years ago. Curries I was used to, but the theory and practice of chilli had passed me by. But, here, for what it’s worth, is all I know about making a big pot of hot, comforting, wonderful vegetarian chilli.
You need: beans, tomatoes, chillies. You will want, when the chilli is ready to eat, at least one of the following accompaniments: grated cheese, sour cream or thick plain yoghurt, guacamole, salsa, bread or tortillas or rice.
You can make very good use of: vegetable stock, garlic, paprika, tabasco sauce.
You may find goes well: smoked tofu, nuts, mushrooms, soy sauce, beer, wine.
Lots of beans. Red kidney beans are the chilli standby, but I now like to make chilli with half a cup each of as many different beans as I have in the kitchen, four or five. Quantities given hereafter should be assumed to be for a chilli made with 2.5 cups of mixed beans. To process the beans: put them in a large bowl, cover them to twice their depth with boiling water, and leave to soak for at least two hours (but not more than 24). Drain off the water; the beans should be swollen and soft enough for you to be able to break them between your fingers. If you have a slow cooker/crockpot, you can just use the soaked beans: if you don’t, tip the beans into a big pan, bring to the boil, boil for ten minutes, and then begin the chilli with the beans. Yes, you can use tinned ready-cooked beans, but where’s the fun in that? Anyway, dried beans are cheaper.
Tomatoes. Tinned tomatoes (pick a good quality brand). Unless you have access to lots of fresh tomatoes, this is probably the simplest easiest most reasonable way of getting lots of tomato in your chilli. Figure two standard-sized tins. You may also add: chopped fresh tomatoes, hacked up sundried tomatoes, large quantities of tomato paste, and even a tin of baked beans in tomato sauce (I did that once, and never confessed till now). I use 2 tins of tomatoes, pulped, a couple of fresh tomatoes, a small handful of sundried tomatoes, and at least half a tube of tomato paste. Also a cube of tomato vegetable stock, if I have it. If I’m close to the end of a bottle of tomato ketchup (not Heinz) I might use the last of it in the chilli.
Chillies. Smoked chipotles are great. So are fresh chillis. Recipes often advise removing the seeds as the hottest part of the chilli. Up to you. Personally, I like them. Red chilli peppers are hotter than green, if you didn’t know. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make the pot of chilli so hot you cannot eat it without the addition of cooling accompaniments. This takes practice. Aim at making it almost too hot and heating it up by adding tabasco sauce to taste. I use 3 dried chipotles (smoked chillis) and 3 large fresh chillis and crumble a few dried birds-eye chillis into the pot. I also like a large spoonful of smoked paprika – it’s quite mild, but it adds richness to the flavour.
Mix the drained soaked beans, tomatoes, and chilli together. Now’s the time to add a few cloves of garlic, and some chopped mushrooms or whole walnuts or cashews if you want to. Plus at least one vegetable stock cube – tomato-based if you have it. You can also add 250 grammes of chopped smoked tofu, if you like tofu.
You need to add more liquid to the mixture to cook it, because the beans will partly cook in the chilli, absorbing more flavour. I find the most convenient measure is one of the empty tins of tomatoes: at least one tin of liquid, maybe two (you really only need one if cooking it in a slow-cooker: less liquid evaporates). You can just add water, but if you want to add red wine or dark beer (not both!) go for half wine and water. Guinness is really good in chilli. Or you could just use plain water and maybe add a spoonful of soy sauce.
Then you cook the chilli till the beans are soft and tender. In a slow cooker, this can take all day, but who cares? You put the chilli together, go out to work on a cold miserable winter (spring, summer, autumn) day, and come home to the smell of glorious chilli percolating through the house. (It will take at least an hour to simmer to doneness if you don’t have a slow-cooker, but large portions can be frozen and thawed to eat other days.)
Taste-test for heat: you want it so hot the burn from the chilli will be intolerable unless you are eating each mouthful with guacamole, or cold salsa, or grated cheese, or sour cream, or thick yoghurt, or a piece of bread, or some rice… And do remember: drinking water doesn’t help, it just spreads the burn.