December 6, 2012 – A few blast from the past photos of the earlier days at Life Cafe that you may enjoy . . . . and then on to the CHILI !
I was missing the old days and feeling the need for the spice and warmth of Life Café’s famous Veggie Chili a few weeks ago. But I was missing three important ingredients: CHILES! Dried Guajillo, Pasilla or Chile Negro or Poblano (the dried form of the Chilaca chile) and Ancho, those dark, rich, flavorful Mexican spices that give heat and depth to the dish.
What was I to do? Go shopping! The local markets offer vast quantities of fruits, vegetables, olives, cheeses and even an incredible assortment of very fine used clothing. I was confident I would be able to find dried chiles.
At the Wednesday Totana Market there is a spice vendor. The aroma of his spices in his bins, which you can smell 10 feet away, is sublime, no comparison to the little glass jars you get in a supermercado (supermarket).
He didn’t have the Mexican chiles. Spanish food is not hot like the summer temps of the country. Rather, it’s mellow and lush, like the population. I had to improvise like I’m known to do in the kitchen. I usually prepare meals from the ingredients I have on hand. Anyone can do this, if you don’t mind cooking Bohemian! I’m still formulating precisely what that means, just for fun. But basically, it means make do with what you have, grow it if you can and keep it simple using fresh, seasonal ingredients, the basis of much of Spanish cooking.
For the “made in Spain” chili recipe, I used locally grown dried nora and what all the market vendors called pimento chiles. As far as I can tell, these are dried red peppers and taste sweet. Because they’re not hot, I added a couple of tiny dried hot cayenne peppers from my pepper plant in my windowsill herb garden to give my chili some heat. In the end I was lucky to find mirasol chiles. I read that they are known as Guajillo in their dried form, which are one of the main chiles used in traditional mole sauces. I also added about five sun dried tomatoes to this chili paste to give it more intensity, seeing as I didn’t have Hector’s blend at hand.
Below is a version of the actual Life Café Veggie Chili Recipe that I revamped last year with the help of Hector, the head cook at Life Café Bushwick.
I told Hector I wanted a chili that was less tomato-based and built more around beans, legumes and veggies. Hector enhanced the chili spice component wonderfully with his blend of spices in the chile paste. It’s rich, flavorful and warming.
My favorite way to eat Life Chili is for breakfast with a poached egg, short grain organic brown rice and a sprinkle of sharp cheese. It satisfies my craving for Life’s Breakfast Burrito. What a great way to start your day! For me, it’s also an antidote to missing Life Café!
This recipe makes about 5 quarts, or around 10 hearty bowls. It keeps well in the fridge for several days, and it gets better over time. If you don’t think you can use it up within a week, freeze it in 8 to 16 ounce portions in freezer bags to thaw and use whenever you need it – for a Life Chili Omelet, chili topped with melted cheese as a dip for crispy tortilla chips or in a bowl over brown rice topped with melted cheddar and jack cheeses, the Life Chili Deluxe. At Life Café, we used Life’s Veggie Chili as an ingredient in many of our classic dishes, including quesadillas and in the early days, stuffed potato skins topped with melted cheese. Yumm.
What Life Café Veggie Chili-enhanced dish can you astonish your friends with??
Note: you can get even more creative. Just make the chili paste and use it for other chile-based recipes, like enchilada sauce, or a sauce for Chicken with Red Chile Sauce and Sausage (Pollo con Salsa Rojo y Chorizo). I can’t wait to try it myself, only I’m going to use turkey chorizo.
LIFE’S FAMOUS VEGGIE CHILI
Make about 5 quarts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup Spanish onion, diced
4 cloves chopped fresh garlic, minced
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
3 cups chile paste (recipe below)
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup celery, sliced
1-14 oz can black beans
1-14 oz can cooked pinto beans
1-14 oz can cooked kidney beans
1-14 oz can cooked lima beans
1-14 oz can cooked chickpeas
1-14 oz can cooked lentils
1 cup frozen corn
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican if you can find it)
1/2 zucchini, diced
1/2 yellow squash, diced
1 cup textured vegetable protein (TVP)
2 cups vegetable stock or water
Sauté the onions, garlic, peppers, carrots and celery in oil for 5 minutes until the onions turn translucent. Add chile paste and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans. Bring to a boil. After 10 minutes add the corn, cumin and oregano. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add zucchini, squash, TVP and vegetable stock. Cook for another 30-35 minutes on low heat. As the TVP absorbs the liquid it will soften and expand.
2 garlic cloves
1 medium Spanish onion
5 whole dried Guajillo chiles
2 whole dried Pasilla chiles
1 whole dried Ancho chiles
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon white vinegar
2 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican if you can find it
2-1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Boil all ingredients for 3 minutes or until the chiles are soft in 3 cups water. Cool and blend in small portions in a blender until smooth.
Makes about 3 cups