Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Nothing says winter like a big, hearty bowl of chili. And since winter has wrapped it icy tenticles firmly about me, it's time to take the chili challenge. Now I know what you're thinking: a gurgling pot of beef, beans, and spices, perhaps topped with a dollop of sour cream and some shredded cheese. Delicious, yes. Warming, yes. Stodgy, yes. Raw? Most emphatically no.

But as my friend and fellow gastronome Leena of Leena Eats has proven with her chili cookoff, there is more than one way to cook a chili. According to Leena, a chili must contain chili peppers, liquid, veggies or meat, and may or may not contain beans. Her cookoff featured traditional three bean chili, Asian style super-hot chili, Aussie-fied chili (kangaroo, golden syrup and vegemite, anyone?), chocolate chili and white chicken chili, to name a few. The one thing all of these diverse chilis have in common, aside from the presence of spice? They are all cooked.

Leena's many chilis inspired me to take the chili challenge myself: a personal chili un-cookoff. I wanted to create a base that had the substantial texture of meat, and would also absorb the spices and flavors of the sauce. So I went with a one-two punch of eggplant and mushrooms - the "meats" of the veggie world. The key is to soften the base vegetables by marinating for several hours. A hit of fresh corn adds color and texture contrast, and sundried tomatoes provide a rich flavor for the spicy sauce.

All raw, all veggies, all satisfying. Truly a chili to warm my raw soul.

Winter Chili
1 eggplant, cut into 1cm (1/4 inch) dice
5 swiss brown mushrooms, cut into 1cm (1/4 inch) dice
1 ear sweetcorn, cut off of cob
5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 cloves garlic minced
1/4 red onion, minced
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 tsp Himalayan salt
1 cup sundried tomatoes, soaked in water to cover
6 cherry tomatoes, or one regular tomato, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp fresh oregano, or 1/2 tsp dried

In a large container with a lid, mix the diced eggplant, mushrooms, sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes, garlic and onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Pour over diced vegetables and toss to coat.

Let the vegetables marinate at room temperature for at least 6 hours (longer is okay).

Just before serving, combine the sundried tomatoes, half of the soaking liquid, the cherry tomatoes or chopped tomato, olive oil, garlic and spices in a food processor. Process until you achieve a thick sauce, adding more soaking liquid if necessary.

Toss the sauce with the marinated vegetables and serve.

*For really deep, dazzling flavor, make the chili the day before and let all the flavors mingle. You could then gently warm it in a pot, being careful not to let the temperature exceed 45/115.

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