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Chili Out. . . Vegetarian Style

April 18, 1996|FAYE LEVY | Levy's latest book is "Thirty Low-Fat Meals in Thirty Minutes" (Warner Books)

Vegetarian chili is certainly easier to make low in fat than chili with meat and can be an equally enticing, satisfying entree. When I prepare meatless chili, I like to add two secret ingredients that we don't usually associate with chili. They act behind the scenes to make the chili delicious but don't stand out and announce their presence.

The first is a bit of soy sauce to deepen the chili's color and to season it.

The second is chopped mushrooms, which I saute with an onion, effectively making a quick version of the classic preparation, duxelles. Usually duxelles is part of such delicate French dishes such as stuffed fish fillets or puff pastry creations. But homey chili benefits from duxelles too, as it lends good flavor and a meaty texture. And using a food processor makes it a snap to prepare.

Pinto beans, tomatoes, garlic and chili spices complete the chili. If you use canned beans, this entree's cooking time is only 15 minutes.

Meatless chili is great on its own or topped with a dollop of nonfat sour cream or a sprinkling of chopped cilantro, green onions or hot salsa. Sliced or diced avocado also makes a tasty topping, but use this rich fruit sparingly if you want the chili to be low in fat.

If you need to get supper on the table as fast as possible, serve the chili with hot tortillas, pita bread or any other hearty bread. My favorite way to savor vegetarian chili is as a sauce for pasta or rice. Sometimes I use penne (pasta quills) or pasta shells, at other times orzo and occasionally fresh fettuccine.

Although the chili already contains tomatoes, from time to time I like to enhance the tomato flavor by tossing the chili with tomato-herb linguine. Combining this thick, bean-rich chili with pasta might appear to create too substantial a dish, but remember, the Italians often eat their pasta with beans as pasta e fagioli.

VEGETARIAN CHILI

I usually make this chili with pinto beans, but you can vary it by changing the beans. Other good choices are great northern beans, black beans and black-eyed peas.

4 large cloves garlic

1 (6-ounce) package mushrooms, sliced

1 large onion, cut into 8 pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons dried leaf oregano, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes or to taste

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice

2 (15- or 16-ounce) cans pinto beans or pink beans, drained

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Chop garlic in food processor. Add mushrooms and chop together using on-off pulse. Remove. Chop onion in processor.

Heat oil in wide casserole, stew pan or Dutch oven. Add onion and saute over medium heat, stirring often, 3 minutes. Add mushroom-garlic mixture and saute, stirring often, 3 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano and pepper flakes, and stir over low heat 30 seconds.

Stir in tomatoes and bring to boil over high heat. Add beans and soy sauce and bring to simmer. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and cook 3 minutes or until mixture is thick. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

303 calories; 1,478 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 47 grams carbohydrates; 14 grams protein; 4.58 grams fiber.

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