Sunday, August 08, 2010

Chili con veggies

Tip of the day: Keep the price down on a meaty dish by adding a lot of vegetables.

Starting this week, I'll be once again embarking on the journey that is full-time employment, which will mean coming home to make dinner at the end of a long day of work. I'll also be faced —for a little while, anyway — with the challenge of being between paychecks, which happens to follow a non-paid vacation. Will this drive me in the direction of cheap, boxed convenience food for the next couple of weeks? Not a chance.

Take tonight's chili, for instance. Most people will tell you that chili is either beans or meat and beans. And that's it, they'll say: anything else is sacrilege. But when you're broke — or don't really feel like just eating a big bowl of meat — adding veggies can really give you more bang for your buck, both nutritionally and wallet-wise. You'll still get your spiced ground beef, but you'll also be able to make a larger amount of the dish with less of it. The added vegetables will also add a lot of flavor.

I often feel like I'm preaching to the choir with tips like this. My readers (all four of you) are either vegetarian or understand and embrace the value of fresh produce. You are not the target audience of V8's most recent ad campaign, which promises two servings of fruits and vegetables in their juice to those who "just don't like the taste of vegetables." But I want to continue to emphasize the value of vegetables in a healthy, frugal, seasonal and organic, not-from-a-box diet — in case it's not already obvious that it's the cornerstone of the way I eat and the way I would like to see everyone eat! And in case you happen to be a reader who hasn't been won over quite yet.

One of the highlights of this chili is that it's a fairly quick and easy dish to throw together. After doing the prep work of chopping the veggies and browning the meat, it cooks mostly unattended. It's also cheap — and that's even if, like me, you're using some grass-fed meat from happy cows, which can sometimes be pricey. Furthermore, it lends itself nicely to doubling or even tripling, to use as lunches later in the week or to freeze for future occasions.

Chili con veggies
serves 2

1/2 lb ground beef, preferably grass-fed
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 or 2 carrots, diced
1 large clove garlic (about 1 tbsp), minced
1 tomato (about 1/2 c), chopped
1 (14 oz) can kidney beans
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot or skillet, brown the ground beef. In a separate pan with a little olive oil, saute the onion, bell pepper, carrots, and garlic. When the beef is done, add the vegetables, along with the tomato, beans (and liquid), and the spices. Stir and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-25 minutes. (The longer it cooks, the more the flavors develop.) Serve with lime wedges, plain yogurt or sour cream, or your favorite chili toppings.

And vegetarians, it goes without saying that you can swap out the meat for more beans. Try pinto or black.

grass-fed ground beef - $3.00
organic onion - $0.50
organic bell pepper - $0.55
organic carrots - $0.25
organic garlic and tomato - from the garden
can of organic beans - $1.09
spices - I buy in bulk, so the small amounts needed for this recipe are very inexpensive, as well as difficult to calculate

total: $5.39 (without spices)
per serving: $2.70