The other essay, "Fire in my Belly," by Suketu Mehta was one of those that the moment I finished reading, I needed to discuss. This discussion was quickly followed by an urge to make the dish that the story hinges on, an extremely spicy, vegetarian chili. [Extreme sidebar information: I didn't see the recipe or even a photograph of the dish on the essay's adjacent page, and without this, my little millennial/short-attention-spanned brain skipped the next logical steps and immediately Googled the author, found his website, and sent him an email saying something like: "I loved your essay! Where can I find the recipe?" Mr. Mehta was kind enough to reply with a nice message and a link to the Saveur site where it had been conspicuously sitting all along. I also then found it in the magazine a few pages back. My bad, but goes to show you how crazy/cool/weird the Internet can be. No?]
Though only one magazine-page long, this mini essay spends almost the entire first half setting up the author's affinity for chiles, spicy food, and in particular, his vegetarian chili, which he makes with the spiciest chile on planet urf, the naga jolokia. Do you know about the Scoville scale? It's basically how us humans measure the spiciness of chili peppers. Mehta explains: "A jalapeño has about 8,000 [Scoville units], a habanero, half a million. The naga jolokia, meanwhile, explodes with over a million Scoville units." You must read the story yourself to know what I'm talking about when I say that Mehta's vegetarian chili sounds frighteningly spicy, as in, this chili could hurt you in a very harmful way.
Photo: Todd Coleman
So what did I do? I completely wussed out. Even though I love spicy food, the story made me believe I couldn't handle this chile's level of spiciness. This combined with Saveur's tips on Taming the Heat in Chiles caused me to use three habaneros instead of the naga scaryokias. But guess what? All of this taming and fear of chiles led to one major letdown. My chili was hardly spicy at all.
Vegetarian Chili via Saveur
12 oz. dried dark kidney beans, soaked overnight
12 oz. dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
Kosher salt, to taste
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 cloves garlic, minced
3 dried chipotle chiles
2 bay leaves
2 large white onions, chopped
1 dried ancho chile
8 oz. button mushrooms, quartered
6 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 1⁄2 cups canned hominy, drained
1⁄2 cup tomato paste
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3–6 naga jolokia or habanero chiles,
slit lengthwise down one side
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sour cream, minced cilantro,
and minced red onion
1. Put kidney beans and pinto beans into a large pot and cover with 3" water; bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about 1 hour. Season with salt; set pot aside.
2. Heat oil in a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, chipotle chiles, bay leaves, onions, and ancho chile and cook, stirring often, until onions are golden, 12–15 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they release their juices, about 5 minutes. Stir in reserved beans and their cooking liquid, along with hominy, tomato paste, vinegar, thyme, oregano, cumin, sun-dried tomatoes, and habaneros and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chili thickens and flavors meld, about 1 hour. Serve chili topped with sour cream, cilantro, and red onions.