As I was making a ridiculously oversized pot of my favorite chili earlier this week and began planning to share the recipe here, I started thinking about the recipe’s origins and all the memories associated with it.
That may sound like this is some treasured family heirloom recipe, passed down through generations. In fact, the recipe is from Emeril Legasse and his show on the Food Network back when it was in its “celebrity chef-catchphrase” phase. But it made me remember when the network first started and the Saturday afternoons when my mom, sisters, and I would all cram onto our big white couch in our little house and watch a show called, so simply, Taste. Or Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, Sara Moulton, even Bobby Flay and Emeril when they were trying more to actually share recipes and less to entertain. No 40-foot cupcakes, the world’s largest triple-decker-burger, or trying to make a meal out of marshmallow fluff, shrimp, and a toothpick (ok, there was some of the latter—remember Ready, Set, Cook?— but not as much as now).
When I look back, those early shows that simply talked about food we might reasonably eat or try to make were the beginning of my interest in learning how to cook. I loved watching how the ingredients transformed from whole fruits, vegetables, meat, spices, herbs, liquids, into something completely new and delicious-looking. As I’ve said, both of my parents were—and are—great cooks, so it’s not as if I was unfamiliar with the idea, but these shows gave me a glimpse of what was out there, what people in other areas of the country, the world, ate–needless to say, I was hooked.
Anyways, back to the chili. This recipe is fantastic any time, but it’s at its best right now when people can’t give zucchini away fast enough, corn is at its peak, and peppers are popping up left and right. It makes a ton but freezes exceptionally well, and since it’s so healthy otherwise, I don’t feel any guilt at topping it with a good grating of cheese and some plain yogurt.
Serves 8-10. This is one of those rare cases where I will actually support chopping everything before you start cooking, or at least while the oil is heating up, to save yourself the scramble I inevitably go through when I try to chop as I go. If you’re an exceptional planner (I rarely am), you could even chop everything the night before.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small to medium yellow onions, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 to 3 small jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 medium red bell peppers, chopped
1 1/2 pounds portobello mushrooms, stemmed, wiped clean and cubed
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (about 3 ears)
2-3 medium zucchini, stem ends trimmed and cut into medium dice
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup vegetable stock or water
1/2 tablespoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1 teaspoon chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped finely (optional)
Cooked brown rice
Plain yogurt or sour cream
Chopped green onions
Heat your largest soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil until it begins to shimmer on the bottom of the pan. Sauté onions, jalapeno, and garlic until slightly softened. Add chili powder, cumin, salt, and cayenne and stir about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add red peppers and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes until mushrooms begin to give off their liquid. Add corn, zucchini, and chipotle and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans, sauce, and water or stock and bring to a boil, stir in the espresso powder, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Top with your favorite chili fixins’. I’ll sometimes serve this over brown rice or with a side of cornbread, depending on how ambitious I feel.