Alt-Chili

Tired of the typical Bowl of Red adrift in a sea of chili powder?

Feeling adventurous?  This tasty option will tickle your jaded palate in under an hour. We get a quick start with ground pork and build up layers of flavor and nutrition with multiple peppers—including smoky dried chipotle pepper in tangy adobo sauce.

Building chili flavors

For a satisfying twist we fill in with non-traditional pumpkin puree. The Italians have taught us that pumpkin is not just for pies, it’s a known team player with pork and in pasta dishes, too. If it was a lovely fall day we might consider making our own puree, but today we are on a roll and happy with a plain can of pumpkin pulp.

Our bean of choice is not a red or even a black bean. Instead, we are going for the durable all-American great Northern, which suits our needs nicely. This mild, digestible  white bean holds its shape well and won’t soon turn to mush.

Three-Pepper Pumpkin Chili

In 45 minutes the chili is ready to eat, but a longer simmer will develop more flavor. Made it ahead, it’s even better the next day!

 Three-Pepper Pumpkin Chili

Ingredients
1-2 tsp vegetable oil
¾ lb ground pork or turkey
1 onion, chop
2 cloves garlic, mince
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 poblano or pasilla pepper, seed, chop
1 jalapeno, seed, chop
1 smoked pepper in adobo plus 1 Tbsp or more adobo sauce
1 cup canned pumpkin pulp
1½ cups liquid: thin as needed with any combination chicken stock, water, coffee
½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, to taste
15 oz can Great Northern beans, rinse and drain

Avocado, grated cheddar or jack cheese, cilantro, corn chips or corn tortillas; salsa or hot sauce.

Instructions
1. In a large pot over medium high, heat oil and brown the pork; drain off any excess liquid.
2. Lower heat to medium, add onion and garlic; cook to soften 2-3 minutes. Add cumin and dried oregano; cook briefly to absorb flavors.
3. Add the fresh peppers, the smoked pepper and adobo sauce; cook to soften, 5-10 minutes.
4. Add the pumpkin puree, thinning as needed with liquid; season with salt and pepper and simmer on low for 10 minutes.
5. Add the white beans, simmer 15 minutes or longer; adjust seasoning.
6. Serve in bowls with chips or warmed tortillas. Top with avocado, grated cheese and cilantro. Pass favorite salsa or hot sauce. Serves 3 or more

American as… Bodacious Corn

Last year at this time, corn was just corn. In the south, they grow it sweet and it all passed my lips in a hurry, unnamed. Back then, I liked to strip the husk back and remove the silk. I’d place the moist rewrapped corn in the microwave for about 3 minutes. When it was steaming I’d remove the husk and quickly sear the kernels on the grill, then drizzle with a little lime juice, maybe some chili flakes.

Michael Pollen’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, underscores the historic significance  of corn in this country as a native staple shared by the Indians with early settlers.

What I failed to appreciate was corn as the American success story, and its incredible impact on the industrial age. Once it was discovered that a slight alteration of corn’s genetic composition could make it more abundant and more useful, it wasn’t long before the revolution kicked into high gear.

Corn’s affordability and versatility made it a fundamental industrial commodity. Corn was everywhere: in sugars, oils, cereals and other convenience foods; in plastics, packaging and fuel. For a country hungry for beef, it was prime feed for cattle. Corn was no longer just a vegetable; it was capable of influencing national economic policy.

On my cross country trip this year, catchy red signs kept appearing along the road side for ‘Bodacious Corn!’ They were usually situated at the most inconvenient times, when I had no desire to stop and inquire. I would press on in my westerly direction, and wonder. Bodacious? Corn? What does that mean? An incomplete ad for Burma Shave? A corny joke, perhaps?

Now in Oregon, I’m learning more about Bodacious corn. Considered by some ‘hands down the most superior corn available’, it’s easy to grow, big, fat, juicy and absolutely delicious. It keeps and freezes quite well. Referred to as a triple sweet variety, it is considered cutting edge in corn breeding technology.

Good gracious, it’s Bodacious! Only in America.

Garden Cornbread

Practically a meal, this low fat veggie laden beauty is moist and portions easily thanks to the secret ingredient: couscous.

1 tablespoon butter, divided
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup or more fresh corn kernels, 1 large ear
2 tablespoons pepperoncini, slices
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup couscous grains
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line and spray 8″ square pan.

Spray a medium skillet and melt 2 tsp butter over medium low heat. Add the scallion and peppers; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano and corn; cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add pepperoncini.

Sift flour, baking powder, soda and cornstarch into a bowl; add the salt, sugar, cornmeal and couscous and combine evenly. Stir in buttermilk and eggs with a few strokes, then stir in vegetables, do not over mix.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake until set and almost done, about 15 minutes; brush top lightly with remaining butter, melted. Remove from oven when puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Serves 4-6. ~~

Chili-fied Lentils with Corn

Inspired by Didi Emmons’ Entertaining for a Veggie Planet

For a meat version, substitute about ½ pound cooked ground beef for pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
28 ounces can diced or crushed tomatoes, with juice
2 cups lentils, green or brown
4 chipotles in adobo, or see note below
2 cups water, up to 4 cups or more
2 tablespoons cornmeal
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/3 cups corn kernels, @ 1-2 ears
1 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted, toasted, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
accompaniments: green onion and yogurt crema, pickled red onions, cilantro

In large pot sauté onion in olive oil; when soft add garlic, cumin and coriander, and sauté til aromatic. Stir in tomatoes, the lentils, chipotles and 2 cups water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer adding water as needed as it thickens; cook 40 minutes. Stir in additional 1 cup water plus 2 tbsp. cornmeal and simmer additional 10 minutes or longer, until lentils are soft and it has thickened. Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper.

Add the corn kernels and heat through, about 2 minutes. Stir in cilantro and pumpkin seeds. Serve in bowls topped with sour cream, more cilantro, and a few more seeds. Serves 6. ~~

Note: if chipotles in adobo are unavailable: substitute 3-5 dried peppers, plus 1 tbsp each smoked paprika, chili powder and cider vinegar; and a pinch cinnamon.