Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fake Meat: the Best Vegetarian Chili

If you don't want to deal with my long intro, skip down a ways to the recipe for vegetarian chili. But it will be your loss.

After we dropped Maya off at Beloit College in Wisconsin in August 2005, we headed for the Wisconsin Dells. This is a beautiful natural area that in recent decades has become the indoor-outdoor all-season water park capital of North America, and one of the schlockiest resorts anywhere. Think Lake George, only many times more so. We did this in part out of a sense of parental obligation. The time before she left for college (ok, let's say the previous 18 years) were very intensively about Maya. So we thought that at least some of the summer vacation should be about Harry too, and the Dells seemed like a dream come true for a 13-year old.

This is not to say that the Dells do not have their virtues. The water parks are fun and doubly so if you are stuck in the Upper Midwest in January and can splash around indoors. And there is the Hades roller coaster at the Mount Olympus water and theme park. (The theme is sort of Greek as in diner, rather than as in mythology.) But Hades was amazing. It is an old-fashioned wooden coaster and the first, incredibly high and steep drop is into the gaping mouth of hell, after which you find yourself racing and turning around in the dark, under the parking lot -- sheer terror and pure fun. However, this is not the kind of resort you expect to go to for the food, most of which consists of the usual chains and fast food restaurants (not that there is anything wrong with Culver's custard and fried cheese curds, as separate courses, but that is another matter).

However, we did happen on an excellent vegetarian restaurant called The Cheese Factory which was as out of place in this town as a Cossack in a Sukkah. It was right down the road from our resort hotel, the Kalahari (a desert themed water park?), so we tried it . Usually the vegetarian food that we go for is of the ethnic or locavore vegetable variety, but this place is nothing of the sort. It specialized in fake meat : omelets with vegetarian ham and pancakes with soy bacon for breakfast; vegetarian Reuben sandwiches (with seitan pastrami) and things like that for lunch; and tofu strogonoff, textured soy protein meatballs, and seitan chicken parmiggiano for dinner. It seemed to be run by some kind of Christian cult (growing up Jewish in Queens, any form of Christianity other than Catholicism was some sort of cult, but this was on a whole other level). The waitresses dressed "prairie-style" like Nicky and the polygamous sister wives from the compound on Big Love, and they smiled all the time all had names like Patience, Purity and Charity. It all sounds revolting, but the food was good and it converted me into of a devote of fake-meat. At this stage in my gastro-spiritual development, it is very convenient to be able to enjoy soy bacon on a grilled cheese sandwich, "fake-jitas" (fajitas made of soy or wheat gluten beef strips) that you can have with sour cream and cheese, and not to mention vegetarian chili with all the fixings including cheese and sour cream.

The following recipe is very liberally adapted from The Cheese Factory Restaurant Cookbook, on sale at the restaurant. It marks a departure for me in a few ways. It is much less stream of consciousness than my other recipes. As I made it this afternoon (special request of Maya, Andrew, Sarah and Helen), I wrote down the ingredients and what I did with them at every stage. Also, I am presenting this in more conventional style, with the ingredients first and then the procedure. It makes an enormous quantity. I suggest you set aside half without the beans and final seasonings and freeze it. Then add the beans and seasonings to what is left in the pot, which will serve 8-10 in any case. It is the kind of dish that it pays to make in quantity. For those to whom this matters, it is pareve (without the accompaniments of course) so you can use it in lots of interesting ways.

Vegetarian Chili

  • 4 cups Textured Soy Protein (TSP) or Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), about 1 pound
  • 3 cups bullion (2 Telma pareve beef cubes dissolved in 3 cups boiling water)
  • 4 tablespoons oil (I use canola)
  • 3 medium onions, chopped (about 1 quart)
  • 3 carrots, trimmed, peeled and chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
  • 10 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 large green pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
  • 1 large red sweet pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced.
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (about 45 turns of the grinder -- I counted)
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 2 teaspoons "Ceylon" cinnamon (or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon regular -- see note)
  • 2 tablespoons paprika (preferably smoked sweet Spanish pimenton)
  • 1-2 tablespoons ground chipotle pepper
  • 4-6 tablespoons ground Ancho pepper (you can substitute a little ground pasilla or mulato and cut down on the chipotle if you can find them)
  • 2 28 ounce cans crushed or diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen fire roasted)
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 1-2 tablespoons of salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 28 ounce can red beans (I prefer small red beans to kidney beans)
  • 28 ounce can black beans
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons roasted ground cumin (you can probably substitute garam masala here, but I would cut the quantity to 2 teaspoons)

