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Ken's chili | My year of mathematical acuity

Posted Oct 11 2012 10:00am
The recollection for today is a much later one than the very early memories I've shared so far. It took place during my first year of college. For the first two years we were all required to take a core curriculum in liberal arts, and one of the requirements was math. I'd neither excelled nor failed at math in the past — I usually got a noncommittal "B." I neither liked math nor hated it, but it made me a little nervous. I was more interested in art and literature, and probably would have avoided math if it had been possible to do so. When I learned who my math professor would be, I was warned by my comrades that he was the hardest math instructor on campus and most of his students failed. He gave tests designed to trick his students and he was nasty. Great. I steeled myself for a struggle.

But something happened to me in that class — by the end of the first day my brain was on fire. Something had switched on, and I became a math wizard. I loved the professor and his genius way of explaining math. I couldn't wait to get to my math assignments, and the very tricky exams were so much fun I was practically giddy. I noticed that some of the shiftier elements in the class suddenly wanted to sit next to me during exams, but I put a stop to that right from the start. I would only sit next to Roland, a nerdy math genius who always answered in class and got 100% on the tests, just like me. He was happy to have me beside him, though I'm sure he would have preferred to take his exam in a room by himself. Roland and I were a strange party of two that year — our only relationship being math nerds in the classroom — one real nerd, and one temporary.

That same year I had a ghastly case of chicken pox. I'd never had it as a child and never received a vaccine. It struck with a vengeance, and I was incapacitated. I missed an important math exam, and once I'd recovered, I went to speak to the professor to explain where I'd been, and ask about making up the exam. "Why bother," he said, sending a small shiver of fear into my heart. "We both know what you'll get."

What? See, I still didn't quite believe I had reached a place in math class where the professor knew I'd get an "A" before I'd even taken the exam! I wasn't used to being a math star. I still smile when I think about that experience ... even though it couldn't last. :)

The recipe for today was created by my husband. Someone once asked me if he was a good cook, and I answered by saying he could follow a recipe. That's a good skill to have if you're not an intuitive cook. But, with this recipe, from 2008, he showed his "cooking wizard" potential.

So where did the inspiration for his terrific chili originate? Well, Ken was at the veterinarian with our dog, Buffy. Buffy was in the back having blood drawn, and Ken was in the waiting room — waiting. And waiting. Now, when I'm at the vet, I always pick up the dog magazines, but Ken's not sentimental like that. He doesn't care that Super Speedo Galactic Fido just won his 10th all-champion dog master competition. He found himself attracted to a Rachel Ray cooking magazine instead. There was a recipe for chili in there that inspired him to come home and create his own perfect version of the dish he'd read about.

The recipe is not gluten-free, but you can make it so by leaving out the seitan and adding 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of liquid smoke. Or, you can soften and season soy bits or curls and add those if you wish. Or you can add quinoa or chopped portabella mushrooms. But really, the chili is so full of flavor, you don't have to substitute for the chorizo unless you want to.

Ken's perfect chili
  • two large yellow onions, chopped
  • three large cloves garlic, chopped
  • two–three celery stalks, chopped
  • two medium peeled carrots, julienned
  • three large sweet peppers (including red or yellow), chopped
  • one jalapeño pepper, chopped (optional if you don't like spicy food)
  • 1/2 head cauliflower. divided into small florets
  • one can (or 1-3/4 cups home-cooked) kidney beans, drained
  • one can (or 1-3/4 cups home-cooked) pinto beans, drained
  • one can (or 1-3/4 cups home-cooked) garbanzo beans, drained
  • one 14.5 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes (like Muir Glen)
  • one cup frozen corn
  • one–two tablespoons good quality chili powder
  • one teaspoon dried oregano
  • one teaspoon dried basil
  • one teaspoon hot sauce (like Frank's)
  • 1/4 cup red wine (or lemon juice, if you don't use wine)
  • about four ounces chorizo-style seitan*
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil for cooking
  1. In a large, heavy pan or dutch oven, sauté the cauliflower, onions, celery, carrots and peppers in one or two tablespoons of olive oil for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. A minute before the vegetables are done, add the garlic. (Don't burn the garlic.)
  2. Add the kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, seitan, tomatoes and wine.
  3. Stir in the chili powder, oregano, basil and hot sauce.
  4. Add water or vegetable broth as needed for the right consistency. (And so the chili won't burn as it cooks.)
  5. Simmer for about one hour or until the cauliflower is soft and the flavors have blended.
  6. Stir in the frozen corn and heat until the corn is hot.
  7. Adjust seasonings.
Serve with a cooked grain or crusty sourdough bread.

1. *My husband used Upton's Naturals chorizo-style seitan in this recipe.

2. If we don't have leftover home-cooked beans, we use canned beans with no salt added. The cheapest beans we've found are the organic 365 brand at Whole Foods. The no-salt ones always seem to be hidden on the highest shelf!

3. Salt and spiciness are personal preferences, so add the amount that seems right for your taste. This recipe will be moderately spicy, depending on the heat in your jalapeño and chili powder.

4. I think a few fat leaves of Italian parsley or cilantro would go well with this. It needs a little dark green!
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