One of my favorite dishes growing up was chili con carne. When my mom started making this at home I was going through a few years of eating meat (a short intermission to my lifelong vegetarianism), and I fell in love with this soup instantly. I wasn’t the only one to fall in love with it, either—all my close friends became huge fans too.
The reason for my mother’s recipe success amongst so many Peruvian teenagers obviously had to do with the fact that it was out-of-this-world delicious, but also with how unusual it was. Keep in mind that chili is not a Peruvian recipe, and back in the early 90’s we didn’t have access to all the Tex-Mex food chains that abound worldwide these days (still not a lot of them in Peru today, but certainly more than back then!). So this was a completely new and unique flavor for all of us, and it couldn’t be found anywhere other than in my mother’s kitchen…or in my school lunchbox.
Yes, I was such a chili con carne lover that I wasn’t satisfied with only eating it at home. I also had to bring it to school with me to enjoy during my lunch break, in a large thermos flask to keep it hot. This is how my friends got hooked on it, because they knew my lunchbox always had the tastiest and most interesting/exotic food in it, and always requested to try what I was eating.
When I became a vegetarian again (I was around 14 or 15), the recipe was easily adjusted by replacing minced meat with minced soy meat. The taste and texture are pretty much identical, and I have fooled more than one die-hard meat eater into thinking this was made with real animal protein.
The recipe I’m sharing today is not my mom’s recipe. For inspiration, I googled “best vegetarian chili recipes” and found a couple that I liked, took the best from each of them, and then created my own, “healthier” version, as I always do. For example, the recipe I found called for crumbled vegan burgers, but most of the vegan burgers in the market are filled with chemicals and other strange sounding ingredients that I prefer to keep out of my body. I wanted this to be gluten-free too, so anything with seitan (a vegetable protein made of wheat) was out of the question. The best choice I found was a good quality tempeh, which was of course organic, non-gmo, and with no added ingredients other than soybeans, water, and brown rice.
The result was definitely a keeper. I feel so grown up now that I have my very own chili recipe! Here is the full recipe.