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Thick, Smoky Vegetarian Chili

You won't miss the meat in this satisfying, easy-to-make dish

Chili vegetariano

Pam Anderson

Vegetarian chili with its potent spices, onions and abundance of beans and grains is a thick tomato-based soup that doesn't need meat.

En español | As I continue to discover ways to reduce my meat consumption, soup is not where I like to focus. It's not the bits of meat I crave, but the flavorful broth that comes with them. I like a few brands of packaged vegetarian broth, and a big spoonful of miso paste can help boost flavor. But it still feels like a poor substitute for broths rich with chicken or beef.

My Vegetarian Chili is different. With its potent spices, generous alliums (onions, garlic and such), and abundance of beans and grains, this thick tomato-based soup doesn't need meat.

The ingredient list for this meatless chili is short, but two slightly offbeat additions make it special: chilies en adobo, which come in small cans, usually located near the hot sauces or in the Mexican section at most grocery stores. The cans contain chipotles, which are smoked and dried jalapeños, and adobo, a sauce flavored with paprika, oregano, garlic, salt and vinegar. When cooked, the smoky jalapeños perfume the chili and the piquant sauce softens and flavors the jalapeño. But take note: The recipe calls for one canned chili — not one can! Start by adding one minced chili with a little adobo sauce and taste before adding more. If stored in a closed container, the chilies can last weeks in the fridge and months in the freezer.

The other offbeat ingredient in this chili is hominy, or corn that has been soaked in an alkali solution. The process causes the kernels to soften and double in size, producing wonderfully soft, doughy nuggets that taste like a tamale. When ground, hominy becomes masa, which when dried becomes masa harina, the ingredient used to make tortillas. The black beans add substance to the chili too, but it's the hominy that gives it the meaty taste and feel. Hominy is typically stocked near the canned beans in grocery stores; in Hispanic markets, it may be labeled pasole. If you can't find hominy, you can always substitute fresh or frozen corn.

A bonus: This chili is done in a mere half hour. My classic blue-ribbon chili featuring chuck roast and pork ribs is delicious, but it takes hours to stew and shred the meat.

I won't be making a vegetarian version of chicken noodle any time soon, but Thick, Smoky Vegetarian Chili is quickly becoming my go-to recipe.

Thick, Smoky Vegetarian Chili

Makes about 1 quart

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, cut into medium dice

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 canned chili en adobo, minced (again, that's one chili, not the entire can!)

1 can (15 to 16 ounces) hominy, drained

1 can (15 to 16 ounces) black beans, drained

1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes, fire-roasted if you can find them

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder and chili; sauté until fragrant, a minute or so longer. Add hominy, beans and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer to thicken and blend flavors, 15 to 20 minutes longer. Stir in cilantro and serve.

AARP food expert Pam Anderson is a best-selling cookbook author and blogger at

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