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Junque Miles:

By Mark Roberts

Chef's Surprise

It's time for my first annual cooking article! (It may also be my last annual cooking article. We'll see if we get any reaction from the Health Department.)

Runners are always very concerned about eating right. I didn't realize how much this had become an instinctive part of my thinking until Lisa and I paid a visit to our friend Pat Lantz. He is, there can be no denying, a great cook, but he doesn't exactly adhere to the American Heart Association guidelines for a low fat diet. Perhaps it's because he's a forensic pathologist and he just assumes that as long as he's healthier than the people he autopsies every day (ie: he's breathing) then he's doing OK. He particularly loves olive oil: His recipes tend to feature so much of it that we've bubbed him "the Low Friction Gourmet". I'm assuming that everyone reading this will be interested in slightly healthier fare that what he usually prepares.

Now of course there are no shortage of cooking and recipe articles written for runners, but I feel they generally tend to be rather uninspiring. Although there's nothing wrong with making healthy food, they seem to emphasize it just a little too heavily for my...erm...taste. You get things like:

They might seem fine when you're sitting around reading a magazine or browsing the web, but when you've just finished a hard workout you just want food that tastes good. Preferably in very large quantities. That's where my chili comes in. Now you might think that a British-born vegetarian might not be much of an authority on chili. Au contraire! (I can use French if I want to: This is a cooking article.) My Anglo-Mexican Vegetarian ChiliTM is famous amongst my friends, and with good reason: Not only is it bodaciously tasty, it's really low in fat, cholesterol and all that other stuff that's bad for you. No kidding. This is healthy food that doesn't contain any cow/pig/goat/whatever-other-animal-flesh-people-put-in-their-chili and it tastes great. Of course, it does have some of the other properties of regular chili, but then that's why they make BeanoTM. A lot of people have expressed surprise when told that it's vegetarian. That's the magic of TVP (textured vegetable protein), which adds texture and protein with very little fat and yet still tastes as if it's bad for you...even though it isn't!

Many times I've brought a cauldron of Anglo-Mexican Vegetarian ChiliTM to one of the local winter races (the pre-Christmas Polarcats 5k being a favorite) and missed out on it myself because it was consumed by everyone else before I got to it...even though there was a large pot of meat-based chili sitting right next to it virtually untouched. Last time I had to prepare an extra container with enough chili for Lisa and myself and keep it hidden until I finished my cool down run. So I've decided that it's time to reveal my Secret Recipe.

Now a bit of a letdown: The biggest secret about my chili recipe is that it's based on a packet of mix that you buy in the store. That may not score me any points with the connoisseurs of fine cuisine, but it'll be a big relief to the cooking-impaired among us and let's face it--these are generally the kind of people who read my stuff anyway. So I win where it counts!

Ok, so with all that in mind, here it is:

Mark Roberts' Anglo-Mexican Vegetarian Chili TM


Only four ingredients! How can you beat that? You can get the Fantastic Foods Vegetarian Chili Mix at any health food or natural foods store, but it seems as if most mainstream supermarkets are carrying it these days. The mix contains textured vegetable protein (the stuff that people mistake for meat) and the spices and seasonings needed to turn it into chili. Starting with a mix makes this cooking gig pretty easy, but you have to deviate from the instructions on the package to make genuine Anglo-Mexican Vegetarian ChiliTM, so pay attention.

The instructions say to start with two and one half cups of water. That's too much for our purposes. Put two and one quarter cups of water in your chili pot and bring it to a boil. Slowly stir in the chili mix. If it starts boiling too violently, pour in one of the cans of beans and continue adding the chili mix until it's all mixed in and there are no big lumps.

Next add the remaining beans and the tomatoes and mix them in thoroughly. Back down the heat to a simmer.

The instructions on the chili mix say to stir occasionally. Whoever wrote this was a hopeless optimist: you need to stir this stuff almost constantly or you'll manufacture a layer of adobe on the bottom of your pot.

Now the peppers: If you're timid you can use a small quantity of jalapenos. If you're a suicidal maniac (or homicidal maniac if you're cooking for guests) you can use a pound of habaneros. Most of us will fall somewhere between these two extremes. (Unless you're a total wimp, in which case you can leave out the peppers entirely.) Make your firepower decision, chop up the peppers and add them to the mix (which you have, of course, been stirring all this time).

Now all you have to do is keep stirring for 25 minutes. At that point, remove your pot from the heat and let the stuff cool down. It can be eaten as soon as it's cool enough to tolerate, but it always seems to taste better if it's refrigerated overnight and heated up again the next day. If you re-heat it on the stove you have to observe the same constant-stirring precautions as when you originally cooked it if you want to avoid creating a bulletproof accretion of hardened chili-gunk on the bottom of your pan. I recommend you take my approach and rely on the traditional fallback of culinary sloth--the Microwave oven.

Variations: You can replace one of the cans of pre-seasoned chili beans with a can of another type beans of your own choosing. I sometimes use black beans, for example. I've also experimented with different brands of chili beans. Virtually all of them are industinguishable from one another (which is why I always go for the store brand) but I have found some Mexican-food-specific ones (Kuner's Southwestern Style Jalapeno Chili Beans) that pack a significant spice wallop and reduce or eliminate the need for added peppers. Experiment as much as you want but keep in mind the fate that befell that other great experimenter, Dr. Frankenstein. Maybe his problem was just that he forgot the Beano.

Copyright © 1999 Mark Roberts

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