Chili: Winter Warmth in a Bowl

It’s winter here, and when the temperature is cold, what could be better than warm, comforting food that fills your tummy and leaves your taste buds pleasantly toasty?  This recipe came from Minimalist Baker, she has a ton of gluten free, vegan options.  I originally tried it because I had a little butternut squash that had been waiting patiently for a couple months to be used.  The second round I used sweet potatoes instead, along with a handful of other vegetables like zucchini, corn, carrots, and celery.  Ok, to be honest, I used a lot of those in the first batch too.  I’m a vegetable stuffer and I don’t always follow recipes well…or at all.  And yes, sometimes that causes me issues, so I don’t recommend it unless you don’t mind eating failures (see the “cornbread” pancake-ish monstrosity in the second photo as a reference).

The separate spice additions seem a little strange to me, but they worked out really well in the end.  I’m not certain why or how, but I stuck with it the second time because the flavor was so lovely and well rounded the first.  I follow her timing, but I add my harder vegetables first, the squash or sweet potato, carrots, and celery.  Give them a couple minutes in the onion, garlic, and spice mix before adding the rest of the vegetables (NOT the corn!).  The beans and corn then get added after the quinoa is mostly cooked.  I will admit I skipped the kale, sometimes I like it but I’m getting my cruciferous vegetable kick from cabbage and broccoli at the moment.

Nutrition Thoughts

Beans.  Legumes are brilliant, rich in fiber and protein.  I used black beans and red kidney, offering iron as well as magnesium and folate among other vitamins and minerals.  Vegan trick: include a source of vitamin C in the meal to help increase your iron absorption!  In this recipe it’s the tomatoes however, the vitamin C is degraded a bit during the cooking process so feel free to add a splash of lemon juice just before serving or grab some strawberries for dessert.

Quinoa.  While not as high in protein as certain grains, it does contain some amount of all the essential amino acids (the ones that we cannot make for ourselves).  You may have heard the term “complete protein” and this is one of few vegan foods that qualifies by itself.  Most complete proteins are animal based.  It is also a nice choice for bulking up the chili as it adds substance along with antioxidants and minerals, including copper.

Onion and Garlic.  Allium family plants offer sulfur containing compounds with a wide variety of benefits, immune support, metabolic support, cardiovascular health and lowering blood pressure.  Sulfur is also key in glutathione production and glutathione is required for liver function and toxin elimination.

Tomatoes.  Unlike the vitamin C, lycopene, the antioxidant that tomatoes are famous for, is easier to absorb after cooking.  It is particularly high in tomato paste as well as in fresh tomatoes.  Along with their other antioxidants, tomatoes are thought to be beneficial for cancer prevention, healthy skin and cardiovascular support.

Spices.  A brilliant addition to any recipe, spices can offer boosts of flavor without the excess sugar and salt so prevalent in the standard American diet.  Capsaicin, found in most hot peppers or chili powders, has shown anti-inflammatory effects.  Paprika also contains some vitamin A, while all the spices used offer a variety of antioxidants.

Granola: a Breakfast Staple

I love granola, I eat it or oatmeal probably 4 or 5 times a week!  It’s also one of the first things I ever learned to make, my mother taught me.  I have branched out a bit since then though and been amazed at the variety of recipes out there.  This recipe from Pick Up Limes taught me to make a ‘sauce’ and how to get clumps, which I’d never managed before with my dry mixes.  I’ve made sauces with banana and honey (banana nut granola is delicious!), nut butters or nut powders with maple syrup and tahini mixes like the one from PUL.  The other really cool thing I’ve tried was added lentils, yes cooked lentils!  I also sprinkle on ground flax and chia seeds after the granola has cooled.

I make a batch about twice a month.  Granola is my go to breakfast for work since I can layer it the night before and toss it in my bag in the morning.  I generally use soy yogurt and hemp hearts along with whatever fruit I have on hand, banana, berries (frozen or fresh), apple bits, mango, kiwi…  Fruit on the bottom (especially frozen berries since they get juicy as they thaw), then the yogurt and the hemp hearts to seal some of the moisture away from the granola that sits on top.

Nutrition Thoughts

Oats, rolled or old fashioned, even steel cut but be careful with those since they can be a bit hard after baking.  Rich in fiber, decent protein for a grain, high in minerals like iron, and beneficial for cardiovascular health.

Lentils.  High in protein and fiber, and they offer a different amino acid balance as a legume, this can be important to those following a plant-based diet.

Nuts and seeds.  Offering some protein, and a pleasant crunch, as well as healthful omega-3 and omega-6 fats.  Many will also offer various minerals, walnuts and cashews both contain magnesium, sunflower seeds have magnesium, vitamins B6 and E, and selenium.

Fruit.  Depends on the type!  Berries often offer lots of antioxidants, strawberries have an incredible amount of vitamin C, blackberries and raspberries are both lower in sugar content.  Bananas have potassium and magnesium.  Almost any fruit will add some natural sugar for your brain, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients that nourish your cells.

Hemp hearts, chia seeds, flaxseeds or ground flax.  All three seeds offer a higher level of omega-3 fats (the ones most often found in animal products like fish) as well as some protein and omega-6 fats.  I personally also take a vegan omega-3 supplement, but no reason to not include it in my diet.  Ideally I’d like to use as few supplements as possible in the long run, whole food sources are preferred!

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