When I was in optometry school in Houston, my anatomy professor Jon Watson and his wife Susie won the annual Terlingua Chili cook-off. (http://www.abowlofred.com/) This was a very big deal, and resulted in chili being served at every house party and gathering with intense conversations about what cut of meat (Texans do not put beans in their chili!), how long to cook the meat, how much heat, what other spices, etc. What made the chili so amazing to me was the long cooking process with various flavors added along the way, resulting in a chili that was rich and layered with flavor.
I've made lots of chili over the years, but I had yet to make a vegetarian version that approached the same richness and depth of flavor as chili made with beef. This one comes close. It uses chickpeas instead of the usual kidney beans because they have a meatiness that you don't find in other beans. And I added eggplant to give the unctuous smooth texture and mouthfeel that you get from fat--without adding a lot of fat. (Thank you, Paul Qui of Top Chef for that idea.) And instead of dumping it all together and cooking it, I added the different flavors and spices gradually so that the flavors would enrich each other and meld together.
To cook the chickpeas, I used ChezSuzanne's technique outlined on her blog The Wimpy Vegetarian. (Isn't that a great name?) Here's the link: http://thewimpyvegetarian.com/2011/10/slow-food-cooking-chickpeas/
I added a habanero chili, a halved onion and a large smashed clove of garlic to the cooking water. The chili did give the chickpeas a smoky flavor with just a tiny hint of heat.
This chili, like most, is best if let to sit a while before eating it. I cook the chickpeas ahead of time, then get up early and start the chili in the morning. After resting all day, it's perfect for dinner. There are a lot of ingredients, but once you gather them all together, it goes really quickly.
You may like different spices or different proportions, more or less heat, and that's all fine. The trick here is to layer, let simmer, layer, let simmer, and you'll have a rich bowl of vegetarian chili. No, it won't taste like a beef chili, but it will be really good all the same. —drbabs
4-6 (can be multiplied)
large sweet onions, diced
large cloves garlic, minced
jalapeño peppers, minced
medium eggplant, peeled and diced (discard big clumps of seeds)
cooked chick peas (see headnote)
chili powder (I like Penzey's Chili 3000)
ground ancho chiles
can fire-roasted tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
bottle very dark beer
full-bodied red wine
Dutch process cocoa powder
dark brown sugar
fresh ground black pepper
wedges of lime for serving
sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese for serving if desired
In a large Dutch oven, heat canola oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and jalapeño pepper and a large pinch of kosher salt. Sauté, stirring frequently, until softened. Stir in eggplant, cover, and let eggplant cook with other vegetables for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in 11/2 teaspoon cumin, 1 tablespoon of chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon of ground ancho chiles. Stir in chickpeas, making sure all surfaces are covered with spices. Turn heat to very low, cover pot, and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pour in tomatoes, beer, wine, another teaspoon of cumin, 2 teaspoons of chili powder, a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of coriander, a tablespoon of cocoa powder, a teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/8-1/4 cup dark brown sugar and 1 teaspoon dried oregano. Bring chili to boil, then reduce heat and let simmer uncovered for another 1/2 hour.
Turn heat off and let chili sit until about 1/2 hour before ready to serve. Taste it and adjust the seasoning to your taste. When ready to serve, raise heat gently to boil, then reduce heat and simmer chili for another 10-15 minutes. Taste and add salt, fresh ground black pepper, and other seasoning (more chili powder and /or cumin) to taste.
Serve with a squeeze of lime. (I confess to liking sharp cheddar cheese and sour cream with my chili--it's your choice.) You can pass around some Tabasco sauce for more heat if you like.