Magnificent Meat-free Chilli

Yes folks, when the health powers-that-be tell you that you need to eat at least five, preferably ten portions of fruit and veg a day, they mean you should work your way through up to 800g of the stuff in said 24-hours — 10 portions of around 80g each. Here’s what is reported on the NHS web-site, referring to an article from the Guardian: “A major review found people who regularly ate 800g of fruit and veg a day had a significantly lower risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease”. For those who aren’t keen on the idea of consuming such a vast quantity, the blow is softened by stating that even an extra 200g a day contributes to a lower chance of suffering heart disease, strokes, cancer and death in general.

Luckily I love ‘the stuff’ so am happy to rise to the challenge of eating as much as I can. One recipe I have developed is for a chilli (note the lack of con carne — chilli con carne translates as ‘chilli with meat’ and mine does not contain meat — you can add it in if you wish). Let’s go for at least 400g (five portions) per person…

When producing a dish that is often, typically made with meat, I try not to fall into the trap of using a meat substitute — but you can if you wish by adding fake mince or cooked lentils. Meat eaters (of which I am occasionally one) will soon suss this out and immediately comparisons will be made with ‘the real thing’. Meat has a very distinctive taste and texture that most substitutes fail to match so such comparisons will usually be unfavourable — at least when presented by carnivores. For my chilli I aim instead for a really good chunky and crunchy vegetable texture with chunk from sweet potato or butternut squash and crunch from red onion, carrot, peppers and celery.

This is the end result we’re aiming for…

Here’s what we’re aiming for.

The following will be plenty for two people — double up to serve four or five.

Prepare a fistful of long-grain rice per person by soaking it in water before you start cooking and make 150ml of your favourite stock. A fistful will measure out around 100ml in a measuring jug and you really don’t need any more — honest…

Pour a couple of table spoons’ of your favourite frying-oil into a big frying pan and set it on a medium heat.

So we start with a medium-sized, sweet-potato — if you want to check that it weighs in at 160g you can. Alternatively, a couple of 3cm-thick slices from the bottom segment of a butternut squash will work just as well. Peel and cut the potato into 3cm slices and then cut each slice into chunks. Get this frying gently straightaway.

Top and tail, then peel two small to medium red onions (about 160g); cut them in half from top to bottom; slice each half into six large chunks and add to the pan, stirring gently so as not to break up the onion chucnks too much.

Then take a couple of garlic cloves and peel and slice them.

A fistful of rice can be checked to see it occupies 100ml of the measuring jugDice the sweet potato into 3cm chunksI can’t be bothered to chop garlic finely or to wash up a crusher so I just peel and slice — looks nicer too??

From left: a fistful of rice occupies about 100ml in the measuring jug; slice, slice and slice again to get 3cm chunks of sweet potato; I can’t be bothered to finely chop garlic or to wash up a crusher so I peel and slice — looks nicer too???

By definition, this dish requires one or more chillies. I use the red jalapeno ones but, being a bit of a wimp when it comes to hot food, only include one chilli, in this dish — slice off the stalk and remove the seeds, before slicing — if you prefer more heat, use more chillies or leave the seeds in.

Put the garlic and chilli in and fry for a minute or so, meanwhile grind a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds and stir them in to the pan, along with one teaspoon of smoked paprika and a teaspoon of oregano.

At this point you should probably turn the heat to low and stir frequently as the mix will be quite dry — add a little water if you like, to prevent it sticking.

Next, clean and slice some sticks of celery (two large or three small will give you your 160g) then peel and grate two small carrots. Add them to the pan and stir fry for a couple of minutes — we don’t want to overcook these to the point that they lose their crunch but we don’t want them raw either.

Note — if you’re not so keen on incorporating so much carrot and celery, omit one of them or use half the amount of each and substitute a red or yellow pepper — I recently used a green pepper, left-over in the fridge. If you have any olives that need using up, stir them in too.

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At this stage you can add a little tangy sweetness by stirring in a teaspoon of mango chutney or sweet chilli sauce. Alternatively, add some sweetness using a couple of squares of fair-trade dark chocolate or provide a slightly meatier taste with a teaspoon of marmite.

Finally, pour in half to one can of chopped tomatoes (to taste) and a can of kidney beans. Stir well and cook for a little longer until the sweet potato is tender. Serve with my garlic and bay rice (below) or your preferred choice of rice or bread. Add a blob of sour cream on top for a creamy, cooling garnish.

Image for postImage for postThis is the end result we’re aiming for…

Congratulations — if you’ve made this dish you’ve hit your portions of sweet potato, onion, carrot and/or celery or red pepper, tomatoes and kidney beans — that’s at least 400g and five portions (yes!), possibly seven (wow!), plus bonus bits of garlic, ginger and oregano (glorious!). Just make sure you eat enough of a helping — 400g would be like a baked-bean tin full — a couple of large serving-spoons’ worth.

Garlic and bay rice

So, with all the taste you need coming from the flavours in your chilli sauce, a light, aromatic rice will complement those flavours and provide your serving of carbohydrate (which means you can count the sweet potato as a veg portion — yay!)

Use a sieve to drain your soaked rice and gently rinse under the cold tap to lose some of the starch.

Put a knob of butter or little splosh of oil into a small pan — ideally with a tight-fitting lid available — on a medium heat. Meanwhile peel and sliceone garlic clove, then put it in the pan with a bayleaf or two.

Stir-fry for a couple of minutes and then stir in the drained rice — cooking for a minute before pouring in the stock. Bring to the boil and immediately put the lid on and turn the heat down as low as it will go. Simmer the rice, without lifting the lid for about five minutes before turning off the heat — leave for another five minutes until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is light and fluffy at which point you should remove the bay leaves, stir once and serve.