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January 29, 2007

Brown Rice: The Amiable Starting Point for Vegetarian Chili


Among the foods, perhaps the most amiable is brown rice. 

He’s an unassuming little fellow, not boisterous and always willing to lend a hand. He takes to flavor well, and despite his mild-mannered appearance, he is capable of great feats of strength. In many ways, it is the Gary Cooper of foods – a strong, silent type on whom you can depend. 

It is a good food to have in a pinch, and one that you can call upon to stand in a dish as tied to meat as chili. 

The word chili evokes thoughts of chunked beef turning over in a sauce of hot peppers. Sure, we might add an ingredient here, a spice there, but in our mind chili is all about beef, peppers and bringing the hot. 

There are those among us, however, who don’t eat beef. We can poke them, we can prod them, we can cajole them, but they remain invulnerable to the persuasive nature of meat. 

Think of them what you will, they are our brothers and we must not allow them to starve, or go chili-less through a cold, hard winter. 

Here is where brown rice can serve as an adequate substitute for beef. The texture will be a bit off, but not so much if you typically used meat in ground form. 

The process is not as simple as removing one ingredient and adding another. For starters, the rice must be cooked in a different pot. Add a cup of dried brown rice and two cups of water. Boil, stir, cover and reduce the heat. You will let this stand for about 40 minutes. Perhaps you will be tempted, during this time, to listen to the lid of the pot clatter. It will sing to you, a stainless steel siren. 

Lash yourself to your chair, if necessary. Do not indulge it. The heat is opening up the rice kernel. Opening it will allow the heat to dissipate and interrupt the cooking process. If you have used a good ratio of water to grain, it will be fine. 

The best way is to bury yourself into the other side of the chili – the making of the sauce. Familiar are the steps to us – soften chunks of green pepper and a chopped onion with garlic in a saucepan. Add two quarts of stewed tomatoes, two chopped jalapeno peppers and oregano and cumin.

Here, you might be tempted to add frozen corn. This is appropriate. Corn knows all of the players. It understands them. It will not be in an awkward position, and will fit right in with the family. 

Once stirred, allow to cook down if there is too much water in your pot. The decision of whether you are at this point is one based purely on your own judgment, and whether you like thick chili, or something that more resembles zesty gruel. 

Perhaps there is now the light of realization in your head. We have skipped ground hot pepper. But, you have chopped jalapeno peppers in your sauce. Redundancy when it comes to heat is not necessary, and you could cause bad blood by mixing two peppers representing different places of the Scofield scale (the scale that measures a pepper’s heat). 

Now we consider the question of beans. You look to the sky, with this question on your mind, “Which bean shall we add?” 

Here is your answer. This recipe is for vegetarian black bean chili, so you will want to use black beans. If you were cooking vegetarian pinto bean chili, at this point you would add pinto beans. And, the same could be said of the kidney bean. The question, to all appearances, was a stumper. But, upon closer inspection, the answer is as simple as remembering what you’d set out to cook. 

How to cook the bean is simple. If you haven’t already soaked and cooked two cups of dried beans (either after an overnight soak, or a brief boil and soak lasting an hour or two), you will want to add drained and rinsed black beans from the can. 

The siren song of the brown rice’s pan has since stopped. It is cooked, and still moist and warm. Spoon it into your pan of chili, and then mix it all together. 

You have come to the end point, where you need only allow your chili to bubble for a few minutes while the rice and beans absorb a little of the flavor and heat from the peppers and spices.

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