Don’t Mess with Texas Chili

After 31 years on this earth, I have come to find that all my life, my entire idea of what chili should be is entirely wrong. Not flawed, not slightly askew, like a garbled translation leaning too heavily on artificial intelligence, but terminally, entirely wrong.

True Texans would laugh my chili straight out of the saloon. Defined primarily by what it omits, Texas-style chili would NEVER employ beans of any sort, NO vegetables (what is this, a salad?!) which excludes tomatoes as well. Not even a dab of tomato paste would make the cut.

Rather, this is a celebration of meat. Seasoned with the entire contents of a reasonably stocked spice rack, chilies in many forms are what tint this stew a fiery red. The ferocious, flavorful burn is not for the meek.

I’m not about to mess with Texas, but in this modern era, “meat” is no longer synonymous with beef. That’s why I’m thrilled to dive right into this time-honored tradition with a plant-based version that’s every bit as hearty, bold, and amazingly hot.

No cowboy in their right mind would ever turn down such a feast. Keeping things simple allows for greater flexibility in garnishes, whether you want to dress it up or down, or eat it plain. Pick and mix to your own tastes, but some of my favorite toppings include:

When it comes to creating a sound foundation, there’s no end to your options there, too. No need to keep in in a bowl when you could ladle it over:

Hungry yet? I sure hope so, because chili is best made in big batches. This one makes enough for a small family, but is prime material for freezer fodder, since I’m only a single lady myself. Portion out single servings in secure zip top bags and store flat in the freezer until ready to eat. All you need to do is drop it into a saucepan, add a splash of water, and cook over medium-low heat for an instant homemade meal.

Even if you’re an ardent vegetable lover like me, make some room on your dinner table for an exceptionally, unapologetically meaty entree every now and then. This one will satisfy any savory cravings.

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A Pumpkin In Every Pot

Let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, you recently carved a delightfully ghastly jack-o’-lantern face out of pie crust. I know, it’s quite a reach, but humor me for a moment, will you? Imagine, with those features missing from an otherwise perfectly good, full sheet of pastry, the possibilities for further baking witchcraft.

Pumpkin is still at play here, but under a more savory guise, you see. Humble pot pie pulls on an autumnal cloak in this phantasmic fall affair. Beneath that buttery, golden brown exterior lies a rich stew of tender orange squash, bolstered by an infusion of pumpkin puree throughout. A touch of umami tomato paste and warming spices sets it apart from the standard child’s play.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Such a wildly abstract thought could easily be written off as a dream… Vanishing almost as quickly as the dish itself.

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Budget Crunching and Munching

No longer a fringe movement seen as extreme, veganism has reached mainstream acceptance, if not full understanding. Misconceptions still plague the movement, like the lingering, misplaced concern about getting enough protein, iron, or whatever the trending nutrient is of the moment. Topping the list of these persistent fallacies is that it’s expensive to eat plant-based. Taking a glance at the fancy prepared meals, processed meat alternatives, and gourmet dairy-free cheeses, it’s easy to understand the concern, but it really misses the bigger picture; no healthy, happy herbivore really eats like that.

Busting myths while boosting your bottom line, Vegan on a Budget: 125 Healthy, Wallet-Friendly, Plant-Based Recipes by Nava Atlas goes well beyond the predictable PB + J sandwiches or bland rice and beans. In fact, Ms. Atlas doesn’t just stick to plain recipes, offering indispensable advice for maximizing your grocery dollars via couponing, bulk buying, scratch-made staples, and more.

Speaking from experience, Nava knows her way around the kitchen AND supermarket. I’ve had the great fortune of working with her regularly for the better part of my career, though she got started in the cookbook industry before I could even reach the stove. Author of well over a dozen published works, prolific artist, and loving mother, her diverse passions coalesce into an invaluable resource for anyone seeking a more affordable, flavorful way to eat vegan.

Secretly thrifty, overtly delicious, everything from breakfast to dessert tastes downright luxurious. We’re talking Yellow Curry Rice Noodles better than takeout, for pennies on the dollar. By employing common pantry staples and simple fresh vegetables, this dish comes together faster than you can dial in an order; a huge savings when you consider that time is money, too.

Don’t overlook the humble sandwich, which is much more than a bread-based gut bomb in Nava’s capable hands. Portobello & Seitan Cheesesteak Sandwiches bring an authentic tasty of Philly to the table, no matter where you live. Seven simple ingredients are all it takes to make this meaty, umami meal come to life. Hearty slabs of seitan join forces with tender mushroom slices and crisp bell peppers, smothered by gooey melted cheese in a satisfying handheld package.

One of my personal favorites has been the Barbeque Tempeh Salad, lavished with creamy ranch dressing, ideally. The protein itself is so well-seasoned and flavorful though, it hardly even needs additional embellishment. I made the mistake of only preparing a half-batch when I first photographed the recipe for Ms. Atlas, which I immediately remedied with a double the next day. This is a recipe you’ll want to eat on repeat, too, which is why I’m thrilled to share it after the jump.

