Friday, January 31, 2014

Pumpkin Chili; My recipe, Your recipe

Since I use a pressure cooker I will write this recipe as such.  If you want to cook it on the stovetop in a dutch oven or soup pot simply increase the cooking time.  Everything else stays the same. Same ingredients, same prep, same method.  At the end of this blog post I will include links to the many other chili recipes I've posted over the years.

Pumpkin Lentil Chili w/beef or lamb sausage (meat optional)

1tbl oil (always heat the oil before adding meat or veg)
1 med onion
1-2 stalks celery
1/2-1 red bell (optional)
1-2 jalapenos (optional)

all vegetables cut into a small dice. The idea is for them to be about the same size as the lentils. (or if you are not using lentils you want them to be small enough to disappear in the background as part of the sauce)

If you are choosing to use meat the first thing you do is brown the meat in it's own 1 tbl of oil.  You can use any kind of meat, and any amount, but remember, the larger the pieces of meat, the longer the cooking time.  Also if you choose to use 2lbs of stew meat it should be browned in two separate batches (with an addition of 1 tbl of oil) and removed from the pan to move onto the next step of cooking the veggies.

beef stew meat cut into 1 inch dice (I use chuck roast or pot roast)
ground beef, turkey, chicken, pork
sausage of any kind, removed from casings
whole chicken thighs (I prefer bone in)
pork stew meat cut into 1 inch dice
lamb stew meat cut into 1 inch dice

If I'm using a small amount of meat, say 2 sausage links I'll brown it in my pan, then simply move it to the side.....(second picture down on left)

sautee veggies until soft 

This is my basic spice blend;

1-2 tbl ground cumn
1 tbl chipotle chili powder
1-2 tbl smoked paprika
1 tbl ground oregano
1-2 bay leaves

Add to sauteed veggies and toast in hot pan for about 2 minutes.  Add;

4-6 c. water or stock
1-2 c. tomato (sauce, soup, diced, canned, fresh, all are optional)
1 c brown lentils
1/2 c red lentils
Pumpkin, or winter squash such as Butternut (peeled if needed)

"Loaded and lock"!  Once you have all ingredients in pressure cooker, cover with lid and lock in place.  Make sure pressure is on "high" (usually #2), and bring up to pressure. Depending on what size cooker you are using and how full it is this could take 10-15 minutes.

Once pressure reaches high, turn heat down to maintain even pressure for another 8-10-15 minutes.  8-10 minutes if you do not include any meat, or if you have used ground meats/sausage, 15 minutes if you have used larger stew meat pieces or bone in chicken thighs.

Turn Pressure cooker off and remove from hot burner.  Let pressure come down naturally for as long as you want to, OR if pressure does not come down within 10-15 minutes, manually release pressure.  Unlock lid, remove bay leaf, taste for seasonings (salt!), and enjoy.

If you want to cook this in a pot simply bring all ingredients to a boil (with the lid on), lower heat to med/low with the cover slightly open and cook until lentils and meat, and pumpkin are tender, about 35-50 minutes.  Again, cooking time varies with the kind of meat you add, or don't add!  Ground meats and sausages are basically cooked already so it's just the lentils and squash you are wanting to become soft.

Some of the things I learned from making at least a dozen batches of Pumpkin Chili!

Red Bell Pepper.  I use red bell because I like the small red flakes it adds to the look of the finished meal.  Red bell peppers are known to be sweet, so if you want to skip this addition because you either don't want your chili sweeter (slightly), you don't want the extra work of dicing more veggies, OR you don't have one in the fridge!  I list it as optional for these reasons.  I'm convinced you will not miss it!  Oh, and I do a quick peel of my red bells. It's a pain in the ass if you are not in the habit and certainly not required.

Jalapenos.  The bottom line is that the spice/heat of chili comes from the dry spice blend you use.  It has little to do with the addition of fresh peppers at all.  I use jalapenos, or any other fresh green chilis IF I have them.  Again, which is why I list them as optional.

The only veggies that I think are critical is really the onion!  The more veggies I add is really dependent on what I have on hand because I like the nutrition vegetable add to my meals.  I like cutting, dicing, slicing and prep work so if I have onion, celery, carrot, fresh peppers, scallions, cabbage, whatever I'll include them all!  But at the end of the day you can make an amazing pot of chili with just one large onion!

