Vegetarian Chili – A Labor of Love

“The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children”
― Philip Carr-Gomm

My late grandfather Thomas Puskala was a soil artist and his straight, manicured vegetable rows were a work of art. He was an organic gardener before it was hip and he carefully recorded the seasons and moments of insight on his calendar. He cited the migration of geese and robins, jotted down when he planted the peas, and detailed the ebb and flow of frost’s destructive fingers. I think of Grandpa when I publish a new blog post. He would have loved how I document my garden with snippets of poetry, layers of photos, and the capacity that my words and recipes have for outreach. Technology affords us the opportunity to document our lives with vibrant threads of meaning.

Thank you to my cousin Alicia for this photo of Grandpa Puskala. ❤

I thought of Grandpa this past summer and fall when I grew and put up over thirty quarts of garden tomatoes. Our new hoop house made for a remarkable growing season and our tomato plants became tree-like and laden with juicy fruit. It felt therapeutic to quarter the scarlet orbs (skins and all) and roast them with garlic and onion for marinara, plunge them into boiling water to remove the skins for stewed tomatoes, and add spices to the boiling pot and render salsa with fiery depth. Though, through the canning process, I am preserving more than just an Upper Peninsula of Michigan summer in jar. I am also encapsulating Grandpa’s old fashioned values and his affinity for nourishing his family with wholesome food and living as close to the land as possible. Every bubbling pan of lasagna and simmering pot of tomato basil soup is a homage to my grandfather’s legacy.

I know that I am not alone in taking extra steps to make healthy meals for my family. However, with cold comes with an offering of food temptations. Making wise food choices can be a challenge and craving comfort food makes it easy to surrender to indulging in too sodium and sugar laden treats. With spring right around the corner, you may be thinking of ways to jump start your healthy intentions. A great tip that I try to incorporate into my family’s meal plan is to have soup or chili on hand. This guarantees that we always have a quick and homemade dinner or lunch in a pinch. The chili recipe that I am sharing with you is heavy on fiber from beans, which makes it filling.

I started sharing recipes on my blog in 2013, and I like to challenge people to experiment with vegetarian or Vegan recipes. Not only do those who practice a plant-based diet know how to find alternative and filling sources of protein, but often plant-based recipes use healthy spices and herbs for flavor. This chili recipe is one that I have shared with friends for years and I always mention, that if desired, they can add meat. However, most report back that they enjoyed the recipe without meat. This recipe is on rotation in our house year round, but it is especially satisfying in the winter months as the temperature dips (which is still the case in Upper Michigan).  I often make a double or triple batch and it freezes well. This year I even pressure canned a few quarts to keep on hand in case of an emergency.

Last weekend I participated in a chili cook off at the 5th Annual Wellness Fair at Gwinn High School. I took first place in the amateur division – winning over two student groups and my boss Sandy Petrovich, the Superintendent of Gwinn Area Community Schools. It was neat to watch Ms. Petrovich and her student competitors banter back and forth. It was exactly how a school function should run – it was well attended and involved all of our education stakeholders. The entire event made me so proud to be a Modeltowner!

The Wellness Fair was exciting to participate in and GACS Food Service Director, and organizer of the Wellness Fair, Barbie Ward-Thomas does a phenomenal job encompassing all types of wellness in the event: physical, emotional, financial, and social wellness. We are so lucky to have her as our support and advocate for health at GACS!

To see a story of the event covered by local media click HERE

My award winning chili!

I served up my chili with sour cream, wedges of lime, and fresh cilantro!

I was pleased to have been selected first place by community tasters (everyone is invited to sample the chili and cast a vote). It is always interesting to see the look on people’s faces when you mention that the chili is vegetarian. Some people look at you skeptically like you are trying to spread an agenda, but then I explain how flavorful it is and full of ingredients. If that does not win them over, I like to mention how easy vegetarian chili can be on your pocketbook since beans are extremely affordable (especially if you buy dry beans and cook them yourself). I also made sure to bring a jar of my canned tomatoes to show people the love and attention that I put into my chili. ❤ Love wins every time!

THREE BEAN VEGETARIAN CHILI
*3 cups of tomatoes
*1 cup tomato juice
*1 cup of chopped green bell pepper
*1 cup chopped celery
*1 cup chopped onion
*1 cup of corn
*3 minced cloves of garlic
*1 cup white beans (cooked)
*1 cup black beans (cooked)
*1 cup kidney beans (cooked)
*1 small can diced green chilies
*1 Tbsp ground cumin
*1 Tbsp ground coriander
*1 Tbsp dried oregano
*1 Tbsp chili powder, (Add as much for desired heat.)
*Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

Sauté celery, onion, green pepper and garlic with olive oil. Add all ingredients to crock pot or stock pot (you may also want to add a cup of water). The longer the chili cooks, the better it will taste. If I cook via stove-top I simmer for 60 minutes. Using the slow-cooker method I cook on low for 4 hours. Season to taste (adding more chili powder or “heat” if desired).

You can also toss in other vegetables that you have on hand. In the past I’ve added zucchini, carrots, and even cabbage.

