The weather this past Friday was so disappointingly gloomy. I love rainy days, but by 3pm it was already getting dark, and it is only October! My house felt cold and empty, and I just did not have any oomph to keep moving even though I had lots to do. But then I remembered I had some butternut squash to use, and this felt like the perfect day to do so.
I did not want to just make soup though - after last week's post about how I am never satisfied by butternut squash soup, I knew it was not the right time for me to go back to this popular choice just yet. Instead, I wanted to try something more unusual, and I will say I was pretty happy with the end result. After a bit of brainstorming regarding cold-weather dishes, I arrived at a great one - chili! Classically, chili is made with tomatoes though, so how would this highlight the squash? I decided that instead of the typical canned tomatoes and tomato paste, I would use butternut squash and applesauce - highlighting fall as much as possible. When incorporated together, I believed these ingredients would yield a similar texture to chili, and with the inclusion of the familiar warming spices associated with this season, I would hopefully have a new, pleasing way to cook butternut squash with all the same comforts of the cult-favorite soup!
Now for the accompaniments. As I continue to explore different healthier and plant-based approaches to cooking, I opted for kamut grains instead of rice. Kamut is an ancient grain that most likely originated from Egypt with an elongated shape similar to basmati rice, and although it contains gluten, many people are still able to consume it despite such sensitivities. With a golden, light brown color and nutty taste, I thought it would go very well with the nuttiness of the squash in my chili; its firm texture would also not get lost amongst the other vegetables. Kamut, always grown organically, is also extremely nutritious, boasting admirable levels of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and is extremely digestible. With selenium to benefit our metabolism, polyphenols and carotenoids to ward off diseases, and magnesium, phosphorous, and more to regulate our cognitive and bodily functions, it is a surprise that it is not more well-known!
I also chose to switch out the sour cream for something plant-based - sunflower seed butter! With its creamy and smooth texture, it would serve the purpose of sour cream well, and with its sweet, nutty taste, it would add another layer of flavor in line with my vision for the dish.
Lastly, instead of a dairy cheese, I used almond mozzarella to top the chili. As I wanted to bake it for an alternative serving approach, with only a thin layer on top, it created a nice, crisp shell sealing all the yumminess inside. In the future, I would definitely add a lot more cheese as I do appreciate its gooeyness when melted, but I would broil it just the same so it still browns and yields that deep, roasted cheesy essence that I love.
Altogether, I found this version of chili to be very comforting, and knowing that it was made from nutritious ingredients with amazing benefits was even more exciting! And while it is definitely a variation, it still hits all the desired notes that an expected chili would, just with bigger punches of autumn. I do enjoy a tomato-based chili, but I will hold onto that for another season and savor this butternut squash one for a few more months.
See below for the recipe - it is not difficult and comes together fairly quickly since you are executing the three most time-consuming steps at once!
Butternut Squash Chili
1 cup Kamut
1 Butternut Squash, peeled, cut in half, and deseeded
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Fennel Bulb, small dice
1 Bell Pepper, any color, small dice
3 Carrots, any color, peeled and small dice
3 Garlic Cloves
1 Kidney Bean Can, drained and rinsed
1 cup Applesauce
Sunflower Seed Butter
Almond Mozzarella, grated
Drizzle the squash with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast until super soft in a 375°F oven, about 50 minutes to 1 hour.
Rinse the kamut and place in a medium-sized pot with 3 cups of water, salt, coriander, cumin, and cinnamon.
Cook the kamut until it is tender - about 1 hour. (You can soak the kamut overnight; if you do so, it should be tender in closer to 30 minutes). When it is done cooking, let it cool to room temperature. Then, add the chopped oregano so it does not become muddy in taste or lose its bright green color.
In a medium-sized pot, sweat the fennel in olive oil until it is soft and translucent.
Add the bell peppers and carrots and cook until al dente.
Mix in the garlic and cook until slightly browned, stirring with a wooden to prevent it from sticking and burning.
Toss in the kidney beans.
Deglaze with white wine and reduce just a little.
Season with salt.
Once the squash is cooked, mash it until it is relatively smooth and add it to the pot of vegetables along with the apple sauce. Over low heat, stir to combine everything together until it resembles the texture of chili. If it is too wet, cook a little longer to evaporate some moisture; if it is too dry - add in more white wine or apple sauce until it achieves the desired consistency.
Season with the cinnamon and smoked paprika; add more salt if necessary.
Pour into ramekins or oven-safe dishes.
Top with a nice layer of grated almond cheese to completely cover the surface.
Turn the oven to 'Broil' and cook until golden brown.
Serve with the room temperature kamut mixed with chopped oregano and a dollop of sunflower seed butter. If you have any leftover oregano, you can garnish the chili with it as well.