Iris Clark Neumann: Easy vegetarian chili utilizes common canned goods

Lettuce and other greens are flourishing in the garden.

Full of vegetables, with optional additions of celery and carrots, the pot of vegetarian chili simmers on the stove with corn, tomatoes, green pepper, onions and two different kinds of beans.

Serve up the vegetarian chili with a couple of slices of bread for a complete meal.
By : 
Iris Clark Neumann
Food for the Neighborhood

About a week ago I got out my old dependable, “Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book,” the 1989 version, and found the recipe I've used many times for making chili.

Although I started with a mostly frozen chunk of ground beef, I was pleased with how quickly I had food to eat. But I almost forgot to put in key ingredients, green pepper and garlic. A taste test told me something was missing.

I am still using peppers I cut up and froze last fall in zippered freezer bags and I had some dried garlic that saved the flavor.

But a couple days later, I was challenged to consider making vegetarian chili. Today, between gardening stints, I looked through several cookbooks and found nothing. However, after a Google search, I had several options.

In the end, I realized my basic hamburger chili could be morphed into vegetarian chili by adding a second kind of beans and chopped mushrooms. But, an ingredient that caught my eye was corn. I still have a supply of frozen corn in my freezer from last fall, so adding it to my chili felt right.

I am not sure I should admit this, but that batch of chili from a week ago used up the last of a very large container of chili powder I've had for many years. It was a relief to use it up and probably tonight's chili tasted even better because I was using fresher chili powder.

The warm days have been so welcome to me that I have trouble making myself stay in my house to do any inside chores. I have planted in pots, planters and gardens. Instead of buying new clothes, I have gotten new tomato cages and handy post-less fences for climbing cucumbers.

One thing I don't need more of is pots. Probably I should make myself throw some of them away. I like gardening herbs and some vegetables in pots. Lettuce is really pretty in pots and it's fun to have a few tomato plants growing outside in pots near the kitchen.

Each year I buy many bags of new potting soil, but I also reuse potting soil, but mix in slow release fertilizer to renew it. For some of my really large pots, in which I replant flowers each year, I pull out the dead plants, dig up the soil and mix in the fertilizer, then plant new plants, and top the pot with a little new potting soil, if needed.

I garden in my front yard, my backyard, and at the community garden. I really enjoy the time I spend at the community garden because there are not all the distractions of being at home. I can just focus on digging out weeds and planting. As plants grow, it's fun to stop by to pull weeds, water and harvest.

The background sounds of distant road noises, an occasional train, and sometimes voices, are really relaxing for me. It is my therapy.

It's also great because it's a group project, although many times one never sees another gardener, but can see they have been there planting, weeding, and making the place more tidy. We encourage each other to keep it looking nice by simply doing our part.

At the beginning of gardening season we have a community work day when we share the work in making the gardens ready for another season. One gardener brings his antique tractor, whose bucket is used to distribute new compost to the plots. Someone else may bring his or her tiller. We weed perennial areas and sometimes add new mulch to the walkways between a series of raised beds and regular plots.

Water is provided by the city in two large tanks filled from a nearby fire hydrant.

A few years ago, when I was working two jobs, I had a bit of extra time one day when I came home mid-morning and found myself in the backyard looking around and thinking, this is where I want to be.

That helped me decide to retire from my full-time job at 62, and my part-time job three years later. Some of the things I had helped with at my former job have followed me into retirement, like managing our farmers market.

But, except when the weather is uncooperative like it was last Tuesday evening (a downpour at 6 p.m.), I still enjoy having this seasonal job.

I have the best of worlds, I can be retired, but still follow my passions — growing plants and cooking.

This vegetarian chili can be made with ground beef (browned while cooking the onion), but it comes together even more quickly with a few cans off the shelf and a few items from the fridge. Optional additions could include chopped celery or carrots.

Vegetarian Chili

1 to 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced (or one teaspoon dried)

1 cup chopped green and/or red pepper

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh bella mushrooms

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, with juice (roasted preferred)

1 16-ounce can red kidney beans, with liquid

1 16-ounce can black beans, with liquid

2 cups frozen corn or 1 16-ounce can corn, with liquid

In a large soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon oil, then add chopped onion, minced garlic, and green pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until onion softens. Stir in seasonings — chili powder, cumin, oregano, basil and salt. Add chopped mushrooms and additional oil, if needed. Cook and stir for several minutes. Using a knife, cut through the tomatoes in the can. Add to the cooked mixture and increase heat to gradually bring to boiling. Use a sturdy wooden spoon to mash and incorporate tomatoes as they heat.

Pour in kidney beans and black beans with their liquid and heat together. Simmer for several minutes, then add corn. Continue heating and stirring until corn is cooked, about another 5 minutes.