Accompaniments (any or all)
  • sour cream
  • chopped white onion
  • chopped cilantro
  • chopped green chili
  • white or brown rice or elbow macaroni
  • corn bread
  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • hot sauces
  • avocado cubes
  • toasted tortilla strips (take 12 tortillas, cut in half, cut into 1/4 inch ribbons, put on a baking sheet sprayed with vegetable oil spray, spray a little more, and bake in a 300 degree oven for 30 -45 minutes. They should be crisp but not burned. Guard these well until you serve them.)
  1. Put 1 tablespoon oil in a very large non stick skillet. Add the TVP or TSP and toast on medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until it turns several shades darker. I aim for the shade of caramel, you can try to darker but be careful not to burn.
  2. Add the bullion, stir, and set aside until ready.
  3. In a large (5-6 quart) pot, heat the remaining oil, add the onion, salt lightly, and saute on medium until soft but not brown.
  4. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, and peppers. You can prepare these while you are sauteing and add each to the pot when done. Saute until soft.
  5. Add all the spices (coriander through Ancho), and saute a few minutes on low until fragrant being careful not to burn them.
  6. Add the tomatoes, paste, and salt. Stir well and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add the soaked TVP/TSP stir well, and add up to 4 cups additional water.
  8. Simmer for about 1/2 hour stirring occasionally and being careful not to burn it.
  9. Take half of the chili, and set aside to freeze.
  10. Drain the beans, rinse very well, and add to the chili and cook another 15 minutes or more until well heated through.
  11. Add the cocoa and roasted cumin and serve with any accompaniments you would like.

  • The recipe sounds longer and harder than it is. It probably takes a 90 minutes beginning to end, not all of it active, and it is well worth the effort. Besides, you will have lots of dinners in the freezer.
  • Ceylon Cinnamon is true cinnamon and is used in Mexican cooking and available in good spice stores and as canela where Mexican ingredients are sold. What we generally call cinnamon is really cassia, which has a different flavor and should be used much more sparingly.
  • It doesn't matter whether you use Textured Soy Protein or Textured Vegetable Protein, either form of fake meat will do. They are yellowish tan in color and look sort of like a cross between coarse bread crumbs, corn flakes, and some kind of animal feed. Since most ground beef makes no noticeable contribution to the flavor of the dishes in which it is used, and since this is so vigorously seasoned, you can use TSP or TVP in confidence. They are healthier and more economical than ground meat, and pareve. Especially when seasoned with pareve bullion, it adds a meaty texture and flavor missing from bean or vegetable based vegetarian chili. I use Bob's Red Mill brand, which also happens to be heckshered.
  • Because I usually make this in large quantities, and for crowds I tend to make it on the mild side, and people can add chopped chile or hot sauce if they want. I usually use the minimum amount of chile powder in the recipe, but you can use the max or even more if you know who will be eating it.
  • It you tire of chile by itself, try chile dogs, chili veggie burgers, or chili cheese omelets.


  1. You can't call this vegetarian when you use beef stock!

  2. Sorry for the confusion --Telma "pareve" beef bullion is vegetarian. Pareve is a Hebrew term that means neither meat nor dairy, so it may be served with either. Any vegetarian imitation beef bullion would be acceptable.

  3. Nice post, good discussion or vegetarian and non vegetarian.
    Buy Halal Meat Online

  4. Lol, I skipped the extremely long intro, sorry. And woah! there are so many ingredients. I am not much of a cook tbh but the chilli must be bursting with flavor.