Cook-Off Chili Co-Post

by Sarah on March 22, 2012 · 18 comments

I’m not one of those people who only craves salad in summer, and I’ve never been one of those people–like my friend Mark–who can only eat soup when it’s cold outside. So when my dear friend Molly started talking about making her Sweet Potato Lentil Chili for dinner the other night, I didn’t think a thing of it…even though I was wearing flip-flops and finally had left the house without a coat that morning.Turns out it’s not always 70 degrees and sunny in San Francisco, however, so the 45 degrees and rainy weather she was experiencing did lend itself a little more easily to the thought of a big bowl of hearty, spicy “vegan but you wouldn’t know it” (her words, not mine) chili.She first made this yumminess for me when I stayed with her after the Foodbuzz Festival in November, while testing the recipe for an upcoming Stanford Business School Chili Cook-Off. I was immediately enamoured with it, and, after she sent me the recipe last week, I knew it was time for another co-post. After all, even though Molly isn’t a blogger, she could be…so I’ll let her take it from here–with my commentary alongside (or underneath to be more accurate) of course.

Before I posted it, she warned,”I can be a bit long-winded you know.”

My response? “It’s OK. They’re used to that.” :)


This is a recipe for Sweet Potato & Lentil Chili that I actually entered in a recent Chili Cook-Off! As the voting system was disorganized and a winner was never announced, I’m just going to go ahead and say this is WINNING chili! (You can even say “winning” like Courtney on the Bachelor after she receives a rose if you’re feeling particularly snotty and fresh.) Despite being a vegetarian chili, we had even the most Texas Texan at the competition enjoying this meat-less version. You’ll need:

  • 2 cups of diced onions (sweet, white, whichever you have on hand) 2 cups is approx 2 LG onions  – I used red onions last weekend and it worked too!)

Or you can use 1/2 a medium onion you randomly have in your fridge. This will actually equal 1 cup. Rather than cut into a new onion, you will decide henceforth to halve the recipe. 

  • 2 cups of diced bell pepper (red, green, whichever you have on hand) 2 cups is approx 3 LG peppers

How about a combination of sweet mini peppers and wrinkly green ones (brought by Liz–but never used–to Blog Day Brunch)?

  • 4 cups of diced sweet potatoes (I am not 100% sure how many potatoes it takes to get 4 cups b/c it really depends on the size of your potatoes. But I’d think 4-6 would be safe. I’d recommend buying extras and then just measure as you chop!)

In case you were wondering, I had only one sitting on my counter. And I have since determined that it takes only one to get almost two cups of ‘chunked’ potato. (Got to love halving recipes just so you don’t have to go to the store!]

  • lots of fresh chopped garlic [So I am KINDA crazy about garlic- I usually double or even quadruple the amount of fresh garlic that most normal recipes call for. So I used an entire BULB of garlic- all of the cloves chopped quickly in my mini food processor/prep tool but if you are not trying to repel all of the vampires in the Bay Area, you could probably do 2-3 and be fine.]

I’m not a fan of Twilight, but I also wasn’t sure how I felt about mutilating an entire bulb of garlic with my poor knife skills, so I stuck to 3 very large cloves.

  • olive oil or vegetable oil (~3TBSP)
  • 2 TBSP chili powder
  • 1 TBSP cumin
  • 1 TBSP paprika, preferably Hungarian paprika
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth

Although I had an unopened box of vegetable broth in the pantry, I also had an opened jar of Better Than Boullion in the fridge. In the efforts of using up ‘what I got’ (thank you Sublime), I went with the boullion paste.

  • One can of diced tomatoes with green chilis (I like the Trader Joe’s version!)

As I had not yet ventured to Trader Joe’s at this point in the weekend, I stuck with a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes…sans green chiles.

  • 1.5-2 cups (depending on how lentil-y you want your chili) of Trader Joe’s steamed lentils.

I know it seems weird to use the TJ’s pre-steamed lentils which are obviously slightly more expensive than dried lentils but for some reason when I made it w/ dried lentils (the french green ones) and doubled the broth (since if you cook the lentils, you’ll need more liquid to cook the lentils), the consistency was less desirable. I’m not sure what it was about the dried lentils but despite cooking for a LONG time, the lentils still had that “bite” to them that you’d expect in say a lentil salad, whereas TJ’s pre-steamed ones really gave the chili that consistency that you’d expect from a meat-based chili.