Before you run off to the kitchen, tempeh at hand, I have an even more tempting offer for you! To save you the already low price of this cookbook, which will pay for itself after a single meal, I’m thrilled to give away a brand new copy to one lucky reader! To enter, hit the comment section below and tell me about your favorite budget-friendly foods. What are the staples you go to again and again, that have withstood the test of time? Don’t forget to go back and register that in the giveaway widget, along with additional opportunities to win.

The whole concept of Vegan on a Budget is a solid victory across the board; your wallet, stomach, and taste buds will all be glad you cracked open a copy.

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Run Down Runaround

Walking into Philip Gelb‘s underground restaurant, you never know quite what to expect for dinner, no matter how carefully you study the menu in advance. It’s been many months now since I had the luxury of that fully immersive, in-person experience, but there are some moments indelibly imprinted in my memory.

It was a taste unlike any other I had encountered before, being shamefully uneducated on the entire Caribbean culinary canon in general. Leading with heady aromatics, simultaneously fiery hot yet creamy and soothing, it’s both familiar and entirely foreign. Tender vegetables enveloped in a voluptuous broth, almost thick enough to qualify as custard, smoldered quietly in deep earthen bowls. Dissecting the fundamental building blocks, the spices didn’t appear particularly exotic, nothing terribly esoteric; the combination of seemingly discordant elements, mixed with a generous pinch of technique, is where the true magic happens.

Run down stew is a staple of Jamaican cuisine, typically made with seafood, but no two cooks make it quite the same way. Coconut milk is the only constant, utterly irreplaceable component. Long simmered over low heat, the rich broth reduces to concentrate the flavor, thicken to a velvety consistency, and take on a subtly toasted, nutty aroma. Flavor like that doesn’t come out of a can; time and patience are really the most important ingredients here.

The genesis of the name is a bit murky, some attributing it to the way it’s cooked down and some of the more delicate vegetables fall apart. Personally, I’d like to believe that it comes from the ability to revive anyone who’s feeling a bit run down themselves. Forget about watery chicken soup; this stuff can truly soothe the soul.

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Reveling in Rusticity

“Rustic” is one of my least favorite words. Plain and simple, it comes off as a measured euphemism for crude, unpolished, unprofessional, or downright poor quality. Applied to houses, pottery, or cooking, it just strikes the wrong chord, like a polite guest biting their tongue. They really want to tell you that they hate your decorating sense, or they’d rather eat a bale of hay than dig into your latest culinary disaster, but they’re too kind to say that.

It’s not a bad effort at all, they’ll insist. Perfectly rustic!

Nikujaga, literally “meat and potatoes,” is classic yoshoku for the soul. Westernized Japanese food at its finest, it has the unfortunate distinction of fitting that bill as “rustic” to many. Though meant as a term of endearment, I can’t help but hear it as an insult. Sure, it’s a homely stew that would never make headlines or start a viral craze, but there’s a real art to layering in rich flavors using minimal ingredients.

It doesn’t take a master chef to whip up this one-pot meal, but don’t do yourself a disservice by downplaying the deeply satisfying layers of flavors.

Between the salt and fat, protein and starch, it’s a foolproof approach to pure, unadulterated comfort food. Double it for a crowd, halve it if you’re short on ingredients, prepare it in advance, freeze in portions and thaw out as needed; this is a dish that will bend to your will without threatening to break.

It takes real finesse to craft a dish so well-balanced. The last thing I would ever call it is “rustic.”

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Socca Punch

Is there anything that chickpeas can’t do? They’re the Swiss army knife of legumes, seamlessly working their way into dishes sweet and savory, from breakfast to midnight snacks, as the bold feature or silent base. Fresh, dried, or ground, every form of this humble bean opens up new culinary possibilities, each more innovative than the last. Of course, many of the best preparations are those tried-and-true formulas, having withstood the test of time through the hands of countless cooks. Such is the case for socca, alternately known as farinata depending on who you ask, and is the meal-sized enlargement of the crisply fried, well-salted bar snack, panisse.

Essentially a large, thick pancake made with chickpea flour and a touch of olive oil, it could be categorized as peasant fare for its humble ingredients. However, proving that the sum is greater than its parts, the taste is fit for a king (or queen.) Legend has it that the first socca was hastily whipped up in Nice, France, while under siege from invading Turkish forces, these pantry staples were the only sustenance available. Since then, it’s come a long way, especially in this lavish seasonal twist.

“Wholesome decadence” defines my sun-kissed ode to summer, featuring peak produce picks set atop this beguiling chickpea base. No longer the food of strife, but of victory and resilience, this socca still began life as the results of a pantry raid, but could ultimately grace a table set with fine linens, should the occasion arise.

Sweet corn, stripped from the cob in crisp rows, and peaches so explosively juicy they quiver at the mere sight of a knife, tangle together in a tender nest of baby kale. A bite of minced jalapeƱo warms the palate periodically, lending gentle heat without overwhelming the delicate flavors at play. Of course, there must be tomatoes, though I’d admit the assembly might be improved with fleshy heirlooms, rather than more toothsome cherry tomatoes, if you can get them.

Then again, there’s no wrong way to dress a socca, and no bad recipe for using chickpeas. Make it count while harvests are abundant. While the season will be gone in a flash, such a deeply satisfying taste memory will last forever.

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