Prior to last week, every portion of chilli I have ever eaten, from childhood through my early thirties, has been loaded with a super-sized dollop of sour cream. Enough to make your arteries harden but, as any other sour cream addict will tell you, an essential accompaniment. I don’t need to explain to you the sublime effect of the cool, tangy cream against the spicy chilli, you already know. I like it even better with a generous sprinkling of grated mild cheddar cheese. I don’t know why, but it has to be mild. OK, you can take that judgemental look of your face now.
So as you can understand, reader, it is not the absence of meat that troubled me about devising a vegan chilli for Veganuary, but depriving myself of sour cream. Such was my angst, I even scoured my local health food shops to find a vegan sour cream; and, after no success I considered, and quickly decided against, the idea of using vegan yoghurt in its place. A friend, who has far more knowledge of this than I, told me that I could make sour cream using cashew nuts. Intrigued as I was, I decided against it also on the basis of it being a little too out-there for my ten day-old vegan self to deal with.
So I decided to go without, which affected the way I made the chilli.
Chilli, by definition, should have a decent amount of heat to it. My husband and I frequently argue over what constitutes ‘a decent amount of heat’ because my preferred level is too mild for him; and his sends me running to the fridge, crying and gulping down milk as if my life depended on it. Finding a common ground is difficult, but not entirely unachievable. I would usually make a chilli a little hotter than I can stand, and then tone it down with some sour cream but, unable to do this, it had to be milder. Sorry Ollie.
It’s not all bad news, as taking down the heat a couple of notches allows for smoky and sweet flavours to have their time in the spotlight. The former is always best achieved with smoked paprika and/or chipotle; and the latter in a number of ways, my favourite being the use of sweet potato. The recipe this chilli is based upon, the pinto bean chilli from the River Cottage Veg Everyday book, uses red peppers, alongside courgettes, for the sweetness; but it seems too summery a combination for a cold January day. Sweet potato, as per its name, gives ample sweetness in replacement of the peppers, and the addition of chestnut mushrooms makes a substantial wintery dish.
It still would have been better with a dollop of sour cream.
Winter Vegan Chilli
250g chestnut mushrooms
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp allspice
2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1cm dice
2 tbsp tomato purée
400g tin chopped tomatoes
400g tin borlotti beans, drained
100ml red wine
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander, plus extra for garnish
1 tsp dried oregano
Sea salt and black pepper
Heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook the mushrooms until soft. Drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper and set aside.
Heat a little more oil in a large saucepan set over a medium heat and gently cook the onions until softened, but not coloured; about 10 minutes. Add the chillies, garlic, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and allspice and cook for a minute to coat the onions. Stir in the sweet potato and cooked chestnut mushrooms.
Add the tomato purée, tinned tomatoes, borlotti beans, red wine, coriander, oregano and a little salt and pepper, with 200ml water. Stir, then bring to the boil before turning down the heat to a simmer. Cook for approximately 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the sweet potato is tender. Taste for seasoning and serve with rice and sliced avocado.
Adapted from a recipe from River Cottage Veg Everyday. Serves 4-6.