The holidays are creeping up on us, and it is time to start making decisions about what you will serve at your big dinner. Just thinking about it, and the shopping, the planning, the cooking, well, it works up an appetite, doesn’t it?
Back in the days when I cooked in a deli, where we made boatloads of holiday sides and desserts for people to pick up in the big holiday week, I noticed a recurring phenomenon. Sure, people were obsessed with stuffing and gravy, and pumpkin pie was at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
But when it came right down to it, all that work meant that the cook didn’t have time to cook for the whole week before the centerpiece meal. So as we were prepping up our bread cubes and stocks, we were also selling a whole bunch of ready to re-heat meals. Slabs of lasagna were popular, with flavors nothing like the herby, savory dishes of the Thanksgiving tradition.
So, as you enter the pre-holiday season, you need some quick recipes that will give you the stamina to get through all the pie-crust rolling and potato mashing. In the spirit of the season, I give you Pumpkin Quinoa Chili. It’s warming and rib-sticking enough to work all winter long, but actually lean and vegetable rich enough to help you earn all those splurge foods you are dreaming of.
It features quinoa, the darling of the whole grain world. I recently attended a conference where all sorts of research on whole grains was presented, called the American Association of Cereal Chemists International. One seminar was on the growth in the popularity of quinoa. Peru, where most quinoa is grown, has seen sales rise from $15 million in 2010 to a projected $180 million this year. There is quite a bit of debate on whether that is good or bad for the Peruvian people. The cereal experts are working on developing new varieties that will grow in other climates, and we can look forward to quinoa grown closer to home, in the coming years.
The presenter thought that an important driver in the popularity of quinoa was the gluten-free market, and I agree, but I think it’s a number of markets. The vegans love quinoa for the easy, natural complete protein. The paleos can even find a spot for it, if they aren’t too hard core, since it is technically a seed and not a grain.
And lets not forget taste. Taste is number one in all consumer decisions about food. Quinoa tastes good.
So I cooked up a big batch of it, to use throughout the week, as I recommend in my book, The Whole Grain Promise. And then I made this tasty, warming, high-protein chili.
As always, it starts with a saute.
Once the onions were softened, I added an assortment of both chili and pumpkin pie spices, and let them get lightly toasted, then added the cooked quinoa to coat it with spice. Then all the rest of the pumpkin and veggies went in. Once it was all simmered and thick, a touch of unsweetened chocolate for a bit of bitter complexity.
So if you are bored with your usual chili, try this fun variation. It’s a quick recipe that will fuel you through the November madness.
Pumpkin Quinoa Chili with Chickpeas and Chocolate
Makes about 6 cups
1 cup cooked quinoa (about 1/3 cup raw)
1 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ground ancho chiles
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon pie spice blend
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 cups vegetable stock
14.5 ounces fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 1/ cups cooked chickpeas (or one can, drained)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
Measure the quinoa and pumpkin and reserve. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the onion. Saute for about 10 minutes, then add the garlic. Stir for a couple of minutes, then add the ancho powder, cumin, pie spice, and quinoa. Stir until fragrant. Add the peppers, celery, stock, tomatoes and pumpkin and stir to mix. Add the chickpeas and salt and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Add the chocolate and let it sit on the hot chili until melted. Stir in and cook a little longer to blend the flavors. This will actually be better the next day.
Serve garnished with cilantro.