There’s been a lot of talk about belt-tightening lately. And it’s not hard to see why. I paid $8 for a pound of butter the other day. And I have very fond memories of paying $6 for the same amount not that long ago. Consequently, I have been more financially conservative at the grocery store. A necessity I hate and resent. And all of these limitations have me reminiscing about my university days, particularly the struggle meals that sustained me. Today’s Smoked Tofu Chili is a descendant of one such meal. I guarantee whatever concoction I was eating ten years ago was not as good as this. But the bones were there and the comfort it gives me is the same, so let’s make it.
I may or may not have mentioned this before but when I was in university I was a vegetarian. I wish I could say it was an entirely altruistic choice but it wasn’t. When you don’t buy meat your grocery bill is cheaper. Being the cliche millennial I am, my splurge item was avocado. And yes, I would have picked it over steak any day of the week. I basically lived on guac, chips, and the occasional bowl of cereal from age 20 to 24. When I wasn’t stuffing my face with No Name tortilla chips, I was crushing them into a bowl of chili (with avocado, of course) not unlike this Smoked Tofu Chili.
In the years in between, I’ve really honed my chili. And finally, I think it’s reached a sharable level of quality. It isn’t an embarrassing struggle meal anymore. Now, it’s a well-rounded cozy meal you could actually share with people you respect, like your friends or family. But even though it’s moved up in the world, this chili is still a very economical dish, which is good when a whole chicken costs $20.
Okay, so let’s talk mirepoix or holy trinity, which I guess is more accurate in this case. Mirepoix is the French word for a medley of onions, celery, and carrot cooked in fat. It is the flavor base for numerous dishes. If you’ve ever made pretty much any kind of soup, stew, and/or sauce, you’ve encountered this trio before.
In cajun and creole cooking, they have something called the holy trinity, which is essentially the same thing as a mirepoix but with a slight change in casting. The holy trinity replaces the carrot with green bell pepper. I started my chili off in a similar fashion, except I replaced the green bell pepper with a couple of poblanos. And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know why I ever waste my time with green bell peppers. Poblanos are so much more flavorful and less watery, and they have this to-die-for dark green hue. But I digress.
Once the veggies are happy, add some garlic. I always add my garlic near the end because it likes to burn and when it burns it develops an acrid taste, which is bleh. This is also a good time to add your chipotle peppers and dried spices. I love adding a puréed can of chipotle peppers packed in adobo. It is the best low-effort way to amp up the flavor of your chili. I don’t make any kind of chili without adding them. So I highly recommend this canned shortcut. As far as the spices are concerned, I kept things simple with chili powder, cumin, and oregano.
When the veggies and spices are a little more acquainted, it’s time to set the chili up for a big long cook. Add a can of tomatoes and break them up roughly with your spoon. If you have no interest in doing that, feel free to substitute them for a can of diced tomatoes. Next, add a bottle of beer. Now, don’t be concerned about the chili being too beer-heavy. You’re going to let the chili simmer for a good 2 hours, so by the time it’s done, the beer will be barely detectable. What you will have is a pot of chili with an amazing depth of flavor. This is also a great time to add your smoked tofu and a can of kidney beans. You can substitute the kidney beans for pinto or black beans if you prefer.
Once your chili has simmered for a couple of hours, take it off of the heat and let cool for 10 minutes. This is the ideal time to prep your toppings. Now obviously, you can finish your bowl of chili any way you like it. I went with cheddar cheese, a dollop of yogurt, jalapeño slices, radish slices, and fresh cilantro. I also added crushed corn chips because I think chips are integral to every bowl of chili. But I also realize my fondness for vegetarian chili probably excludes me from most chili-related expert circles, so take my suggestion with a grain of salt. I specifically used this brand of street-corn-flavored corn chips and I’m only plugging them here because they blew my mind.
And that’s everything you need to know about this Smoked Tofu Chili. An economical, cozy, meatless meal that tastes smokey, sultry, and surprisingly meaty.
Smoked Tofu Chili
- 1 large heavy bottom pot
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 2 poblano peppers diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 (186 ml, 6 fl oz) can chipotle peppers in adobo pureed
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 (796ml, 27fl oz) can whole tomatoes
- 1 (540ml, 18 fl oz) can kidney beans drained and rinsed
- 350g, 12oz brick smoked tofu cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 (355ml, 12 fl oz) bottle beer I used a Mexican lager
- 3 cups cooked brown rice
- 2 radishes sliced thin
- 1 jalapeño pepper sliced thin
- cheddar cheese shredded, for sprinkling
- Greek yogurt ** for serving
- fresh cilantro for serving
- Tajín for sprinkling
- Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot until shimmering. Add the onion, celery, and poblano peppers. Sauté until the onion is translucent.2 tbsp olive oil, 1 yellow onion, 2 stalks celery, 2 poblano peppers
- Stir the garlic, tomato paste, chipotle peppers, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Sauté for a minute more.2 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1 (186 ml, 6 fl oz) can chipotle peppers in adobo, 1 tbsp chili powder, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp dried oregano
- Pour in the whole tomatoes and break them up coarsely with a wooden spoon. Add the kidney beans, tofu, and the beer. Bring the mixture up to a boil before reducing it to a simmer. Let cook uncovered for 2 hours.1 (796ml, 27fl oz) can whole tomatoes, 1 (540ml, 18 fl oz) can kidney beans, 350g, 12oz brick smoked tofu, 1 (355ml, 12 fl oz) bottle beer
- Ladle the chili over the brown rice and top with cheddar cheese, radish and jalapeño slices, a dollop of yogurt, fresh cilantro, and a sprinkling of Tajín. Serve immediately.3 cups cooked brown rice, 2 radishes, 1 jalapeño pepper, cheddar cheese, Greek yogurt **, fresh cilantro, Tajín