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Sweet potato-black bean chili warms up a cold night

Recipe: Spicy vegan chili simmers in the slow cooker

Vegetable chili and a red ladle
After six-plus hours in the slow cooker, the chili is ready
to serve. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

The color changes of fall happen inside as well as outside the house. In the kitchen, it's the season of orange vegetables, as winter squashes, pumpkins, carrots and sweet potatoes come into their own.

Sweet potatoes finally are being used for more than marshmallow-topped casseroles -- hello, seasoned fries! -- but these vitamin A-packed tubers have a lot of unexplored potential.

In this recipe, freely adapted from one I found on the New York Times Cooking website, the root vegetable pairs with black beans for a hearty, spicy main dish. A side of cornbread or a green salad are all you need to add to the meal. (Bonus: The kitchen smells amazing while the chili is cooking.)

I simmered this in my slow cooker, but it can be put together on a stovetop without too much trouble. I recommend choosing fire-roasted tomatoes if you're buying cans; I used a 15-ounce can of fire-roasted and a pint jar of home-canned crushed tomatoes in this.

I also peeled one sweet potato and left one unpeeled, to see if there was any difference in texture after cooking, but there wasn't. And I used the cayenne and all 4 chipotles, which kicked the temperature to pretty-hot, but this chili will taste great at any spice level.

Any leftovers can be frozen for a later lunch or dinner.

Spicy Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
Serves 6-8


Chili ingredients
These basic ingredients form the foundation of a great vegan
3 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained (two 15-ounce cans), divided

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

6 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped

2 large sweet potatoes, about 1-1/2 pounds total, peeled or unpeeled as desired

3-1/2 to 4 cups crushed or diced tomatoes, including juice

1 cup vegetable broth, plus up to 1/2 cup more if needed

Juice of 1 lime (about 1-1/2 tablespoons)

1 to 4 chipotle peppers from a can of chipotles in adobo, chopped, plus 3 tablespoons of the adobo sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, optional

Ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup or more of frozen corn, rinsed to almost defrost it

Optional topping(s):

Crushed tortilla chips, minced red onion, slices of avocado, chopped cilantro, shredded vegan or dairy cheese, or nondairy sour cream


Chili before cooking
Everything is in the slow cooker and ready to start simmering.

After draining the beans, set aside 1/2 cup, reserving at room temperature. Put the rest of the beans in the slow cooker.

In a skillet on medium-high heat, heat the oil and gently cook the chopped onion just until soft. Add the garlic, and stir, about 1 minute. Don't let the garlic brown. Add onions and garlic to the beans in the slow cooker.

Chop the sweet potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces and add those to the slow cooker. Stir in the tomatoes, broth, lime juice, chipotles and adobo sauce, brown sugar, cumin, salt, cayenne if using, and plenty of black pepper to taste.

Cook on low setting for at least 6 hours. At that point, check the sweet potatoes; they should be tender. If the chili seems watery, mash the reserved black beans and stir them in. If the consistency is fine, stir in the beans without mashing. If it seems too thick, add some of the extra vegetable broth until it's the right consistency.

Taste and add more salt or pepper as desired. Finally, stir in the corn to warm through. (One cup seemed fine to me, but add more corn if desired.)

The chili can continue to cook for up to 2 more hours, depending on serving time, or it can hold on warm.

Chili topped with chips
A healthy, spicy chili is perfect for a cold night.
Serve in bowls with desired topping, or set a selection of toppings out on the table and let everyone choose among them.


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A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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