Every week, when I get home from the grocery store, one of the first things my husband says is "How'd you do?" What he means is "How much did you spend?" Like most people, I have a pretty strict grocery budget to stick to every week, out of which I must get three meals per day, plus snacks, for three adults. Beside budget, my priorities (in no particular order) are flavour, variation and nutritional benefit.
For health, budget and ecological reasons, we generally have at least one vegetarian meal per week and because my guys' taste for meat is only slightly lower than that of cavemen, I have to be careful not to try and pass off very obviously vegetarian food as dinner. Things like margherita pizza, risotto, pasta and veggie curries are generally received well, but probably the most successful is my recipe for black bean and pearl barley chilli. The barley has a texture very similar to meat when simmered for a long time and when garnished with a lovely combination of fresh veg and herbs you really don't notice the lack of beef, my stepson had no idea.
This recipe is a little spicy, especially when garnished with the chilli at the end, so feel free to adjust to taste. Also, I use chicken stock (which I know is not vegetarian) because I always have some in the fridge, but if you want to make it truly veggie, just substitute with veg stock. The ingredients are packed with fibre, vitamins, protein and whole grain goodness, and it's a brilliant slimming food, as it's so filling.
The best part, for my husband at least, is that it costs less than 80p (50 cents) per serving.
Black Bean and Pearl Barley Chilli
serves 6 hungry people, cooking time 2 1/2 hours (or all day in a crock pot)
200g (dry weight)dried black beans, soaked over night**
100g pearl barley
1 large onion, diced finely
1 large stalk celery, diced finely
1 medium carrot, diced finely
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 400g tin crushed tomatoes
1 80g tin tomato puree
600 ml chicken (or veggie) stock
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp hot chilli powder
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 tbsp light olive or canola (rapeseed) oil
Various optional toppings (maybe have everyone add their own?):
celery leaves (from the smaller, tender stalks at the middle of a crown of celery)
thinly sliced radish
spring onions thinly sliced on the bias
thinly sliced fresh creen chilli
fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
crushed corn tortilla chips (for the teens)
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat and add the onion, celery and carrot. Sweat in the oil for 4-5 minutes until beginning to get translucent and tender. Add all of the spices and garlic to the veg and cook for a further couple of minutes. Drain the soaked beans and stir them into the pot with the pearl barley. Now add the tomatoes, stock and tomato paste, bring to a slight boil, then lower the temperature to low, cover and allow to cook gently for 2 hours. Check periodically to make sure you have plenty of moisture and don't add the salt yet, as the beans will not become as tender as quickly. If, after two hours there is still more liquid than you like, just remove the lid and allow it to cook with the lid off for a little while longer. When almost done, add the salt, cook for another minute or two and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
Serve with plain steamed long grain rice and the veggie toppings
** soaking over night not only speeds along the cooking process and prevents the beans from going mushy, it also helps prevent much of the -ahem- embarrassing side affects of eating a large portion of beans.