I have fond memories of chili day in school (it helps that chili was always paired with a gooey cinnamon roll). The experience imprinted on my taste buds how chili — and cinnamon rolls! — should taste. Through the years I’ve tried one recipe after another and they always turned out too thin, the wrong texture, and bland. Of course a large part of the issue is that I don’t eat meat, so finding a suitable alternative to ground beef was key.
One day I was chatting with my mom about this search and my desire to avoid store-bought tofu meat substitutes. The conversation got me thinking about what I had recently read on the umami flavor that meat provides, and that mushrooms are a good vegetarian alternative. Then I remembered that cooked wheat berries have a similar chewiness to ground beef, so it could be the texture element. Things were coming together, and I just needed to find the right chili recipe.
My search for a recipe that matched my memory led me to Elementary School Chili, which looked right based on the ingredients. Below is my modified version of the recipe, using the mushroom-wheat berry blend instead of ground beef.
I’m thrilled with the results of this experiment — a vegetarian chili that finally lives up to my school lunch memories.
I also wanted to make fresh cornbread to go with the chili, but I was out of eggs so couldn’t make my usual recipe. This cornbread recipe looked promising, and after reading the comments I made a few adjustments to the recipe and was really happy how it turned out. I cooked it a bit too long, so next time I’ll watch the oven closer.
Vegetarian school lunch chili
Adapted from Elementary School Chili.
- 8 ounces white mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup cooked hard red wheat berries
- 4 tablespoons whole wheat flour from soft white wheat berries
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3/4 cup kidney beans, cooked
- 3/4 cup red beans, cooked
- 7 cups water
- Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet and add the mushrooms. Add salt and pepper to taste and saute for a few minutes until the liquid cooks off.
- Stir the wheat berries, flour, and brown sugar into the mushrooms and set aside.
- In a large pot, stir together the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, salt, and onions. Stir in the mushroom mixture, beans, and water.
- Bring to a gentle simmer and cook over low heat for 2 hours.
Eggless whole grain cornbread
Adapted from cornbread recipe.
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups whole grain cornmeal
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour from soft white wheat berries
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Spray an 8- or 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
- Stir together the milk and vinegar and let stand.
- Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl, combine the melted butter and honey. Add the milk mixture and butter-honey mixture to the dry ingredients and stir gently until just blended.
- Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
This cornbread is delicious with honey butter. If it’s not all eaten right away, store the rest of the slices in the freezer for freshness. Fresh cornbread tends to go bad fairly quickly because of its high moisture content.