It’s November, and most of the world is quickly falling into a holiday frenzy. The chaos has begun and I want no part of it. I want peace, and rest, and quiet. I want to stay home and read books. I want to cook warm, cozy dinners and spend time with people I love. I want to be thankful.
The holiday season is a mixed bag of emotions for me. There is so much I love about this time of year (food, family, traditions, celebration, etc), but it is easy to get lost in the madness of it all – to get stressed out about finances, juggling family, menu planning, gift giving, and all that stuff.
And I’m guilty of it, just as much as anyone else. I’m a perfectionist who thrives on stress and it is so easy to let myself get carried away. So, I’m trying something new this year. I’m finding one new thing to be thankful for every day. Whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I take a minute to remind myself of all the good in my life.
I am happy, I am healthy, I am alive.
I’m married to my best friend and he loves me. A lot.
I have the best family (and a whole bunch of wonderful friends).
I have the best cat and bunny on the planet.
I am blessed.
And today, I’m thankful for chili. (It may sound trite, but it’s true!)
More specifially, I’m thankful for leftover chili. I made a giant pot of this chili earlier in the week, and I’ve had a bowl of it for lunch every day this week. I love having leftovers for lunch! I’m not sure why a post about chili prompted me to be thankful, but somehow I think it’s fitting. There’s nothing glamourous or exciting about a pot of chili. Quite the contrary, chili is the humblest of foods. But, sometimes the simplest foods are the best. Chili is comforting, nostalgic, and perfect for cold November evenings. It might not be pretty, but it sure is delicious.
Growing up, my mom made a classic chili with ground beef, tomato paste, onions, and kidney beans. I think her secret ingredient was tomato soup, but whatever it was, it worked. I love my mom’s chili. However, this is not my mother’s chili. This is more of a cross between a standard chili and a hearty vegetable stew. It has all the makings of a classic chili (ground beef, beans, tomato), but it also has Delicata squash, poblano and red peppers, carrots, celery, and fennel. This chili is rich, hearty, and filling.
I must thank Nadine from the Dundee Dirtbox Farm and CSA for giving me the idea to put all these fantastic vegetables into chili. It had never occured to me that Delicata squash (with their skins left on, no less!) would be delicious in chili. But, Nadine made this chili for a potluck birthday party for my dear friend Mari, and I loved it. I took mental notes about what all she had included in the chili, so that I could re-create it at home. And then I promptly re-created Nadine’s chili at home a few days later (I couldn’t wait, it was that good!).
Really, there’s not much else I can say about this recipe. At the end of the day, this is merely a loose set of guidelines for making a great pot of chili. It isn’t rocket science, it’s just chili. But it’s really good chili. Feel free to get creative with the recipe and add (or subtract) whatever you desire. Heck, use this chili as an excuse to clean out your fridge! It’s that kind of recipe. And it is exactly what I needed this week. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of life, I needed a humble bowl of chili.
And for that, I’m thankful.
Chili with Fall Vegetables
Note: This ingredient list is based on the vegetables I had on hand, but feel free to include whatever you want! I also threw in a handful of cherry tomatoes that I’d frozen, but I didn’t include this on the ingredient list as I wasn’t sure how many people would have bags of frozen cherry tomatoes! Also, you’ll notice this recipe does not use stock or liquid of any sort. The juices from the canned tomatoes & vegetables were enough for my chili, but if you feel yours is too thick you could add a bit of water or stock.
2 lbs lean ground beef
3 cups (canned) whole tomatoes in sauce (or fire-roasted tomatoes)
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 small delicata squash (or 1 medium/large squash)
1 poblano pepper
1 red pepper
2-3 small carrots
2-3 stalks of celery
1 small fennel bulb (or 1/2 of a large bulb)
1 bay leaf
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1.5 Tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 Tablesoon tomato paste
Salt & pepper, to taste
*Optional: This chili is good with a dash of cumin powder, if you happen to have some onhand.
Halve the squash and remove seeds with a spoon. Roughly chop into 1″ squares. Note: If you’re cooking the chili for a long time (1.5 hours or more), you can leave the skin on the Delicata squash (if using any other kind of squash, you must peel it). But, the Delicata skins are thin (and tasty) and can be left on if you’re cooking the chili for a while.
In a large pot or dutch oven, heat a small amount of olive oil. Add in diced onion, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in ground beef and cook with onions until the beef is cooked all the way through (and browned). While the meat is cooking, stir in chili powder, cayenne, and salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, chop all vegetables. Remove seeds from the Poblano and Red Pepper.
Once the meat is browned, add in all canned tomatoes and juices. Cook for 5 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Add in the rest of the vegetables (squash, celery, carrot, fennel, etc) and stir coat with tomato juices. Add in bay leaf and tomato paste.
Cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender, at least an hour. Add in the kidney beans 30 minutes prior to serving (I add them later, as I don’t want them to break down and become mush). Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary before serving.
Garnish with grated cheddar cheese and avocado.