The Evolution of a Winning Veggie Chili

It is Super Bowl Sunday. And there are chili recipes flying across the interwebs. I wasn’t planning on writing about the chili that I made overnight for the Youth Group’s Chili Cook Off at church today, but since my chili won second place in the vegetarian category, I thought that maybe it was good enough to share. The only downside is that I really didn’t take any pictures as I wasn’t expecting to blog about it. But I’ll see what I can do!

So, the genesis of this recipe comes from my husband, who mentioned to me that he heard the NPR segment on chili earlier this week, where the secret ingredient was … butternut squash. He knows that I have several bags of squash in the freezer, and thought I might be intrigued with the thought of adding it to the vegetarian chili being made at my daughter’s request. And, yes, she is the Picky Eater. She had no intention of tasting it, but she is very involved in leadership of the Youth Group and was insistent that we had to bring a chili. So who gets tasked with making it? Right. Yours truly.

To get started then, I had to do some research. What was this NPR segment that the husband was talking about?

The story was easy to find – A Surprise Play: Beefy Butternut Squash Chili – but wasn’t going to work for my assignment, as I had been asked to make a vegetarian chili. The internet is my friend, however, and after a bit of searching, I found this recipe – Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili – which also featured butternut squash. From there, my improvisational cooking skills took over – my modifications are in italics.


2 teaspoons canola oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced Oops, no celery in the house. I substituted 2 large parsnips, diced
2 carrots, diced 
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bell pepper, diced I used a red bell pepper as that’s what I had in the house
2 tablespoons dark chili powder Used 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon Penzey’s Northwoods Fire Seasoning
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Used ¼ teaspoon of Penzey’s Ground Ancho Chili Pepper
1 (29-ounce) can crushed tomatoes Used diced tomatoes, no salt added
3 (15.5 oz) cans red kidney or black beans, rinsed and drained
Used a bag of dried organic chili beans (red kidney, black, & pinto) from Harris Teeter
12 ounces butternut squash, peeled and diced (about 3 cups)
1 cup vegetable stock
Used about 5 cups of water here, since I was cooking dried beans I needed more liquid


NOTE: Sauteing the vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker creates a layer of flavor. Do not skip this step. This is absolutely right. Don’t skip it. Besides, it will make your house smell wonderful!

Heat the oil in a saute pan, then add the onions, carrots and celery
parsnips. Saute for four minutes, until the vegetables start to soften. Add the garlic and bell pepper, stir and saute another 2 minutes. 

Add the spices and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from heat. 

Add the vegetables and the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for six hours. Well, I cooked on low for 10 hours overnight. About an hour before we headed out to church, we turned it back on to high, added some Penzey’s Zatar seasoning, salt, and a good amount of Sirachi, and let it come back to a slow boil.

So there you go. Our winning chili. Inspired by an NPR story, made with what was in the house.

Of course, it surely helps that we spent last Sunday exploring the wonders of our local Penzey’s store ….


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