I would like to interject and say that the version of the chili I ate in San Francisco was this one she said was “less than desireable” and I still loved it.

So, it’s up to you but since you have a TJ’s near you (and they’re not THAT expensive- say $2.99 I think), I’d recommend using that. However, if you don’t have a TJ’s nearby or want to use dried lentils, just double the amount of broth and let the chili simmer for a tad longer until fully cooked. It’s really a matter of personal texture preference.

Since by now I just wanted to see if I could make this whole recipe with things I already had at home, I grabbed this jar of red lentils from the pantry…thinking (rightly) that since red lentils get mushier than standard brown or French green…I’d get the texture that Molly I was looking for.

And now, let’s get down to this chili-making business, shall we?


1. Saute bell peppers in oil over medium/medium high heat until they start to soften (~5-10min) — I’m sorry I can’t give you a more exact temp to cook them over but our stovetop is fairly low-tech and there aren’t really temp markings. I do a “medium sized flame” haha.

As I am in the practice of cooking along the guidelines of Whole Foods’ Health Starts Here program–every recipe could potentially lead to a cooking class!–I steamed my veggies in water. [Don’t yell at me Lele!]

2. Once peppers soften, add onions and saute til soft for another 5 minutes or so.3. Add garlic and saute til fragrant. (Again, another 5 or so minutes.) But for all of these, just watch it and stir around so nothing burns!

4. Add sweet potatoes and saute ~15-20 minutes until soft. At this point, you may need a bit more oil to cover the potatoes. Just eyeball it!

Or, if you’ve ended up with everything on the chopping board together……and you accidentally dump some of the potatoes in the pot……well, just go ahead and add ’em all at the same time.

To be honest, you don’t have to saute everything down THAT well if you’re in a time crunch since the whole chili simmers for ~30 minutes anyways once it’s all thrown together. But this is just the way that I did it for whatever that’s worth :)

It’s worth a lot. But I’m just going to jump the gun a little bit.And since whenever I see recipes for dal or other lentil stews, they tell me to stir the dry lentils in before adding liquid, I’m going to go ahead and do that, too.Molly said 1.5-2 cups of lentils depending on how ‘lentil-y’ I want it. What if I just want it to be as lentil-y as the 3/4 cups of dry lentils I have makes it?5. Add in the seasonings and broth and lentils and canned diced tomatoes and stir together.

Done.Done.And done.

6. Bring to a boil and then simmer for ~30 min for the flavors to come together.Molly didn’t tell me what to do if the only lid you happen to currently possess has vanished. So I improvised.

Our paprika had a bit of a kick to it since it was from Hungary but traditional paprika isn’t too spicy so you may enjoy adding 1/4tsp of cayenne pepper. I think it really balances the smoky cumin and sweet potatoes nicely but I was hesitant to give it too much kick for a wide audience. You can always season to taste.

How about smoked paprika?

7. Throughout the 30 minutes, just check the consistency of the chili.

You may prefer a runny-er chili, if so, you may need more broth. If you think you’d like it thicker, just add some more lentils (the pre-steamed ones from TJ’s come with 3 cups).

I just added a bit more water…while rinsing out the tomato can for recycling.

I think the chili tastes best with this specific cheese from Ttrader Joe’s – it’s a cheddar gruyere blend that is just divine- it is sharp enough to stand up to the chili. Obviously you do not NEED this and any other cheese would probably be great too as long as it has a sharp/nutty taste, can stand up to a grater but still melt when it is on top. I think a dollop of plain greek yogurt would be delicious too. I also recommend Judy’s Breadsticks Garlicky/Seedy breadstick bites on top- they can be found at some specialty grocery stores (specifically, Draeger’s in Menlo Park if you’re a Bay Area-er).

(Mostly) lactose-free for me…and although I DO still have a package of Judy’s “Lovesticks” Twigs smuggled through TSA back from San Francisco, they are the sweet currant ones I believe, and I wasn’t sure how that would pair. [Of course, now that I think about it, the whole sweet-and-spicy thing would probably be just yummy and vaguely Moroccan.]How about I top it with the random Tostitos chiplets Rachel sent me home with last time we were at her house devouring an entire jar of Newman’s Own Mild Salsa?

 I think that’ll work just fine.