Chili Spice Blend.  This is really what makes a pot of stew into chili!  Over the years I've cut back on the chili powders, completely cut out the cayenne, and red pepper flakes because Mark sweats when he eats foods too spicy.  I've replaced smoked paprika for the previous two spices and only use chipotle powder (chipotle is smoked jalapeno), so I have two "smoky" additions.  I also use ground cumin and ground or leaf oregano.  Funny fact....I'll slice and dice for days, but I rarely take the time to toast and grind my own cumin seeds!  Oh I used to do that all the time, but personally I can live with pre ground cumin!  I use a lot of spices so I know it's always as fresh as it could be, and I don't lose sleep over it!

Water, stock, tomato. Obviously if you use water the finished chili will probably lack what meat or veg stock brings in terms of added flavor (and nutrition), but don't let not having any on hand stop you from making chili!  I make my own stocks and started out using a smokey ham stock I made from my Xmas dinner (again, wanting to add more smoky depth).  Purchased chicken or veg stock is perfectly fine....but if you own a pressure cooker, making your own stocks is a breeze!  Also, one of my main motivations for making so much chili, besides the fact that I love Kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) is that I had a freezer full of tomato soup/sauce from last summer (and maybe the summer before!)  Using a box of Pomi is fine, using 2 tbl tomato paste is fine, using a can of diced tomatoes (with juice) is fine if you like the tomato addition to your chili.  Just make sure that, if you use lentils or beans, your liquids add up to 4-6 cups.

Lentils.  You do not have to add any legumes (lentils OR beans) at all!  In fact the first two or three batches I made in the pressure cooker I used pot roast, NO lentils, but everything else, and in the same order (picture at right is only meat and pumpkin!).  It was fabulous!  Seriously!  I only became interested in adding legumes because I wanted to cut back on the amount of meat I was consuming in general (another blog post).  I chose lentils because, unlike beans, red lentils will break down into a smooth consistency.  Typically chili made with beans will need to have a portion of the cooked and finished product pureed (either in a blender or using an immersion blender) to give that smooth/chunky texture.  That's not an option at all if you are cooking the chili with meat, especially ground meat!  There is no way to remove the meat to puree or blend any portion of the beans.  Which is another reason why, if I use beans (which I love) I also use a grated Garnet sweet potato!  The small size of grated sweet potato breaks down much like the red lentils do. (picture above on left)

And lastly.....

I progressed into the last couple of batches going completely vegetarian/vegan.  This mornings version I tested out butternut, Garnet yam, purple Japanese yam, and Delicata squash (picture below).  I used my own vegetable stock and my own tomato sauce.  The only tricky bit is that these vegetables easily overcook and get mushy by the time it takes the lentils to get soft!  Kabocha is the only pumpkin I've found to be able to stand up to the cooking time and stay relatively firm.  I also have to say that with the vegetarian/vegan version it definitely lacked the extra flavor and depth of animal protein based stock.  Even if you don't use homemade stock, but use stew meat, chicken thighs, etc., and water, the meat itself will produce it's own stock during the cooking process.  Just my opinion.

So there you have it!  Will you please make a batch of chili?  Will you trust yourself to make a recipe of your own?  Please share it with me if you do!

Here is a link to this blog's search for "chili";

And here is my former blog's  "Rainbow Chili" post;


Diana said...

I'm thankful you didn't put "noodles" in your chili! That's a constant battle in this house...I hate noodles in chili. Last thing I'd ever do to chunks of elk is lay a disgusting noodle next to it!

I gotta give the pumpkin/squash a try-what about peeling a sweet potato and adding it near the end of cooking?

Tracy Reifkind said...


Sweet potatoes just don't work with a moist heat method of cooking. They absorb liquid and turn to mush. Sweet potatoes need the dry heat of the oven, you could grate them and make hash (fry), or of course you can microwave them dry.

I've had them kind of work in a post roast, but it's dicey. I kept them in really large chunks, at least 2 inch pieces, and I placed them on top of the rest of the ingredients and out of the liquid as mush as I could.