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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Beyond Tricks and Treats

Come November 1st, a nationwide tummy ache is pretty much the norm, stomachs still riotous with the undue stress of containing more Halloween candy than is advisable to eat in even two or three sittings. Something about the festivities just gets under the skin, the holiday itself being a grand excuse to go crazy and overdo the sugar. Common sense be damned, it’s the same pattern every year, from young to young at heart feeling the aftereffects of this particularly sweet evening. Awareness of such consequences still does little to dissuade me from indulging perhaps more than is advisable, but it does make me keenly aware of everything else fueling me that day. Without a solid foundation of whole grains and protein beforehand, the inevitable sugar crash would be a very ugly scene indeed.

That doesn’t mean those healthier options must be austere and dull, though! Black and orange to match the “traditional” colors of Halloween, this dish is a touch spicy too, enhanced with a slightly devilish addition of paprika and red pepper flakes. Toothsome wild rice makes it a stellar sort of pilaf, but it can also be an easy, no-muss main dish as well, thanks to the protein-packed black beans.

Even if you do plan on loading up on the sweet stuff, as I do, start the day out right with something a bit healthier first. There’s no need for the candy hangover the following morning!

Halloween Rice

2 Cups Uncooked Wild Rice

3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1 Small Yellow Onion, Chopped
3 Large Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Black Mustard Seeds
1/2 – 1 Small Chili Pepper, Finely Minced, or 1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Teaspoon Hot Paprika
4 Ounces (About 4 Large) Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Mirin
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 Pounds Peeled and Diced Sweet Potatoes (About 3 Cups)
1 14-Ounce Can (1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, or to Taste

The most time-consuming part of this recipe is simply cooking the rice, so it’s best to get that out of the way early. Heat about 2 quarts of water in a medium-sized stock pot, and bring to a boil. Add the wild rice, reduce the heat slightly, and simmer at a brisk bubble for 45 – 60 minutes, until the grains are beginning to split and are tender enough to eat. Now, just like pasta, drain out the excess water, and set side the cooked rice. The rice can be made a day or two in advance, as long as it’s stored in an air-tight container in the fridge.

In the same stock pot (or one larger) melt the coconut oil and coat the bottom of the pot with it before tossing in the chopped onion. Saute over medium heat until softened and translucent; about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until everything is starting to take on an amber hue around the edges. Stir in the mustard seeds, pepper or pepper flakes, paprika, and chopped mushrooms, stirring frequently and cooking for an additional 3 – 5 minutes, until the mushroom has reduced in size and the spices are aromatic.

To prevent burning, quickly add in the stock, mirin, and vinegar, stir well, and follow with the chunks of sweet potato. The liquid won’t completely cover everything, so don’t panic. Turn down the heat to a steady simmer, cover loosely with the lid, and keep stirring the mixture every few minutes, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. This could take anywhere from 20 – 30 minutes, so be patient. The excess liquid should be mostly if not completely evaporated by now.

Mix in the cooked wild rice, cook over low heat for a few minutes to re-warm, and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 8 – 12 as a Side; 4 – 6 as a Main

Printable Recipe

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