This mushroom and bean chili recipe is the latest version of probably a dozen or more rich and ‘meaty’ plant-based chilis I’ve been cooking up most of my life. What I always strive to achieve in a good, authentic-tasting chili recipe is a balanced blend of spices, a just-right beans-to-chili ratio, and most important, a rich, hearty texture.
In this chili recipe, the texture is convincingly similar to a conventional chili – containing the animal products I’ve shyed away from. Also, much of the earthy flavor with unami undertones comes from mushrooms. Wait! Before you say, ‘you lost me at mushrooms!’ hear me out. This mushroom and bean chili recipe transforms those fungi! If you couldn’t tell, I’m really determined to prove that mushrooms are the new meat. They are in my house, at least!
So, how do I make this fungi into a meaty meal in terms of texture and flavor? First, you can use any kind of mushrooms, but I recommend a blend of creminis and shitakes. Shitakes can be expensive, but have a wonderful, full-bodied, earthy flavor that’s kind of magical in this chili. They’re worth the expense if you can splurge. Try the farmers market for a good deal, or grow your own, if you’re on a tight budget.
Second, rather than simply slice or rough-chop the mushrooms, we grind them up in a food processor. I imagine you could also do this by hand but it would take much longer. Just make sure to process until you get a nice, fine dice — and then stop. You don’t want to turn them into mush!
1 15 ounce can pinto beans drained and rinsed (or 2 cups/16 ounces of cooked beans)
1 15 ounce can black beans drained and rinsed (or 2 cups/16 ounces of cooked beans)
1/4 cup strong coffee or espresso (the secret ingredient!)
1 1/2 cup water
Sea salt to taste
Brush the mushrooms clean with a dry towel. Place mushrooms in a food processor in batches, about 1/4 at a time, and pulse several times to grind. You want them finely diced, but not mushy. (See notes.)
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat (or use water to keep things from sticking). Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and saute until well browned and the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the cumin, chili powder, fennel, cayenne pepper and cocoa powder. Stir, and cook 3 minutes, adding water 1-2 tablespoons at a time if things begin to stick.
Deglaze (loosen and scrape up any brown bits) with the coffee. Add the smashed tomatoes and their liquid, beans, and water and simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes and up to one hour.
Shitake mushrooms can be expensive, but add a rich, earthy flavor. It's fine to use a smaller amount shitakes or substitute them completely with cremini or white button mushrooms. Just make sure you have about 1 1/2 pounds total.
Shitake mushrooms have a tough section on the end of their stem. I snip those off with kitchen shears.
If some large pieces of mushrooms remain, don't keep pulsing. You want them finely ground but not mushy. Remove any large pieces and set them aside. Transfer the ground mushrooms from the food processor to a bowl. Then, add any large pieces back to the processor with the next batch and repeat until all of the mushrooms are finely ground.
Chopping whole tomatoes can make a mess! To avoid this, I empty the whole can into a large bowl and break them up them with a potato masher. I prefer to use whole tomatoes, as canned diced tomatoes contain a chemical (to keep them from dissolving), which alters the flavor. Also, I find there's no match for the flavor of San Marzanos.