Mushrooms, pecans are the secrets to this better tomorrow vegan chili

Justin Warner's Better Tomorrow Vegan Chili (right) uses pecans and mushrooms to mimic the flavor and texture of ground meat. Photo by Addie Broyles.

Justin Warner’s Better Tomorrow Vegan Chili (right) uses pecans and mushrooms to mimic the flavor and texture of ground meat. Photo by Addie Broyles.

In tomorrow’s food section, I’m running a pair of recipes from the #MyHomeTable cooking challenge I’m attempting this month. (Here’s the scoop behind 30 days of cooking at home.)

The first is for that killer cornbread recipe I blogged last week, and the second is for a vegan chili (recipe below) that I made for a food swap.

For better or worse, we’ve been eating a lot of chili this month. One reason — my 5-year-old decided that he finally loves my regular pot of chili made with beef, pork, sweet potatoes, black beans and has been asking for it every day — but I also wanted to try this vegan chili from Justin Warner’s cool new cookbook, “The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them” by Justin Warner (Flatiron Books, $35)

I was interested in the idea that pecans could mimic the mouthfeel of meat, as well as the idea that mushrooms would add what he calls the “forest-floor bass note” we expect from such a hearty dish. I was really impressed with the results. Several coworkers commented that it had too much cinnamon, so you might use less if you’re not a huge fan, but other than that, it’s definitely a dish I’d made again, even for non-vegan friends.

A note about Warner’s book: We’ve seen quite a few science-focused cookbooks this fall, including “The Food Lab” and the second edition of “Cooking for Geeks.” But what I liked about Warner’s was that it was nerdy, but not quite so encyclopedic as the others. Over the course of his career, he’s deconstructed why certain foods work on a very macro level and make the taste receptors in our brain go crazy.

The law of lemonade, for instance, is sour meets sweet, which explains the appeal of pickle-brined Chick-Fil-A chicken and honey mustard sauce. The law of bagel and lox is smoked meat plus acid and fat. Knowing that helps a vinegar sauce-smothered brisket (or a brisket sandwich with no sauce and pickles) make a whole lot more sense.

This vegan chili follows the guacamole law, which is that fresh sources of fats, such as avocados, coconuts, nuts, olives, kidney beans and legumes, can be just as creamy and satisfying as the animal-based ones.

Better Tomorrow Vegan Chili

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
16 oz. button mushrooms, stems removed, wiped clean, and quartered
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
2 jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 cups pecans (about 7 oz.), toasted, very finely chopped
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon or garam masala (optional)
2 (15-oz.) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 cups vegetable stock (or vegetable broth, and cut the salt by half)
1 (15-oz.) can tomato sauce
1 oz. dried mushrooms, pulverized in a blender (optional)
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
Ideas for garnish: Shredded cheese or vegan cheese sauce, sliced scallions, avocado slices, tortilla chips, pickled carrots, sour cream, scrambled eggs

In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil and add the fresh mushrooms. Cook, stirring only once, until browned, about 6 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot. Scrape the bottom of the pot and stir to incorporate. Simmer until the vegetables and nuts are soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate overnight, and reheat before serving. Keep the chili in the fridge for up to four days. Serves 6 to 10.

— From “The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them” by Justin Warner (Flatiron Books, $35)

 

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