A New Year’s Challenge (With Vegetarian Chili on the Side)

by Maile on January 2, 2012

Two Thursdays out of most months, I scurry around my kitchen assembling all the necessities for cooking (pots, utensils, aprons, etc.), stuff it all in an empty box or laundry basket, load it in my minivan along with my two oldest children, and drive the short distance to the local food pantry where we volunteer.

My role there is simple: cook.

I receive the same items for a meal that the food pantry patrons will receive at that day’s distribution. And with those ingredients, I create recipes that will give them options for interesting and healthy meals, then I make those recipes for the patrons while they’re waiting for their opportunity to gather their rations from the pantry.

I love to cook, so when this role presented itself, the fit felt perfect. But over the past year, the cooking has become secondary. Even now emotion chokes in my throat as I think of last month’s demonstration and the petite, white-haired woman who, with red-rimmed eyes, relayed to me the dire circumstances of her husband’s health, and how, without insurance, they couldn’t afford to buy the medication that keeps him breathing.

“I’m so so sorry,” I whispered, tears blurring her form before me as she spoke.

“He says he’s not afraid to die, but he’s not ready yet,” her voice quivered as she whispered the next few words, “and I’m not ready to lose him.” As I slid my arms around her trembling shoulders, shaking with her stifled sobs, I felt helpless. I felt small. I felt ill-equipped.

And I felt that I was right where I needed to be.

In the New Year, so often our resolutions center around self-improvements we hope to achieve through more effort: lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more.

I challenge you this year to follow your passion (cooking, art, singing, photography, etc.) to a place where you don’t have the solutions or the answers, to the place where you are simply arms open wide ready to welcome the broken-hearted.

And just see the self-improvements that come from that.

Today’s recipe is taken from one of the cooking demos I did this past year. It’s cheap (a plus after the havoc the holidays can have on our finances), healthy (because the holidays tend to wreak even more havoc on our waistlines), and oh-so-easy.

Mai’s Vegetarian Chili

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 c. chopped onions or 1 tsp. onion powder

1 garlic clove, chopped or ½ tsp. garlic powder

1 tbsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

1, 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

1, 14 oz. can of pinto beans, drained

1, 14 oz. can of black beans, drained

1, 14 oz. can of sweetcorn, undrained

1 c. vegetable broth (if you’re not too worried about the whole “vegetarian” bit, beef broth works nicely here)

¼ tsp. ground pepper

1 ½ tsp. salt

In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add onions and garlic, and sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until veggies are softened. Add chili powder and cumin and sauté for another minute. Then add tomatoes, beans, corn, pepper, and salt (if you made the bean salsa recipe from last week, feel free to throw your leftover beans and corn into the chili at this point for a slightly chunkier version). Simmer for 30 minutes and serve.

My kids can’t get enough of this chili. When I’m feeling down in the dumps, I simply whip up a pot of this and sit back in my easy chair to absorb all the compliments. When I made this for lunch last week, my daughter, after eating a bowl full, stormed into the bathroom where I was showering and declared, “Mom that chili was delicious!” and then quickly exited. Gotta love that kind of affirmation!

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