Life on the Hill doesn’t exactly allow ample opportunity for experimentation with cooking, leading to a routine diet at the dining halls. Over the course of the quarter, columnist Andrew Warner sets out to break the culinary monotony of dorm life, armed with a rice cooker and a few pantry staples.
I have never made the same exact chili more than once.
Not because I haven’t found a recipe that I like, but because there are so many different meat, vegetable and bean combinations out there. It would be a shame to limit myself to just one single chili recipe. Stews are really about cooking with whatever is on hand, not about following a recipe down to a tee.
I decided to make myself vegan chili in my rice cooker because my minifridge was packed with vegetables such as onions, carrots and corn. However, if any meat-eaters find my recipe unpalatable, it’s incredibly simple to “beef” up the dish, so to speak.
First I sauteed all of my vegetables together. I used green bell pepper, onion and corn – the quintessential Southwestern American vegetables to my Californian palate. For people adding meat to their chili, cook it first and then add the vegetables.
While I used fresh onions and bell pepper for my recipe, canned or frozen vegetables are equally viable options as they’re easier to cook and don’t require any knife work. I used canned beans instead of dried ones because dried beans can take up to an hour to cook. I used frozen corn because it cut down on prep times; cutting the kernels off fresh corn on the cob can be messy and dangerous for less experienced chefs.
The problem with chili – and other dishes with complex flavor profiles – is that it requires a range of expensive seasonings and spices that will likely only be used two or three times. So, to get around spending the money on a fully stocked spice rack, student chefs should buy a low-sodium taco seasoning blend. The spices – cumin, paprika, oregano and chile powder – are similar to the spices called for in traditional chili recipes.
Unlike other blends that come in plastic bottles, taco seasoning usually comes in small envelopes, making it particularly economical. I used half an envelope of a generic taco seasoning mix that I found at Target for 69 cents.
While the taco seasoning got the job done, I also decided to add some cayenne pepper for additional heat.
Rice cooker chili is as simple as rice cooker recipes get. I followed the same directions as my chicken noodle soup and sweet potato curry – saute some vegetables and then simmer the vegetables in some liquid. For my chili, I added a combination of tomato puree and vegetable broth to the vegetables as they cooked, which lent the dish a slightly savory tang.
The chili was thicker than any rice cooker dish I’ve prepared before, so I had to stir it frequently to keep it from burning on the bottom. Because kidney beans have a lot of starch, they tend to thicken any broth they’re cooked in, so stir the chili every one or two minutes.
Some of the beans stuck to the bottom, but I managed to scrape most of them up just in time to avoid setting off smoke detectors. If the chili thickens up too much, add a few tablespoons of water to thin it out.
In the end, my rice cooker chili had just the right texture: It wasn’t so thin that it felt like I was eating bean soup, but it also wasn’t so thick that it felt like I was just eating some well-seasoned beans.
The corn and tomato puree added both a subtle sweetness and sharp zest that offset the heat of the cayenne. The beans were so hearty and filling that, had I not cooked the chili myself, I never would have guessed that it was vegan.
The chili was good enough on its own that I didn’t need to serve it with any sides. My friend and I quickly devoured the stew in a matter of less than 10 minutes.
However, if and when I make chili again, I’ll try adding garnishes, such as diced avocado, shredded cheese and fresh cilantro, to enhance the presentation. The garnishes would improve both the flavor and aesthetic.
Chili is the easiest to cook yet most elaborately flavored dish that I’ve whipped up in my rice cooker.
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