Winter has always been an ideal time for making a big pot of chili. Full of spices and served hot, it's the perfect anecdote to a chilly day. It's also the ultimate dish for a large group, whether you're having a big family dinner or a Super Bowl party.
I used to think chili had to have meat in it to be interesting. I figured the slow roasted beef in my recipe provided the stew's deep and substantial flavors. So I was surprised to find that a vegetarian chili I recently made had its own robust complexity that was just as satisfying. And, unlike meat chili, the vegetarian variety only took an hour to prepare and cost less than $10 to make for a family of four.
Now I do love my meat chili, but because it uses beef chuck, it takes hours to braise, so making it is a bit of an event. Three-bean chili, on the other hand, takes little more time than preparing a standard weekday dinner if you use canned beans. And, if you want something really special you can start your preparations the night before and boil up a batch of dried beans.
Preparing vegetarian chili is a bit like planting a flower garden. You want it colorful and lush without being overbearing. Using a variety of chilies, from fresh to canned, dried and powdered, is the key to achieving something that is smoky and deep with just the right amount of heat. And while some recipes I've seen out there call for a hodgepodge of vegetables, I try to avoid making my chili look like a version of vegetables on parade. Instead I like to partner my beans and the various chilies with other ingredients that will accent their flavors, like beer, coffee, corn and Mexican chocolate. Simmered together everything coalesces into a rich and hearty whole.