Sunday, March 17, 2013

Butternut Squash Chili with Polenta

We had chili on the menu and I wasn't really in the mood for it. I was begrudging the heaviness of the dish and the all-too-familiar flavors. I'm strict on myself so I don't really venture off of the meal plan for financial sake, so I started rummaging around to see what other ingredients I had. I wanted to make this dish a little different from the usual beans, beef, and tomato. I also usually love corn muffins with chili but last night when I was imagining the feel in my mouth I felt that they'd be too dry. It was one of those meals, where you nit-pick everything; I don't know if you've had nights like these before too.

Soon though, I stumbled upon ingenious inspiration. This chili sounded exotic, with a different take on spices and even espresso as an addition. It also suggested to be served over polenta. At that moment it was a home run. I love polenta, and what a perfect corn substitute for muffins. I was in love with the idea, ran with it, and then ran with it some more.

The dish was wonderful served over polenta. The sauce itself was one of those lick-your-plate-clean types of sauces, and the butternut squash was sweet but soaked up the savory sauce. A beautiful pairing, that made me afraid while I cooked. Sometimes a little fear is legitimate while cooking when you do end up with a not-so-great combination; but I guess you also need a little fear to be able to create something new and wonderful.

If you're bored with your standard chili recipe, give this one a whirl. It's packed with more nutrition and flavor, and switching it up is good once in awhile too.

Butternut Squash Chili
Time: 1 hr Yield: 12 cups, or 6+ servings
Inspired by Epicurious' Black Bean and Espresso Chili
Cook's Note: This could be an amazing vegetarian chili. Omit the beef, and start at step 2. Also use vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth. The beans and butternut squash make a hearty chili on their own, especially served with polenta. Happy eats!
Vegetarian Option | Gluten-Free

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 lb ground beef, organic if possible
a pinch of chili powder, or 1/16 tsp
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken broth, divided; I use organic low-sodium
2 tsp dried chipotle or red chile, crushed
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp oregano
3/4 cup freshly brewed coffee, I used decaf
15 oz can black beans and kidney beans
1, 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, unsalted
1 cup pre-cooked butternut squash, cubed; I had some leftover in the freezer
1 1/2 tsp salt

How To:
1) In a large dutch oven, or heavy stock pot, add 1 tsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Once pot is hot, add ground beef. Sprinkle with chili powder. Brown for 8 -10 minutes or until meat is thoroughly cooked and no longer pink. Drain and reserve beef in a separate bowl.

2) Add the remaining olive oil to the dutch oven. Add onions and saute for 8 minutes. Stir frequently until very soft. Add garlic and saute for another 4 minutes. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth, dried chili, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and coffee. Cook for two - four minutes or until liquid reduces by half.

3) Add beans and reserved beef, stir to combine. Pour over the rest of the chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Once broth is boiling, add tomatoes and butternut squash. Turn heat down to medium or medium-low, to maintain a nice simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt, taste for flavor and adjust seasoning if needed. You may serve immediately, or continue to let chili simmer until a little thicker. Serve over polenta.

Polenta with Sharp Cheddar
Time: 20 min Serves: 6

4 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups cornmeal
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup sharp white cheddar, grated

How To:
1) In a medium pot, add water and salt, bring to a boil. Once water is boiling, add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking as you add. 

2) Turn heat down to low. Add the olive oil. Continue to stir the polenta as it thickens. Let it thicken for about 15 minutes, simmering. 

3) Turn off heat. Add sharp cheddar, stir to combine. 

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