Okay so here’s the deal with this. I could eat beef chili for meals on end (and often do), so I’ve been on the lookout for a vegetarian-friendly version to make this dish work in our house. (Comparing a bean chili to a beef version does not add up in my head. This is clearly not an apples to apples comparison so I won’t go there. I’ll just say that this is a reworking of my beef chili – we’re going the way of the spices and beans, only, leaving out the beef and adding a whole lot more beans.)
Adding beans to a veg chili is by no means a revelation. In fact it’s probably ‘trending’ right now along with a soya chunks variation. Beans really work in terms of flavour but here’s my grief with them: they don’t thicken the sauce in any way. They hold their shape and stay separate from the sauce that they cook with; beans don’t form the ‘body’ of the sauce the way beef does. So unless you add a lot more of the ground spices and possibly blend the onions (think rajma masala), the only other choice is to reduce the sauce. Like, really really reduce it down. Which poses other problems: you will have to use a whole load of tomatoes to get this quantity of chili (Spain’s ‘la tomatina’ amounts is mild hyperbole). This will also result in an overly sour reduction.
I didn’t want to ditch the beans altogether—soya chunks was my fallback and I wasn’t feeling that—so I went on a hunch. I blended them. A few blitzes in the blender gave me coarse nubbly bits that were perfect to thicken the sauce. And also if you’ve slightly under cooked the beans, this is your saving grace.
Since we’ve established that we’re veering from Chili in its traditional form, we’re going potatoes instead of rice. I took inspiration from those ‘smashed’ potatoes I’ve been seeing everywhere. My adaptation: first boiled until a knife goes through without any resistance. Then left to steam for a short while (makes their insides fluffy). Finally mashed down with the heel of the hand until they ‘splat’ onto the counter. The why: smashing increases the surface area of the potatoes. As it goes, more surface area equals more crispy bits as they bake. I made them the first time with halved baby potatoes but have since realized that they work just as well with regular spuds. Go ahead and use your hands if you’re into it, but I’ve found that taking a masher to it gets you the same results sans the time and effort. Contrary to popular belief, it’s impatience—not necessity—that’s the mother of all invention.
Garlic yogurt—yogurt mixed with garlic, nothing more complicated than that—adds an extra dimension here that offsets the heat and spice of the chili. I make this component of the dish first, and it sits in the fridge until everything else is done. The cool yogurt against the hot chili also gives you great temperature contrast here.
Chipotle peppers give the dish that distinctive smoky flavour. They come dried, as a concentrated paste, or in adobo – use in any form that you can find. If not, smoked or regular paprika. As an absolute last resort, chilli powder.
MEXICAN-STYLE POTATOES + BEAN CHILI
- 700 grams potatoes (see notes)
- 2 tbsp oil
- Salt, to taste
- Coriander leaves and stems, chopped
- Fried eggs to serve (optional but recommended)
- 1 ½ cups cooked kidney beans
- 4 large tomatoes
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 3 Chipotle peppers (see notes)
- 1 ½ tsp coriander powder
- 1 ½ tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tsp oil
- Salt, to taste
- ½ cup yogurt
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- Salt, to taste
- Garlic yogurt: stir together yogurt, minced garlic and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Preheat the oven to 200 C.
- If using baby potatoes, halve them. For larger potatoes, chop them to about the same size as a halved baby potato. Boil/pressure cook them until a knife goes through without any resistance.
- Drain the water, add the potatoes back to the pot, and cover with a lid. Let them sit for 10 mins. This steams them, making their insides fluffy.
- Drain them again; make sure there’s no residual water in the pot. Tip the potatoes into your oven-proof skillet/baking dish. Drizzle the oil over the top and add salt. Toss to coat evenly. Lay them out in a single layer. A few overlaps are fine but you’ll get more crispy bits with a single layer.
- Using a potato masher, press down firmly enough to break the potatoes up slightly. Bake in the oven for 40-45 mins until the edges brown and the skins start to crisp up.
- Blanch tomatoes in boiling water until the skins just start to come off. Peel away the skins and discard. Blend the tomatoes and chipotle chillies to a smooth purée. Set aside in a bowl.
- Add the cooked beans to the same blender jar and coarsely blend. We’re looking for nubbly bits and not a paste. A few blitzes should do it.
- Heat the oil in a pot and sauté chopped onions and garlic until lightly browned. Add the tomato purée, beans, cumin powder, coriander powder, oregano, and salt. (If using paprika or chilli powder instead of the chipotle chillies, add them in at this stage.)
- Cover and cook over a medium heat stirring occasionally until it reduces slightly, about 10-12 mins. Add a touch of water if it starts to catch at the bottom.
To assemble: top the potatoes with the bean chili. Spoon over the garlic yogurt and finish with chopped coriander. Serve with fried eggs.