Thanks for the AMAZING “Vegan But Ya Wouldn’t Know It” Sweet Potato Lentil Chili recipe, Molls! Even though I halved the recipe, I still ended up with quite a bunch.I do have to apologize to y’all for not having a final “plated” picture, but Molly has forgiven me.  As she said last night, “Well, it may be for the better. I have to say that chili doesn’t plate very nicely.”

I don’t know about that, though. It looks pretty darn good to me…

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blackhuff March 22, 2012 at 6:01 am

Chilli is not one of my favourite things but it sure is for my hubby. So I will make this for him.

Fran@ Broken Cookies Don't Count March 22, 2012 at 6:58 am

I’m with you, Sarah…this looks delicious! I’m a big chili fan. I need to try this because I love lentils. I have a really good vegetarian chili recipe that I need to make and post. You’ve inspired me!

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table March 22, 2012 at 8:16 am

Molly and Sarah in a post?! I think the world might implode. :)

I’ve been looking forward to this chili since you guys were talking about it at FoodBuzz! The flavors in it sounds amazing, and you know I love that sweet potato. Now, will you guys bring me some?

Tricia @ Saving room for dessert March 22, 2012 at 8:20 am

You know I’m kind of odd sometimes, but when I woke this morning I was thinking about you (Sarah) and how I had not seen a post about chiplets or crumbs in the cereal box in a long time. I thought to myself, “but she is eating more oatmeal these days and maybe she gave up chips and crackers.” I was wrong – but that was weird. I love chiplets in chili and soup and so happy you included crumbs in this post! This recipe sounds great – thanks for co-posting and sharing!

Sarah March 23, 2012 at 6:11 am

I have definitely NOT abandoned my love for the crumblies and chiplets of the world…I’ve just been taking a little bit longer to get to the bottom of the boxes and bags around me. :)

Lauren @ What Lauren Likes March 22, 2012 at 8:20 am

Looks great to me!! :)

Parita @ myinnershakti March 22, 2012 at 9:41 am

Loved reading this post, especially the recipe commentary! I love sweet potatoes and am always looking for new ways to incorporate them into my meals, so I’ll definitely be trying this soon. Thanks for sharing!

Anna @ On Anna's Plate March 22, 2012 at 10:20 am

Yum– this looks like the perfect vegetarian chili!

Maria March 22, 2012 at 11:36 am

I second the “Molly needs a blog” motion, because this looks amazing!

Mattie @ Comfy and Confident March 22, 2012 at 2:51 pm

All I have to say is I can not wait to make this and I love how detailed the directions are so detailed, I need that!! :)

Candy @ Healthy In Candy Land March 22, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Yes, it does look pretty darn good! I haven’t used lentils in chili before but I can’t figure out why the heck not! Lentils are delicious. Chili is delicious. And there ya go.

Patty March 22, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Smoked Paprika!!!

After my own heart!!!!

Lele March 26, 2012 at 7:21 pm

I didn’t mean to *yell* at you for steaming veggies in water! I am so sorry!
I just said for that particular Ethiopian-inspired recipe that all the Ethiopian food I’ve had in the past was deliciously soaked in oil 😀 and that I couldn’t quite picture the flavors without it.
And also, taking a nutrition class, was somewhat fixated on my recent readings about fat soluble vitamins.
This recipe looks delicious without it! So sorry if I came across as a nasty internet judge-er!

Sarah March 27, 2012 at 5:53 pm

You? A nasty internet judger? Absurd! I was only teasing….in that way that’s like “I know I should use oil because it isn’t going to kill me, but I’m not doing it regardless” defense mechanism. 😉

Izetta September 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm

has anyone tried this in the corckpot? I’ve got everything on hand and preppeed but I want it for Sunday dinner. I was thinking of sauteeing everything before church (in the crockpot), then putting the rest in & setting it on low.

Any ideas or suggestions?

Sarah September 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm

I don’t know about the slow cooker, but I imagine it would work just fine. :) Did you try it? How did it go?

Izetta September 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm

OMG… super yummy!
I prepped everything last night, sauteed this morning and put it all in the crockpot. LOVE! I could’ve scaled back a cup on the stock, but I used dry lentils so I wasn’t sure. Next time, I may also add more sweet potatoes to make mine thicker. I’ll definitely be making this again!


Sarah September 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm

I’m so glad it worked out for you!

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