What do you call chilli without chilli and beef? Un-chilli. That’s the way I like it.

Un-Chilli with Basmati Rice

Nigella Lawson is certainly one of my inspirations for everyday cooking, despite the fact that she is ‘no vegetarian’ (her own words). And despite the fact that she is ‘no vegetarian’ she makes what I reckon is a pretty amazing vegetarian chilli.

Here are the ingredients for half the quantity stated in her book, Feast, with the omission of chilli (1 tsp of flakes if you want to add it in) and the proportions that I use of other spices:

1 tbsp olive oil (ordinary, not extra virgin)
1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 large red capsicum (bell pepper), deseeded and finely diced
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cardamom pods, crushed
150g red lentils, washed well and ideally soaked for a couple of hours
400g can chopped tomatoes
400ml water
100g dried kidney or black beans, soaked overnight and cooked in advance (you can use canned beans but I prefer to prepare them properly myself)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp cocoa (or raw cacao)

Sauté the onions and garlic and capsicum and spices gently in the olive oil. I add a bit of salt to stop them burning. On this particular occasion I also added some thinly sliced Swiss Brown mushrooms, just because I had them. But I don’t always do that. Then add in the lentils.

Un-Chilli Lentils and Vegetables Sautéing

Add in the canned tomatoes, water, tomato ketchup and tomato paste.

Un-Chilli Adding Tomatoes

Then when that has combined, I add in the secret ingredient that freaks everyone out: cocoa powder. It behaves like an earthy spice, and gives it a darker hue which I find irresistible.

Un-Chilli Secret Ingredient

Then mix in the beans:

Un-Chilli Adding Beans

The chilli then comes to a simmer, and I clamp on a lid, turn the heat low and let it bubble gently by itself for about an hour. It will stick to the bottom if you don’t give it a stir every 10 minutes or so. Besides, it’s satisfying sneaking regular peaks as it moves through each stage of cooking, gradually becoming darker, richer, more aromatic.

And this is the final result:

Un-Chilli Close-up

It freezes well, and after taking one serving immediately, usually with some basmati rice, I portion the rest into containers and freeze for quick meals.

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