Thai-Peanut and Black Bean Chili

I went to college in a minuscule town in Western Maine.  While school was in session it felt like there was a town of about 15k when school was not in session there were about 3000 people in the town.  My school was wonderful with small classes and professors who knew your first name it was the place you wanted to go after going to high school in an even smaller town, a stepping stone toward more.  But it was the town I was most enchanted with.  There was a cafe where I worked for a brief period, there were the brick structures of campus covered in English Ivy, there was the river I rode a giant blowup dinosaur named Lottie down one summer day - meandering slowly on it’s way somewhere I never went (Mexico, ME maybe?), and there was Soup For You.

In my senior year of college I took most of my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, in class until 4:15 or so on Thursday and then later that evening from 6-9.  So in that little interim period from 4-6 I always walked downtown to Soup For You, ordered one of the daily soups (there are always 6 – 3 vegetarian options and 3 omnivorous options) and a coffee and sat in a booth and read, or chatted with friends there.  It was one of my favorite semesters, and I always hoped for this soup to be on the menu, especially on warm spring days.

Maybe I loved Soup For You because it was charming - with hand painted tiles and quirky-ness everywhere, or because they knew that I loathed soup-spoons so always gave me one of the miniature ones they held behind the counter for little kids, but I think the biggest reason I loved it is that it was introduced to me by a community.  That community was full of some of the strongest women I’ve ever met, and I am still close with several of them now.  They were my coworkers in the Women’s and Gender Studies Center, a work study job that is by far the best job I’ve ever had.  We held potlucks together, went to lunch, stayed well past or scheduled times just to hang out, published a literary journal called Ripple that focused on women in writing, we wrote poetry and we read.  I associate this soup with those girls. 

My first day in the Women’s and Gender Studies Center saw me, terrified (as usual) meeting everyone and trooping around the grand (read 2 or 3 streets) downtown of our little college town when one of the girls piped up that there was Thai Peanut and Black Bean Chili and Soup for You and they probably still had Corn Muffins.  So we stopped.  We all ordered the same thing 8oz of the chili and a corn muffin, then we sat down.  The warm spring sunshine on our backs and excited about our upcoming events and the new issue of Ripple.  So this soup is camaraderie for me, it’s comfort somewhere new, and it’s friends and mentors.  It’s my history.  It’s also a Soup for You specialty and totally made the internet fail me.  So this is as close an approximation as I can get.  Eat it with friends and a corn muffin.

Soup For You inspired Thai-Peanut and Black Bean Chili
Note: I love this soup and would eat it every day if I could.  It’s also quite close to Soup For You’s version, which is so exciting to me, since I can’t find anything half as good in Boston.

Olive oil
1 Medium white onion, finely diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs Ginger Juice, or 2Tbs fresh grated ginger (I LOVE GINGER, you may not so go lighter on this if it’s not your flavor)
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
2-3 medium carrots, sliced thinly into coins
1 can full fat coconut milk
zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 lemon
2 cans of black beans, 1 drained and 1 with liquid
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (use more, less, or none depending on the heat you like)
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup dry roasted unsalted peanuts
handful of cilantro (optional)

In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, red pepper, carrot, and if you are using fresh ginger add that too and allow them to soften, stirring occasionally - this should take about 5 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and the zests and stir to combine.  Make sure you get everything in the pot evenly distributed throughout the coconut milk and allow the whole pot to come to a gentle simmer.  Add the black beans and red pepper flakes then allow the pot to come back up to a simmer, allow it to simmer like this for 10-15 mins.  Add the peanut butter and allow the chili to come to another simmer.  If you think your chili is a little thin you can add more peanut butter, but that is up to you, regardless stir the peanut butter in well – it s the star flavor here.  Add the dry roasted peanuts and let them cook for 10 minutes or so – you want them to be warm but still have crunch.  Serve the chili with a corn muffin on the side and a sprinkling of cilantro on top.  Don’t ever look back.  Its vegan and delicious.  Win.

Simple Lentil Chili

I’ve been posting a lot of heavy recipes recently: breads (like this one and this one), cream soups (like this one), and cookies.  And I know that it doesn’t make those New Year’s Resolutions that everyone is still trying to hold onto any easier, especially now that their shininess has worn off (my New Year’s resolution is to blog more, so far I have maintained my average of one post per week. Resolution fail).  But this recipe should help to get you back on the “healthy eating” bandwagon with its lack of added fat, and if you make it with vegetarian stock, it’s vegan!

I like cold weather because it leaves me with an urge for soups, stews, and chili (so. much. chili.)  which is great, BF loves all of these things – for the most part they fill us up quite well and are inexpensive, not to mention perfect snuggle-up eats.  Winter in New England always makes me wonder what it would be like to be a hermit permanantly; cozying up to my stove for the better part of the day and whiling away my evenings watching tv/playing video games with BF.  Wouldn’t that be the life?  Instead, I work a day job and have to fight icy sidewalks when I walk to and from work every day hoping that today isn’t going to be the day I have to walk to work in a blizzard (which has happened twice so far this winter).  This chili is an ode to staying warm after walking in a snowstorm to get in the door and collapse relieved on the floor in a puddle of snow boots and wet coats.  This is the reason I am excited to go home and eat.

There aren’t any pictures for this post (not from lack of trying mind you).  I’ve made this chili twice in the past two weeks and each time have been so excited about eating it I forgot to take pictures.  So there you go.  It’s kind of unpretty colors anyway, so no loss!  But it’s delicious, hearty and warming without any of that eating-lots-of-butter guilt; also it’s lentils so it’s filling and fast!

Simple Lentil Chili
Adapted (pretty heavily) from the Whole Foods website
Note: The WF version of this soup is vegetarian and wonderfully healthy, but I thought it was pretty bland so I added a bunch of extra spices (see below).  Also, if your stock is not homemade it may be pretty salty already so taste your chili before adding salt.

1 bag brown lentils (the dried ones that are in abundance at the supermarket)
1 onion, chopped medium-fine
1 sweet red pepper, chopped medium fine
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced (more if you like things garlic-y)
2 cans of diced tomatoes (I really like the fire-roasted ones!)
8 cups of broth or stock (I used chicken because I had it on hand, but whatever you have will work well)
2-3 Tbs Chili powder, to taste
1-2 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp worcestershire sauce (optional)
1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste or soy sauce (trust me)

Bring 1 cup of stock or broth to a boil over medium-high heat and add the onions and garlic.  Cook them in the broth until the onions are translucent; about 3 minutes.  Add the red pepper and cook it until tender, another minute or so.  Add the cans of tomatoes, the rest of the broth, and the spices (chili powder, cumin, and worcestershire sauce) and bring the whole pot to a low boil (another 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally so the vegetables don’t stick.  Once your broth has reached a steady boil, add the lentils, stir to incorporate, and cover the pot.  Turn the heat down to medium low or low and simmer the whole thing, stirring about three times until the lentils are tender and plumped up (20-25 mins).  Try the chili now; if it needs some salt add a couple dashes of soy sauce or 1/4 tsp of salt.  If you need salt allow the soup to simmer for another 5-10 mins for the flavors to merge.  If you didn’t add salt take the chili off the heat.  Serve this chili topped with great gobs of sour cream, a sprinkling of chopped cilantro (if you like it), and some grated cheddar cheese.  It is happy in a bowl.  Real life.  Also, this dish is marvelously low-fat; well, that is, if you use low fat sour cream and cheese (though I never get low fat anything!).