There’s no close-up of this chili because there is no photogenic lentil chili. It all looks like sludge, no matter how fabulous it tastes. However, this recipe, adapted from Milwaukee restaurant Sauce via Gourmet magazine and thespicehouse.com, was the centerpiece of a graduation potluck picnic at Gettysburg College last weekend. Surprising people really enjoyed it, surprising people like the beloved Stoic the Vast who doesn’t like food that makes his head sweat.
It’s the first lentil chili I’ve ever eaten that didn’t need a splash of vinegar to give it flavor. The spices, mustard, peppers and brown sugar give it a dark, complex taste. Next time — and there will be one before long — I’ll use all the chili powder and reduce the cayenne which, to my tastebuds, adds no flavor just a sledgehammer blow of heat.
Spicy Lentil Chili
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 celery rib, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons (or less) salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 packed tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder (one-quarter or more can be chipotle powder)
1 tablespoon paprika (I used smoked)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (next time: 1/4 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
2 cups lentils, rinsed and drained
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock (for the vegans at your table)
In 5- to 6-quart stockpot, heat oil. Stirring occasionally, cook onion, peppers, celery, carrot , garlic, salt and pepper about 6 to 8 minutes or until softened. Meanwhile, mix together brown sugar, chili powder, paprika, cumin, cayenne, oregano, thyme, and mustard. Add to vegetables in pot and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add lentils, stock and bay leaf. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until lentils are very soft, about 50 to 60 minutes. Discard bay leaf before serving.
Serve with slices of sharp Cheddar, if you like. Serves 6 but can easily be doubled to serve a bunch more.