Vegetable Chili

I got to thinking about expectations of various foods, and how we can challenge them. What's wrong with having Indian food made with South American ingredients (like Coconut Quinoa), or with a sweet chilled soup (Chilled Beet Bisque), or cold steeping ingredients in wine, and making cocktails of them (Hibiscus Sangria)? I say there's nothing wrong with it, and that it should be encouraged! It's fun to try out new things. It breaks the rules, and gives you a chance to explore and enjoy things you hadn't considered before.

There is a school of thought that says that unless a dish has exactly what goes into it traditionally, you're not allowed to call it that thing anymore. I think that's a closed minded way of looking at the world. I believe that there are interpretations on a theme, and that when you're trying to aim for a particular experience, you can reference the inspiration, so that people have something to relate it to.

At the end of the day, it's all semantics and doesn't matter anyway. I'll continue doing things the way I like to do them, and anyone who doesn't like it doesn't have to do it the same way. They're welcome to their own way, just as I am mine.

All this thinking lead me down the path to making a vegetable chili. You heard me right. No beans, no heavy proteins, but the same spices, the same herbs, and the same flavours that you'd get in a traditional chili, but made completely out of vegetables.

Here's what I came up with.

Collard Greens Chili
3 TB olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped roughly
3 stalks of celery, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 tsp thyme
3 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 TB chopped garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup of white wine, in which you've steeped 3 TB of dried red hibiscus overnight
1 large bunch collard greens, chopped
2 potatoes, diced and roasted for 25 minutes at 350F
1 cup apple juice
2 TB brown rice syrup
1 heaping tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp crushed fennel seed
1 TB cumin powder
1 TB chili powder (optional; if you don't have chili powder, just use a mixture of equal parts cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano, and garlic powder).

In a large pot, combine the onion, celery, bell peppers, thyme, and oregano. Cook over high heat, until all the vegetables are softened. If the pot looks dried out, feel free to splash in a little bit of water, and stir it around. When the vegetables are softened through, add the tomato paste, and stir well. Add the chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes, and stir until you see the tomato paste beginning to stick to the bottom of the pot. This is where you're going to get some extremely delicious flavour.

When the bottom of the pot is sticky with tomato, throw in the white wine, and let the wine come to a boil. If you don't have hibiscus to steep in the white wine, the juice of 1 lime will do the same thing. It won't be quite the same as what I made, but it will still taste good in its own right.

When the wine boils, add the collard greens, roasted potatoes, and apple juice. Stir well to combine. By this point, the chili should be getting very thick. Too thick, in fact, to stir. Add the apple juice brown rice syrup, and cocoa powder, and stir well. If it's still too thick, feel free to add more apple juice as necessary. When everything comes up to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. Let the collards get tender. Turn off the heat, and stir through the cinnamon, fennel, cumin, and chili powder.

Serve piping hot, over brown rice, or with a side of bread. The recipe makes a fairly large batch of chili, so this is a good excuse to call over your friends, and enjoy each other's company along with the lovely food.
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