Thursday, 30 June 2011

Butternut Squash and Bean Chilli

I've expounded before on my theory that inclusion of an explicitly healthy ingredient in a recipe (oats, lentils, cottage cheesesquash) means that the whole meal can be classified as healthy and that you can therefore feel virtuous, smug and entitled to a pudding. I don't care if the healthy ingredient is soaked in lard and covered in cheese, fried in butter and coated in chocolate - if it's there, its superfood-status trumps everything else. I don't care if this is dietetically unsound, I'm sticking to it.

This dinner is another example of this principle. By virtue of the squash and the pulses (two types of beans! Surely health food territory), I reckon this vegetarian chilli counts as pretty impressively healthy. Even though we smothered it in melted cheese and scooped it into our ravening mouths with warmed tortilla chips (yep, we made nachos), I STILL think it's mostly healthy. Don't tell me I'm wrong.

The inspiration here came from that Waitrose weekend newspaper, although we adapted it quite heavily. They said to boil some preprepared butternut squash and sweet potato chunks, mix with a tin of kidney beans in chilli sauce and make into tacos. We spurned all their labour-saving suggestions and went old-school, preparing everything from scratch. Well, except that we didn't boil the beans from dried, obviously. Who has time for that?

Even with a bit more effort - adding onion, garlic, tomatoes and spices, chopping the squash etc - it was still super-easy and super-quick. And most amazingly, even a couple of carnivores like us actually think we prefer it to meat chilli! I feel very unsettled by making such a bold and revolutionary claim but it's sort of true.

To illustrate how much we liked it, I can reveal that we made it again within three days. That is a sign of true dedication. And the fact that we had half a butternut squash and half an iceberg lettuce in the fridge, which needed using up.

But the main motivation for making this in the first place was that we'd been to the seaside and had therefore eaten nothing but fish, chips and 99s all weekend. We needed something healthy and this was a delightful and delicious way to achieve that. Why are you pointing at the tortilla chips and cheese? Look at the squash! Look at the two types of beans! Definitely healthy.

Butternut Squash and Bean Chilli
Serves 5-6 (it was a huge amount but we took it to work for lunch for a few days. You could easily scale down)

- Half a butternut squash, washed and cut into 2cm chunks. I never bother to peel it but you can if it bothers you
- 1 big or 2 small onions, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- a couple of big pinches of cumin
- a few shakes of cayenne
- a shake of dried chilli flakes
- 2 tins of beans - we used one of kidney, and one of black-eyed, because that's what we had
- 2 tins of chopped tomatoes

Boil the squash for 15-20 minutes or until tender all the way through (including the skin if you left it on).

Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in a bit of oil until soft and starting to brown, then chuck in the spices - we experimented so feel free to add any others or change quantities to suit your taste and inclination. The smoked paprika is definitely a winner though. Fry the mixture for a few minutes to bring out the flavour of the spices, stirring frequently, then add the tomatoes and beans and anything else you fancy. I went for a squeeze of ketchup because I always do when cooking tomato-based sauces.

Add the squash and let the whole lot bubble away briskly for 5 minutes or so or until it's as sloppy and mushy as you want. Those words sound unattractive, but you know what I mean. Serve with tortilla chips, melted cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce and some other greens if you want to be extra healthy. You know, as well as all the beans.

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