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That’s right. This is supposedly the best vegetarian chili in the world. It’s adapted from a popular recipe on and I have to say, it’s mighty tasty. Shout out/apology to my cousin Bill, a chef in Texas, who might take issue with the idea that chili can even be vegetarian let alone mighty tasty.

Alright, for starters, it’s been cold here in New York the past two weeks. After tackling the carrot soup thing I wanted more stick-to-your-ribs fare but I haven’t been buying or cooking much meat. So instead of braised short ribs, beef bourguignon, or polenta with sausage ragù, I went with a chili packed with beans, veggies, spice, and all the warmth with none of the meat.

The original recipe called for an inordinate amount of jalapeños and chopped green chile peppers so I toned these down and my version still had a little kick. You could add a few dashes of tabasco to your bowl if you find it’s lacking heat. The recipe also called for such oddities as ground Boca burgers – I cut these out and increased the veggies. And of course, if possible, start with cooked dried beans instead of cans but don’t worry about it if you buy canned.

Vegetarian Chili
Adapted from
Serves 8

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp salt
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (4-oz.) can chopped green chile peppers, drained
3 (28-oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 c cooked (or 1 15-oz. can) kidney beans
1 c cooked (or 1 15-oz. can) garbanzo beans
1 c cooked (or 1 15-oz. can) black beans
1 package (15-oz.) frozen whole kernel corn

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion and season with bay leaves, cumin, oregano, and salt. Cook and stir until onion is tender, then mix in the celery, green bell peppers, jalapeño, garlic, and green chile peppers. Cook for another 10 minutes or so until the celery and bell peppers have softened.

Mix the tomatoes into the pot, breaking them up into smaller pieces. Season with chili powder and black pepper. Stir in the kidney beans, garbanzos, and black beans. Bring to a boil and, if there seems to be a lot of liquid, let it boil until some of the liquid evaporates, roughly 10-25 minutes. Then lower the heat and simmer for additional half hour or so. Whether you have a lid on or not depends on if or how much you want liquid to evaporate. Stir in the corn five minutes before turning off the heat.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, creme fraiche, or shredded cheese, sliced scallions, and maybe some avocado. I also served this with broccoli that had been roasted in the oven on 400 degrees for 25 minutes and tossed with olive oil and salt.

Full disclosure: I love mochi. I love rice. Glutinous rice? Even better. Does anyone ever ask you, “if you could only ever have rice or pasta for the rest of your life, which would you choose?” It’s a cruel game. I think I used to say “pasta, duh,” but I changed my mind: rice. Duh.

Brown, white, red, black, long, short, fragrant, I love it all. Well except Uncle Ben’s or the kind that comes in ready-to-boil bags which I remember my dad making for a spell when I was in high school. (He was a busy social worker/single dad at the time.)

So when I went to Japan for the first time four years ago for New Year’s I was delighted to discover that mochi is a traditional holiday food. In fact, I woke up, and Yuji’s parents served us zoni for breakfast. Zoni is a clear soup typically eaten on New Year’s – made with a dashi or miso broth – containing the glutinous rice cakes known as mochi, as well as vegetables and fish. The mochi was cut into medium-sized rectangles and was chewy and hearty and satisfying. I was warned by Yuji’s parents not to choke, since the sticky rice squares can easily catch in your throat if you’re not careful.

That mochi was not sweet. Nor did it taste like the weird brown stuff labeled mochi sold in health food stores here in the U.S. that we served as “dessert” for the gluten-free kids at the farm camp where I worked. No, this mochi was smooth with the subtlest texture on the outside and tasted just like the thing you’d want to eat if it was cold outside and you were sipping green tea. It’s Japanese comfort food at its finest. And good mochi stretches like taffy or mozzarella cheese when you bite onto it and pull your chopsticks away.

Mochi is eaten year round in Japan and other parts of Asia, but this time of year it’s common to buy and give as gifts. I’ve also been invited to take part in my Japanese language school’s annual mochitsuki, which means rice pounding. When you’re in NYC and have mochi on the brain you can go straight to the source. Not Tokyo, but the next best thing: Minamoto Kitchoan, a Japanese confectionary shop near Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

Minamoto Kitchoan is a shop based in Tokyo, but with outposts in New York, London, Singapore, San Fran, and Shanghai. Their speciality is wagashi, little sweets like mochi typically eaten during a Japanese tea ceremony. I took a trip there this week (they’re on 5th Ave. and 49th St.) and took shelter from the rain and delighted in the beautiful confections wrapped in perfect little packages.

Some are made with green tea, some are filled with sweet red bean. One of my favorites is sakuramochi which looks in fact like a beautiful little cherry blossom. You can see from the price tags that sweets from this shop don’t come cheap. But it’s a once-a-year special treat kind of thing. Unless you form an addiction, which I’m not ruling out. The individual mochi pieces are only about $3 a piece.

In the U.S. we say there’s a man on the moon right; in Japan they say there’s a rabbit on the moon. Not only that, the rabbit is pounding rice on the moon, making mochi.

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