It’s Chili Outside

Vegetarian chili, aside from being the perfect meal for a cold winter day, is also one of my favorites because it happens magically when I’m nowhere near the kitchen.

Yesterday evening I was on the floor of the writing room, re-arranging paragraphs of my latest essay that I’d cut into irregular blocks, when I smelled garlic and onions cooking. The aroma had to snake out of the kitchen through the dining room and out into the writing room, which used to be a porch and on days like today, which dip down far below zero, it kind of feels like more of a porch than a room.

I don’t mean to complain. Annie Dillard likes to write in an unheated shed with no windows. Daytime I’ve got a 270 degree panorama of our yard, coated in over a foot of sparkly snow which makes the abandoned picnic table look a little like an igloo, and the 58 degree weather in here seem cozy, even if I’ve got on a fleece jacket and socks, a fleece blanket, and the space heater going at 100%. (Now, at night I get myself reflected back at me, scraggle-haired and draped like Yoda.)

Next I could hear a procession of cans opening. Cans of various beans, cans of tomatoes, a can of chipotle peppers. Or I imagine it, since we have only a manual can-opener that really doesn’t make enough noise to carry out here.

What, you might ask, is the difference between opening a can of pre-made chili versus constructing chili out of canned ingredients? Here I might remind you of the aforementioned garlic and onions and the yet-to-be-mentioned carrots and red peppers. But there’s something else qualitatively different in Wayne’s (that’d be my husband’s) chili other than added fresh veggies and his own blend of spices.

First of all, there’s no texturized vegetable protein in Wayne’s chili. In a pinch, I’ll eat canned chili with its inevitable tvp, but let’s face it, tvp is only in there because sad vegetarians, rather than embrace the beans and veg, want their chili to resemble meat chili—or at least that’s what the folks making the stuff believe.

Personally, I don’t believe in fake meat. And I’ve always thought meat chili was redundant anyway. Protein and protein. It’s not like ribs which are completely meat-dependent so that if you’re going to (foolishly) attempt to make a vegetarian version you’ve got to go into the chemistry lab and come up with something terrifyingly fake. No. Beans, veg, sauce, and seasonings will do quite nicely for chili, thank you!

Secondly…and do I need another reason? If so it’s the taste. Smokey and spicy and tomatoey. And texture (see additions of fresh veg, above). Factory-made chili comes out homogenized as the process that created it so that if you close your eyes and hold your nose you could be eating any vegetarian dish from a can.

And then there’s the smell of chili simmering and simmering in the late afternoon which can lure me out of the writing room for dinner even when I feel like maybe if I just reorder or rework the ending one more time—that is, for the next four hours—I will have finally written the essay that will put me on the literary map. Right next to the Nunavut Territory. Which is probably warmer than it is outside here right now.

So, come dinnertime, I leave the writing room to scoop Wayne’s chili on top of quinoa (why would anyone eat any other kind of grain, I ask you?) and top it with grated smoked cheddar cheese and what you’ve got there, folks, is a big bowl of happy.

Wayne’s Veggie Chili

  • 1-2 TBS cooking oil
  • 1 huge red onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4-5 carrots sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 red peppers, coarsely diced
  • two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes (Wayne likes Muir Glen Organic, Fire Roasted)
  • one 14-ounce can each: black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans—rinsed
  • 4 chipotle chili peppers, chopped (half of 7 oz can)
  • 2 tsp-1 TBS cumin

In your big chili pot, heat the oil on medium. Sauté the onions with salt and pepper until they start to go soft. Then add the garlic until your kitchen is pleasantly garlicky. Toss in the carrots and cook just until they’re no longer crunchy and then slide in the red peppers and give them a brief sauté.

Next come the cans. Empty the tomatoes, beans and chipotles into your pot with the cumin and simmer the whole shebang for about 2 hours on low heat.


  1. Finally tried this while waiting out Irene – I have a new favorite! Brought it to a food day at work today & half of my dept. was asking for the recipe…it’s a hit!

  2. So glad to hear it! Share the veggie chili love 🙂

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