Vegetarian Chili with Avocado Cream

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Last Saturday, Larry and I came home from a good, long ski at Odana Hills, and warmed up in the kitchen making chili together. Precisely four years ago, we worked side by side in the same kitchen, preparing a meal together during our first date. As we finely chopped celery, onions, and a fennel bulb, Larry remarked that it was the most time intensive chili he’d ever made. It did take time—even the list of ingredients is a bit overwhelming, but if you can devote a couple hours to preparations, the end result is well worth it. And since the recipe serves 10, it’s perfect for a gathering. Or in our case, leftovers aplenty. Four years and countless meals later, there’s still no one I’d rather be working alongside in the kitchen.

Vegetarian Chili with Avocado Cream (from Martha Stewart Living, January/February 2014; serves 10)

3 ancho chiles, rinsed
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons chopped chipotle chiles in adobo
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, finely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
5 stalks celery, finely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 large onions, finely chopped (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 cans (28 ounces each) diced tomatoes
3/4 cup dried brown lentils
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 1/2 cups)
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 ounces) black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
Cilantro leaves, for serving
Avocado Cream, for serving

Boil 3 cups water in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add ancho chiles and toast, turning frequently, until fragrant and darkened, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and cover with boiling water. (Use a small bowl or plate to keep submerged, if necessary.) Let stand until chiles are very soft, at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place cumin seeds in skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Immediately transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and let cool completely. Grind to a fine powder; set aside.

Drain ancho chiles, reserving soaking liquid; remove and discard stems and seeds. Place chiles in mortar and pestle with garlic and chipotle chiles, and pound into a thick paste (or pulse in a food processor). Set aside.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chopped vegetables and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until caramelized and golden brown, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Reduce heat if necessary to prevent blackening.)

Add cumin and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add chile mixture, tomato paste, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, reserved chile-soaking liquid, lentils, and 5 cups water. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

Add sweet potatoes, black beans, and black-eyed peas, stirring to combine. Return to a simmer and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until lentils and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Serve with cilantro and avocado cream.DSC01529

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