Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Easy Meal for Everyone: Vegetarian Chili with 4

A vacation offers so many great moments with little guys. My youngest son, at 10 months is starting to say, "nana" for food (which means he says it A LOT) and "mama" when he sees me. My older son made the leap to a "big boy bed" and in addition to a great trip to the Children's Museum, we took a snow walk, cooked real bagels (from Smitten Kitchen) and had many playdates.

However, I hit my cooking and cleaning limit. With much ambivalence I had been cooking multiple dishes at each meal (FoodieDaddy doesn't like hot and spicy food, Raphael can't eat eggs or nuts and David can't eat dairy or eggs). Raphael has been a little guy for a variety of reasons since he was born, and in an effort to help him to grow, I was catering to his desire for a frequent meal of chicken nuggets more than I like to admit. But after a week of this, I decided that it was time to draw the line-for his sake and mine.

And the reality is that I think my expectations for him have been too low. With guidance from Ellyn Satter's This Child of Mine, our daycare provider and a good friend, I compromised: I will make what he wants for breakfast (99% of the time that is cinnamon raisin toast with cream cheese) and lunch (the nuggets), but I would make one dinner a night. And though I would make sure that he liked at least one element of the meal (e.g rice, noodles, bread, potatoes), the hope would be that he would be more willing to eat what the adults were eating if that was the main choice. Knowing how much and how well he now eats the rest of the day alleviated my concern for his nutrition, while the stress reduction from not cooking 3 meals at dinner would help all of us.

So, the first meal was a total success. Having recently returned from Penzey's Spices in Arlington I had a nice amount of their chili powder. I started by sauteing one onion on medium heat for about 7 to 8 minutes until lightly brown. (The trick is to resist the temptation to frequently stir. Letting the onions sit helps them to brown and get more flavor.) So, into the slow cooker, I put the onions and a pound of pigeon peas (I could have used white cannellini, black or kidney beans) that I had soaked and cooked in the slow cooker the day before (canned beans would work just as well, though they can be a bit mushy). Finally, I put in 2 14 ounce cans of Muir Glen Fire-Roasted chopped tomatoes and about 1 tablespoon of chili powder. I turned the slow cooker to low and cooked it for about 6 to 7 hours.

At dinner, I served the chili with mozzarella and Cheddar and some warmed tortillas. David is a huge fan of beans and loved it, as did Foodie Daddy. And Raphael ate it all up, mostly by wrapping the beans in the tortillas and calling it a "Bearito". I added some ground ancho chili powder from Penzey's for some extra flavor and kick. Overall it was easy, inexpensive, healthy and fed us all for a few days.


  1. I'd love to use more dried beans instead of canned. What's your trick? I keep trying different methods for soaking dry beans and then cooking on the stove or crockpot but all I get are little hard pebbles. Any suggestions?

  2. Great questions! I didn't really use dried beans until this year for the same reasons. But now, I have realized how much better they taste and they are much less expensive! First, make sure to sort through the dry beans to pick out the real pebbles (there are usually a few). The catch with beans is that the length of time to cook them varies dramatically. Buying them at a store with high turnover (e.g. Whole Foods) can help or just know you may have to cook them longer than directions state. Pre-soaking them also helps. If I am actually organized, I soak the beans overnight in cold water. If I am pressed for time, I cover them with water and bring them to a boil for 2 minutes. Take them off the heat and let them sit for one hour. Then, when you cook them, you really have a head start. I prefer the crockpot because it is so easy and, if the beans to take longer than I thought, I can just keep cooking them. Using the crock, I cook them on high anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. (Lentils and split peas take much longer).

    Finally, I always make the whole package. Cooked beans freeze beautifully. I put them in ziploc bags and then just put them, frozen, directly into soups.

    I hope this is helpful!