While you can use canned beans that you purchase at the market, I suggest buying dry and cooking your own (makes it even more economical). I make the beans in bulk and freeze. One pot makes approximately fifteen cups. While it is fantastic alone, sometimes I like to add a dollop of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, chopped green onions, fresh cilantro, an avocado wedge, whole wheat pasta or quinoa, and/or a squeeze of fresh lime juice to perk up the flavor even more. Add a side salad (the one featured here incorporates citrus, pomegranate, jalapeno slices, and avocado) and you have a nutritious and hearty, but not heavy, meal. For easy to assemble homemade salad dressings, make sure you check out my blog.

I hope that you were fortunate as my family to have a bounty of tomatoes over the summer. If you do not garden, you are missing out on one of life’s most simple pleasures. There is nothing like a tomato fresh off the vine – still warm from the sun. Take advantage of a blustery UP day to dream about tilling a small plot of land or filling a row of containers on your deck with lush plants. My husband and I will spend our winter months pouring over seed catalogs to fill our new hoop house in the spring. I know my grandfather is watching and I know that he loves our farm. ❤

My new cards I had printed to give out at the Wellness Fair in hopes of drawing in new readers.

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Spring Fever Remedy: Cucumber Soup

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

Our hoop house is in the distance, patiently awaiting summer.

 

 

Today is a snow day off of work/school and to say that I have spring fever is an understatement. I have been dreaming of leafy green vegetation since the first hint of snowflakes graced the sky. A couple of weeks ago my husband John planted trays of seeds in our family room window, and in front of our sliding glass door. Daily we watch the thermometer that measures the temperature in our hoop house – waiting until it is warm enough at night to start planting the seedlings. Today it is only 30 degree in the hoop house, but on sunny days it has been reaching the low 50s. Last summer was our first taste of large scale gardening and we are hooked. Winter was our time to dream and make plans for even better produce.

Morning Glory

This was in the beginning of the season. We ended up going to a drip hose watering method since the plants were ENORMOUS and a sprinkler wasn’t able to do the job.

Last year we were able to harvest cucumbers from July until late October. Not only were we able to fill our shelves with quarts of pickles, we were also able to share our bounty with friends.

It was a learning process since it was our first year with a hoop house. This year we will be adding a large fan to circulate the air and we will be start our pumpkins inside and move them outside. We will also make sure that we have plenty of seedlings as backup for when plants (such a broccoli) go to seed and stop producing.

We used a trellis system with pulleys and plastic clips for the tomato and cucumber plants.

As I tried to come up with different ways to serve up crunchy slices of cucumbers, I often joked that I needed to come up with a cucumber cookbook. While my eleven-year-old step daughter Avalon’s favorite way to enjoy cucumber is putting them on her eyes to pretend she is at a spa, I think one of my favorite ways is a cool and refreshing bowl of cucumber soup. In fact, this time of year I find myself yearning so much for summer that I make sure that I pick up the ingredients at the supermarket so I can whip up a batch.

We harvested this many cucumbers often on a daily basis.

 

My favorite way to eat cucumbers is sliced with some fresh dill, raw apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. I am even known to eat this for breakfast.

This soup is light, healthy, and a wonderful way to welcome spring. You will also want to set this recipe aside to recreate in the summer when cucumbers are in their prime. It is a wonderful meal when the temperatures soar and cooking in a hot kitchen feels out of the question.

Stick with wholesome and fresh ingredients and your body will thank you.

CREAMY CUCUMBER SOUP WITH AVOCADO & DILL (makes one large bowl or two small)

*1 large Cucumber
*1 cup of Plain yogurt (use your favorite brand – low fat or full fat version. Greek yogurt is thick and works well for this dish)
*Juice and zest of one lemon or lime
*
1/2 Avocado
*1 small clove of Garlic
*1 Tablespoon of Onion (or a couple green onions)
*Few leaves of Kale or Spinach
*¼ cup of fresh Dill (or to taste)
*Salt and Pepper to Taste

If it is a garden cucumber, or organic from the market, I only remove ½ of the peelings. Cut the cucumber in half and with a spoon remove the seeds (they make the soup too runny). Chop and reserve ½ of the cucumber. Add the other half of the cucumber and the rest of the ingredients to a blender. Do a quick blend if you want the soup to be chunky and longer if you want it smooth. Pour in a bowl and add the chopped cucumber to the top and a sprig of fresh dill.

This soup is extremely versatile and if you are not fond of dill you can use cilantro. I like to add different toppings depending on what I have on hand. Some of our favorites are kalamata olives, feta cheese, and grape tomatoes. Sometimes if I am looking for a lighter soup, I leave out the avocado. Since it’s so easy to make you can leave the ingredients out for friends or family members to make their own bowl.

It only seemed fitting that I snapped a photo last summer in the hoop house. ❤

If you have spring fever like I do, I encourage you to try a new recipe or do something light and lively with the decor in your home. Grab your camera and record the way the sunlight sifts through bare branches or watch the way your pets delight in puddles of sunshine. Continue to dream and eventually spring will be here! Until then, make the most of today and enjoy every healthy moment.

 

Here you can see the pulley system that we used for our plants. It really worked well and we will be using this system again. It is unbelievable how heavy tomato plants and cucumber vines get and this system really helped hoist them up.