Something I always ask when people tell me they’re making certain changes to their diet is ‘why.’ Why are you going vegan/vegetarian? Why are you eliminating gluten? Why are you cutting out soy? More often than not, the answer will revolve around something read on the internet, telling them it’s the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to eat, and this makes me pretty upset. How did food become a matter of right or wrong? When did diets exist in a hierarchy? And from what angle can we make judgement for a way of eating to be superior over others?
I, like many, started out looking for an answer to the best diet. I travelled down that road of meat, dairy, gluten and sugar free. I swapped my pasta for courgetti to sneak in more veg, and rice for quinoa to amp up the protein. All of this was deemed the right thing to do. Except, that ‘right’ didn’t stick. Less pasta soon meant demonising carbs, the economic impact of the quinoa trade became a concern and, frankly, I really missed meat and fish. What was ‘right’ in some respects was wrong in others and so that one prescribed way of eating was not a model for the best.
There are so many factors playing into the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of food that it is impossible to find one truth for the best way of eating. Every choice around food is a valid one and that choice doesn’t need to be consistent across every single meal. You can cook a plant-based dish to save cost, you can buy local where possible to support the environment, and you can order avocado toast with eggs, bacon and plenty of hot sauce at brunch purely because you enjoy it. They’re all legitimate justifications.
Lately on social media there has been a surge in the promotion of fully plant-based diets as an optimal diet for health, sustainability and budget. As such, of course it has made me more conscious about how the food I cook may affect the planet, my body and my bank balance. I want to use and promote affordable ingredients easily found in any supermarket, that is nutritionally strong and also now perhaps doing its bit to reduce my carbon footprint. But, this doesn’t mean I want to diminish other styles of cooking and eating in the process. For instance, in creating a vegetarian/vegan chilli such as this, I’m not trying to dissuade people eating a regular chilli con carne as there’s a culture, history and joy in this too.
I’m very conscious that, much like a few years ago when I fell into the trap of restriction and exclusion, the conversation is largely focused on promoting a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ style of eating, launching an attack on food groups, whilst the alternative is ‘look, you don’t need XYZ in your diet when you can have all these plants.’ Why does the promotion of something positive always have to come at the expense of something else? Why does making one choice once mean that other choices aren’t available or allowable any more? This answer is it doesn’t and they shouldn’t be.
If this new wave of plants only is to pan out anything like it did last time, I guarantee everyone switching their diets will shift back when the novelty wears off, but not before an emotionally tumultuous and fear-invoking mental battle to overcome the rules that have been put in place by a prescriptive style of eating.
You don’t need to follow one diet to be the best. You don’t need to eliminate or replace anything, and even if you want to be more aware of the environment or animal welfare or eating on a budget, you don’t need to commit to full-time a life of free from. You don’t need to be extreme. If you choose to cook a plant-based meal today, fantastic! You’ve done something great for the environment and maybe saved some dough. If you choose to cook a meaty meal tomorrow, also great! You’ve chosen to listen to what you want, maybe even what your body needs, and that’s just as good a reason as any other. Most importantly, neither decision counteracts the benefits of the other. All choices have a pro worth celebrating.
So, following from that extended introduction, here we have an absolutely delicious three bean chilli recipe with cornbread and crunchy slaw. There are three great reasons to eat this – it’s balanced and nutritionally dense, made from low-cost ingredients, and it’s pretty darn tasty. That’s it. It’s not because ‘meat is bad for you,’ and you need to replace your favourites with plant alternatives. It’s just one meal that has some benefits to consider, just like another meal might have different benefits which you can also give a thought to without deciding that the composition of that meal is how you have to eat for life.
Please don’t let this ‘best’ diet mentality change anything about your overall way of eating if there are some aspects of others that you also enjoy. And I hope you enjoy this chilli!
For the chilli – serves 6
- 1/2 a red onion diced (Or 2 large handfuls of frozen diced red onion)
- 1 400g can each of kidney beans, haricot beans and black beans
- 1 can of chopped tomatoes
- 1 large courgette or 2 small – diced and quartered
- 1 red bell pepper – thinly sliced
- 400ml boiling water (+ a splash more for cooking)
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon hot chilli powder
- 1 tablespoon coriander
- 3 garlic cloves or 1 teaspoon garlic granules
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil
For the cornbread – makes 8 mini loaves
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons flour (I used rice flour but plain or spelt will work too)
- 1 apple or 1/2 cup apple purée
- 1/2 tablespoon flaxseed with 1 1/2 tablespoons warm water
- 1 cup almond milk
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic granules
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- A pinch of salt
Slaw to serve:
- 1/2 red cabbage finely sliced
- 2 carrots finely sliced
- A handful of rocket
- Juice from 1 lemon
- Pinch of salt
- A handful of fresh coriander
For the chilli
Bring a saucepan to medium heat on the stove. Add a drizzle of olive oil and the diced onions. Cook until they soften and brown. Then, add all the spices, herbs and a dash of boiling water. Use your spoon to mix and cook for another 10 minutes, continuously adding water so that it doesn’t dry out and a paste forms.
Drain the cans of beans and add them to the pot along with the courgette and pepper. Mix until everything is coated in the paste. Then, add the can of chopped tomatoes, fill it again with water and pour that in too. Add the tomato puree, salt and pepper, then give it a good stir so everything is mixed. Turn up the heat and bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 40-60 minutes (the longer the better).
In the meantime, make your cornbread and slaw.
For the cornbread
Pre-heat your oven to 180°C.
(Skip this step if using apple purée) – Core and slice your apple and place it in a small saucepan. Cover in boiling water an and summer on the stove until soft. Then remove, drain and mash/blend the chunks until completely puréed.
Place all the ingredients in a bowl except the baking powder and apple cider vinegar/lemon juice in a bowl and mix together. Then, add the baking powder in one place and pour the apple cider vinegar/lemon juice directly on top. Allow to fizz for around 30 seconds before mixing in.
Grease a mini-loaf tin with extra olive oil (if you don’t have a loaf tin, use a cupcake pan). Distribute the mixture between the moulds and use your spoon to flatten and shape. Cover with tin foil and place in the oven for 30 minutes, until the top is golden and crispy. Remove and allow to cool.
For the slaw
Simply mix the sliced cabbage, carrot and rocket together in a bowl and add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Mix everything together. Once the chilli and cornbread are ready, serve altogether with a sprinkling of fresh coriander on top. Enjoy!