vegan chilli with chocolate and chia seeds


Chocolate and chia seeds? Do those things really belong in a savoury dish?

I am here to tell you they most certainly do!

As we’ve - still - been experiencing bone-chillingly cold nights here in Tassie, comforting and warming meals like chilli are still de rigeur in my household. To this one, I added a couple of squares of 90% dark chocolate (which adds an amazing depth of flavour) and, because there was too much liquid at the end of cooking for my liking, chia seeds. They soak up liquid like magic!! As a result this was probably the healthiest (and most delicious) bowl of chilli I’ve ever eaten.

And though the weather seems to be finally warming up, I won’t be disappointed if I have to make this again any time soon!

What follows is the combination of beans and lentils I used, but you can naturally use any you have to hand.

Vegan chilli with chocolate and chia seeds

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
1 bunch parsley stalks (or a few sticks of celery), finely chopped
1 x 400 g tin black beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 400 g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons Pasillo chilli powder (or any other chilli powder you like - I also like Ancho chilli flakes)
3 teaspoons dried cumin
1 bay leaf
200 g red lentils
1 x 800 g tin whole plum tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons chipotle sauce
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
2-3 teaspoons vegan “beef-style” stock powder made up with enough boiling water to cover
2-3 squares vegan dark chocolate (I use Lindt 90%)
4-5 tablespoons chia seeds, depending on thickness desired
Salt and pepper to taste
To serve: cooked brown basmati rice, finely sliced spring onions, pickled jalapenos, sharp grated cheddar, greek yoghurt (obviously adding the last two will make it vegetarian rather than vegan)

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large, flameproof casserole dish (I use my Le Creuset) over a medium to high heat and add the onion, garlic and chilli. Saute for a minute or two until soft and fragrant, then add the diced carrots and chopped parsley stalks (I used these because I had them on hand, and they taste remarkably like celery! But use whatever vegetables you have).

Add the drained beans, then the chilli powder, cumin and bay leaf. Toss everything around to get coated in the spices, adding a splash of water if things start sticking. Saute for a few minutes until slightly softened.

Add the lentils, tomatoes, chipotle sauce and tomato paste, stirring to combine everything well. Then add enough “beef” stock to cover the mixture. As lentils absorb so much liquid, I err on the side of caution and sometimes add a bit more liquid than I need. I would rather add chia seeds to soak up the liquid at the end of cooking - adding insufficient liquid in the first place can lead to a rather desperate rescue operation!

Stir well, ensuring nothing is stuck to the bottom of the dish. Allow the mixture to come to the boil and then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are soft.

Add the dark chocolate, stirring well to ensure it melts and the flavour is evenly distributed. Add chia seeds at this stage too. You may not need very many, only a tablespoon or so, depending on how much liquid is left. If there is quite a bit, you’ll need to add a few more tablespoons. It’s great fun to watch, these tiny seeds soaking up the stock like magic! You still want some liquid though, so take your time and add judiciously, stirring constantly.

Once the chilli is thickened to your liking, taste and add salt and pepper if you need. Turn off the heat and allow to sit while you assemble all your fixings.

Serve in bowls with rice and topped with whatever you fancy - I love the pickled chillies and jalapenos you can get in jars at the supermarket. This way, I can make the chilli mild enough for heat-averse family members but my portion can be as hot as I like it.

Any leftovers can be frozen or stored in the fridge to reheat the next day, by which time the subtle fruity notes of the dark chocolate will be even more apparent!