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Last night my husband and I tagged along with my sister, nephew and brother-in-law to the local fire dept open house.  My nephew calls my husband “Hiya” because my other half taught him how to karate chop while yelling….. well, you can probably guess .  He can’t say his real name at this point so Hiya has stuck for now.  We heard it echoing in their house before we entered the door.  Needless to say we were excited for what the future held.  A little boy was about to see large motor vehicles!

Fire departments are pretty incredible.  We had a lot of fun between the smoking house demo outside, all the kids stop, dropping and rolling on a gym mat and of course the BIG fire trucks outside.  My nephew tried to stop-drop-roll, but he’s two years old, so it was more of a slow roll off the mat sideways, legs spread eagle in the air and fall on the floor drill.  But, of course he did it in the most adorable way ever.  We ended the night with a sit in the driver’s seat of an enormous fire truck, which was the source of exploding excitement for many little people.

The fire dept. adventure came at an opportune time for me, with my menu that is.  On the schedule today was chili!  What food is more appropriate for firefighters?  Besides maybe pancakes, I say this only because when I was young we trekked down once a year to the local volunteer fire dept for a pancake breakfast with my mom, sister and grandma.  Oh, I can still taste the fluffy, moist pancakes drowning in syrup (my health consciousness has grown immensely since then) and the sausage patties that got lost somewhere in the sweet pile of flat cakes.  My dad was a volunteer fireman for a while so he helped on the food line.  He cracked and flipped the eggs in his plumbing bib overalls (I think I just gave myself away that I’m from a small rural town).

Anyway, back to the chili. Today’s recipe is an attempt to recreate an amazing vegetarian chili I had at a fantastic restaurant in Rochester, MN. (If you are a meat lover or don’t believe chili can be good without it, don’t tune out at this point).  The chili was so good that I challenged myself the day after I got home to experiment in my kitchen.  I have tweaked this recipe a few times to get to the one you see today.  It makes a huge batch so you may want to invite your friends or family over for a chili supper party (it also freezes well).  Set up a chili bar for your guests and include different toppings and add-ins.

  • Topping Options: sliced avocado, light sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, blue corn chips, whole grain crackers
  • Add-In Options: cooked lean ground turkey, chicken, beef or shredded chicken; or pour chili over cooked brown rice, wheat couscous, quinoa
    or polenta

Warm up tonight with this hearty chili, you won’t even know it’s a meatless chili.  A variety of beans and flavorful vegetables come together to create a tasty, inexpensive chili that you can probably guess…. is good for you too!  Tomatoes are essentially a fruit, but the base for a great pot of chili.  These red fruit are a rich source of antioxidants (like Vitamin C and Lycopene) and known to reduce inflammation in the body.  Great paired with Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread and a Cranberry Lime Spritzer (recipes listed below).  So channel your inner firefighter and get cookin’!

HEARTY VEGETARIAN CHILI

makes 12 servings

      • 42.5 oz TOMATOES, DICED WITH JUICE, NO ADDED SALT (1 – 14.5 oz & 1 – 28 oz can)
      • 1/2 medium ONION, chopped
      • 3 GARLIC CLOVES, minced
      • 1/2 tbsp OLIVE OIL, EXTRA VIRGIN, 100% first cold pressed unrefined
      • 2 BAY LEAVES, DRIED
      • 1 1/2 tbsp CUMIN, GROUND
      • 1 tbsp OREGANO, DRIED
      • 1/4 cup CHILI POWDER
      • 1 large GREEN PEPPER, (chopped)
      • 2 CELERY STALKS WITH LEAVES, (chopped)
      • 15 oz PINTO BEAN, drained and rinsed
      • 15 oz KIDNEY BEAN, DARK RED, drained and rinsed
      • 15 oz GARBANZO BEAN (CHICKPEAS), drained and rinsed
      • SEA SALT AND PEPPER TO TASTE
      • 2 1/2 cups SWEET POTATO OR WHITE POTATO, peeled, cubed
      • 2 cups CORN, GOLDEN, WHOLE KERNEL, frozen or fresh
      • 5 cups 100% TOMATO JUICE, LOW SODIUM
      • 1 1/2 cups WATER
      • 1-2 JALAPENO PEPPERS, diced (optional)

1. Spray a large soup pot with cooking spray. Add olive oil, onion and cook over medium heat for a few minutes to soften. Stir in garlic, celery, green pepper, jalapeno, sweet potato, corn and spices. Saute 1-2 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes, tomato juice, water, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Cover and cook for 25-30 minutes.

3. Reduce heat and toss in beans and simmer for 15-20 additional minutes. Serve garnished with chopped fresh parsley and a side of jalapeno cheddar cornbread or cornbread croutons. Serving size: about 1 1/2 cups soup.

VARIATIONS: Add any vegetables (chopped carrots, zucchini, spinach) or other beans (black, northern or cannellini). Meat lovers: stir in 8 oz cooked, lean ground turkey, chicken, beef, or shredded chicken breast.

NUTRITION INFO PER SERVING: 220 calories, 2.5g fat, 41g carb, 12g fiber, 11g sugar, 9g protein

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