Here bulgur takes the place of ground meat, providing body and thickening power. The preparation and cooking are relatively fast and, like most stews, this will taste better the next day. All sorts of vegetables can be incorporated: corn kernels; chopped zucchini, squash, carrots, celery, and more. Add them in Step 1. Beans are not essential, though they can easily be added (see the first variation).
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: 1 hour, mostly unattended
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 bell peppers (any color), cored, seeded, and chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2-4 cascabel, guajillo, ancho, or other dried red chiles, soaked, cleaned, and chopped
3 cups chopped ripe tomatoes (about 2 pounds) or canned tomatoes (whole or chopped; don’t bother to drain)
4 cups vegetable stock, chile-soaking liquid, or water, or a combination
2 tablespoons chili powder
Salt and pepper
1 cup bulgur or other quick-cooking grain
Sliced scallions, chopped fresh cilantro, grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, and sour cream for garnish
1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onions, bell peppers, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste until it’s evenly distributed and begins to color, another minute or 2. Add the chiles, tomato, stock, chili powder, and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper.
2. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down so the mixture bubbles gently. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in the bulgur and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit until the bulgur is tender, about 15 minutes. Garnish as you like and serve hot. Or cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before reheating gently.
Bulgur Chili with Beans
Add 2 to 3 cups cooked or drained canned kidney, pinto, black, or other beans in Step 2. Omit the cheese and sour cream garnishes.
Smoky and Hot Bulgur Chili
Add 2 to 4 chopped canned chipotle chiles, with some of their adobo sauce to taste, in Step 1. Omit the cheese and sour cream garnishes.
Ultimate Vegan Chili
Add as much or as little as you want: Combine the first two variations, adding beans and chipotles to the chili. Add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger in Step 1 for extra spice. In Step 2, add 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels or any of the other vegetables listed in the headnote. Omit the cheese and sour cream garnishes.