Chili has always made me think of home.
It conjures up images of my mother stirring beans and tomato sauce with a spoon in our California kitchen. Catering to my poultry-only preferences, she always made it with ground turkey.
In Texas, friends sometimes scoff at the idea of chili without beef. After all, the red meat is a bit of a tradition in the dish, but I was always convinced my mother’s turkey version was much tastier.
As it turns out, there are a lot of people who think chili is better off without red meat- and many who think the classic dish is better without meat at all.
The Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-Off has taken place annually in Texas since 1989. Started when four vegetarian societies formed the Lone Star Vegetarian Network, the competition has been held in several major Texas cities and draws hundreds of eager chili tasters each year. This past Sunday in Round Rock marked the 26th annual cook-off and featured vegan chilis prepared by 11 different teams from all around the state.
Along with six other judges, I took a small scoop of each chili and rated it based on consistency, appearance and overall flavor. The variety of vegan chilis was astounding. Some teams used squash and tomatoes, others simply mixed a variety of classic beans; some were thick and sweet, others more soupy and spicy. My favorite chili was a mix of beans, corn and quinoa with a thick consistency and hint of sweetness.
Once the judging was over – we gave the top prize to Phillip Steifer from Elgin – we were allowed to leave the table and walk around to greet the chili chefs, each of whom proudly scooped out servings with a ladle.
Despite the fact that I was stuffed from 12 chili samplings, I couldn’t resist another taste of the corn-quinoa chili.
The cook-off aims to show that vegan foods can be just as delicious as those prepared with meat, and there was no denying the scrumptiousness of these meat-free chilis.
Beef-loving friends, take note.