Today, my mission is to provide a delicious, healthy meal that both carnivores AND veggie lovers will enjoy.
That’s right folks—it’s time to talk about two of nutrition’s biggest topics: VEGETARIANISM and VEGANISM.
I follow a lot of “paleo” and “real food” people on various social media sites, and I’ve often seen great critique of those who choose to avoid eating meat. They claim it’s “unhealthy,” that vegetarians and vegans eat too many carbohydrates and don’t get enough protein. They insist that although plant foods are important, animal foods should play a predominant role in the diet. They avoid foods like legumes and grains because they’re supposedly awful for the digestive system.
You know what I say? A lot of that is hooey. To be healthy, you should do what feels right for YOU and what works with YOUR body. If you have been successful with a plant-based diet, continue it! If you find yourself tired, hungry, or near-ill dining on tofu and chickpeas, well, don’t eat ‘em! Simple as that. Science changes every day, and every person’s biochemistry is different.
Why could being a vegetarian or vegan be awesome?
For one, it’s CHEAP. When I go to Patel Brothers (an Indian grocery store) to buy spices and obscure produce, there are 50 pound bags of rice and beans with really affordable unit prices. Buy a couple, and you have food for an entire year. My dad was a vegetarian for 24 years, and he saved a lot of money eating that way. Every week, he’d go to a food co-op with his roommates, stock up, and have enough to eat on a tight college student budget. While I am fortunate enough to have excellent meat and poultry at my disposal, many people aren’t as lucky and have many more mouths to feed.
Then there’s meat quality. Many of the vegetarians or vegans I’ve talked to would be fine eating meat…if it wasn’t so industrialized. While there are butchers and online retailers who offer grass-fed and pasture-raised product, it can be inconvenient and tedious to get to. When given the choice between a factory-farmed steak and lentils, I’d probably go for the lentils. Even though plant foods have molecules like leptins and phyates that prevent them from being digested properly, I’d rather take the risk than expose myself to antibiotics or other nutritional mysteries.
And finally…beliefs. There are cultures all across the world that avoid meat because it’s sacred to kill a particular animal. There are people out there that love animals and feel horrible about eating them, or disagree with the unethical way most of them are raised. You shouldn’t be forced to compromise your thoughts and opinions for what everyone else considers “healthy.” I think it’s important to explore lots of different sets of beliefs, but it’s equally important to respect yourself and your people.
Personally, I choose to base my diet off of animal protein, but that doesn’t mean I completely disagree with the concepts of vegetarianism and veganism; in fact, I follow many blogs that feature ingredients like quinoa whole grains—foods “paleo” people would scoff at. For me, these recipes are exposure to a whole other world of eating, and from time to time, I like to explore it. I also love looking at raw vegan recipes, simply because I find them SO COOL. How they turn a pile of nuts and dried fruit into a decadent dessert, I don’t know. I’m there for the eye candy.
When I do cook legumes or grains, I make sure that I prepare them properly to maximize their digestive potential. In the past, I’ve soaked and fermented rice, lentils, and buckwheat to make various kinds of pancakes and crepes, making sure to change the soaking water and let it rest for a LONG time. (When I ferment something, the bowl is usually sitting out for over 24 hours.) Soaking helps get rid of some of the digestive inhibitors, and fermenting introduces lots of good enzymes and bacteria that are great for the gut. While I don’t eat these foods every day, I do enjoy them once every few weeks to have a change in my diet. If you’re comfortable with it, I think you should, too!
We have enough problems in our world. Why should we fight in the food world, too? Let’s bond over delicious, healthy ingredients, not argue over our philosophies.
Enough with this chatter and onto the recipe (adapted from this book). I used black beans here to provide some protein as well as complex carbohydrates, and chocolate because, well, everyone likes chocolate. (Except for my grandmother. How they arrived at me, the chocolatiest chocoholic out there, I don’t know.) This one is perfect for a cool fall evening and packing into thermoses for a warm treat at work or school. Trust me, there is nothing more comforting than chocolate chili after a math and history test
both of which you just totally bombed.
The first thing you’re going to need are black beans—1/2 a pound of them, to be exact. You can use any old beans, of course, but it’s best if they’re organic and (if possible) local. Legumes keep for a while, but after a year or so, they can have an old, stale taste. Unless you’re seeking an “aged” chili, I would recommend getting the freshest product possible.
Submerge the beans completely with water and stir in 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. The enzymes in the vinegar will help to start breaking down the phyates in the beans, which are difficult for the body to absorb and lead to clogging up in your gut. (Ever wonder why beans make you toot so much? That’s why.) Let the beans hang out in their vinegar tub for as long as possible, at least 24 hours and preferably 36 or 48. The universe will not end, I promise.
Once the beans have finished their soak, strain off the water and give them a thorough rinse. DO NOT save that water—that’s where all of the anti-nutrients (phyates) are! Pick out any beans that are broken or just a little shady looking.
Wash out the soaking pot and fill it again with water. Bring to a boil, then add the beans and cook for 10 minutes. Strain and set aside while you make the chili base.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat up 2 tablespoons of your fat of choice (I used cocoa butter to extenuate chocolate flavor, but you can use coconut oil, ghee…whatever floats your boat) over medium heat. Once hot, saute 2 chopped onions, 2 chopped carrots, and 1 stalk of chopped celery (optional) until soft and beginning to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Salt intermittently to help the vegetables start to release some of their juices.
To the veggies, pour in 2 tablespoons of chili powder (I used ancho, but chipotle should also be tasty), 1 tablespoon of cumin, 1 tablespoon of oregano leaves, 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon of paprika. Stir to incorporate, then add in a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes and the black beans. Increase the heat slightly, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover for 2 hours.
At the 1 hour mark, add in 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate. You can use dark or semi-sweet, too, but I was more after the flavor as opposed to the sweetness.
While the chili cooks, make the roasted cauliflower to go on top. It’s my favorite side dish, EVER…well, at least for right now.
Simply combine 1 head of cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, and 2 teaspoons each of garlic powder, paprika, and turmeric. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, toss with 1 tablespoon of your fat of choice (I used red palm oil to give it a nice color), and roast at 400 degrees until crisp and brown, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Ladle a big scoop of chili into a bowl and top with the cauliflower. Then, dig in to your delicious (and vegan) creation!
What are your thoughts on vegetarian/vegan cooking? Leave me a comment on Facebook and let me know!