BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Take the Chill Off with Chili

When it snows, it blizzards. You’d think the east coast had never seen the powdery white flakes before, based on the panicked reaction that the most recent storm brought bubbling to the surface. Just short of mass hysteria, it’s true, it was not entirely unwarranted. Just the next town over from me, a few miles away at most, streets remained unplowed and impassable for a full week after the sky suddenly dumped three feet of frozen raindrops. Times like these call for a fully stocked pantry and a good instinct for comfort cooking.

Though this cranberry chili, equal parts spicy, tangy, and savory, could very well be the story of this harrowing tale, there’s just one small catch: I wasn’t home. In a fluke that couldn’t have been better timed had I known the forecast four months in advance, I managed to perfectly miss all the commotion while partying it up in Germany. The landing may not have been smooth on the return flight, but there were no delays, no disasters, and no damages for me to deal with. “Lucky” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Thus, my thick and warming stew of hearty beans was not made just for the occasion, but it very well could have been. Considering all of the additional flurries still threatening to darken our days, it’s a recipe that will undoubtedly see more good use before the winter is through.

Cranberries are clearly an odd-ball ingredient here, but suspend disbelief for just a moment and hear me out. Every fall and winter, when bags of the fresh bog berries are on sale, I snap up a handful and toss them in the freezer. Always on hand but rarely called for, they turned out to be the perfect addition to the complex layers of flavor in this classic stew. Adding both their signature tart flavor and incredible thickening powers, they pull the whole dish together, without overwhelming the palate. The combination of both beans and bulgur are sure to satisfy, and with a handful of scallions or vegan cheese to help it all go down, no one will walk away from the table unhappy, no matter the conditions outside.

Cranberry Chili

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion
1 Small Carrot, Finely Diced
2 Stalks Celery, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Ounce Dried Mixed Mushrooms,* Roughly Chopped/Broken, Re-hydrated in Water and Drained
12 Ounces (1 Bag) Fresh Cranberries
1 Fresh Jalapeno Pepper, Finely Diced
3 – 4 Tablespoons Chili Powder
26.5 Ounce Aseptic Box Chopped Tomatoes (or 28 Ounce Can)
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Cup Prepared Salsa**
4 Cups Cooked Cranberry Beans (AKA Roman Beans) or Pinto beans
1/2 Cup Coarse Bulgur
1/2 Cup Water
Salt, to Taste

Optional Topping Suggestions:

Thinly Sliced Scallions
Finely Diced Red Onion
Hot Sauce
Shredded Vegan Cheese
Vegan Sour Cream or Plain Yogurt
Crushed Tortilla Chips

*I used a combination of dried porcini, shiitake, black, and oyster mushrooms, but anything you’ve got will work just fine.

**Use your favorite! Ramp up the heat with a spicier choice or keep it more tame with mild salsa; it’s all good.

In a large stock pot, pour in the oil, swirling to coat the bottom of your vessel, and set over medium heat. Add in your onion, carrot, and celery, sauteing until softened and aromatic; about 5 minutes. Introduce the garlic next and continue cooking until the onions begin to look lightly golden brown. This should take between 7 – 10 more minutes, but you’re better off keeping an eye on it rather than timing it. Add a small pinch of salt if they begin threatening to stick.

Toss in the re-hydrated mushrooms next, along with the cranberries and jalapeno. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and let the cranberries soften a bit. After a few minutes, use the back of your spoon or spatula to crush the berries against the side of the pan, helping to break them down and release their pectin. Give them about 10 minutes, more or less, to get acquainted.

Starting with the lower amount of chili powder, sprinkle it in and stir well, incorporating it thoroughly with the other ingredients. Quickly add in the chopped tomatoes, liquid and all, to prevent those spices from burning. Scrape the bottom of the pan with your stirring utensil to properly deglaze and ensure that nothing is left sticking there. From that point, add in the rest of the ingredients except for the salt, taking care to first work the paste out so that it’s smoothly dissolved into the stew without any large blobs remaining.

Cover, reduce the heat just slightly again to keep it at a low simmer, and the chili gently bubble away for about 30 additional minutes. Stir and check for consistency periodically. Near the end of the cooking time, adjust the amount of chili powder and salt to taste. When it’s properly thick and the bulgur is tender, you’re good to ladle it up and enjoy! Top as desired, or of course, feel free to just eat it straight.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings (And Freezes Well!)

Printable Recipe


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Deconstructed and Reconstructed

Die-hard devotees may cry foul, but I happen to love seeing new renditions of classic dishes. The originals may stand the test of time, and retain their allure despite their newer, trendier counterparts, but times change and food changes with it. For example, falafel is a Middle Eastern staple that almost everyone can claim some sort of fondness for, but no one would want to eat it every day. If the palate fatigue doesn’t get to you, the heavy, greasiness of it all will. Though lusciously rich and filling, those golden fried orbs tend to sit in my stomach like leaden golf balls, encouraging naps soon after rather than resumed productivity- Not exactly the thing to take in for lunch on a work day. After spending one too many afternoons in a falafel-induced daze, I knew that this was one tried-and-true meal in need of some reinvention.

Baked or raw falafel is certainly a worthy consideration, but for days when there’s barely enough time to get dressed and run out the door in the morning, let alone get something into the oven or dehydrator, I have just the alternative.

Still bearing all of the vibrant flavors and key components of your standard fried falafel, my falafel-inspired salad is considerably lighter on the stomach, and easier on an over-scheduled day. No cooking required, just mix and enjoy. Best of all, this assembly is just as tasty warm as it is cold, so it’s perfect packed lunch fodder.  Highly satisfying and re-energizing, I daresay this more modern take on falafel has the edge on the competition… Should you crave that hand-held eating experience, you can even stuff it snugly into a pita, and enjoy it in a more “tradition” fashion!

Deconstructed Falafel Salad

2 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
1 15-Ounce Can Chickpeas
1 Small Leek, Cleaned, Greens Removed and Thinly Sliced
2 Cloves Roasted Garlic, Minced
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
2 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Flax Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
2 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds, Toasted

Additional Options: Chopped cucumber, tomato, or tahini sauce, if desired

Preparation for this one couldn’t be simpler- Just toss everything together in a large bowl until the ingredients are well distributed and evenly coated in spice, and either heat and serve, or cover and stash it in the fridge until chilled. It will last up to 5 days refrigerated, so you can make this at on Monday and enjoy it throughout the work week with ease.

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

Printable Recipe

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