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SPICE IT UP: Veggie chili with avocado salsa an unlikely but tasty dish for any season

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By Deanna Godman

Chili does not really sound like a summer dish, unless it’s one of those nights when you just want to pretend it is winter and crank the air conditioning. This summer, though, I found a chili that I consider to be perfect for summer, in part because it can be made with fresh ingredients.

It is easily adaptable to using summer produce rather than canned goods. You can even increase the amount of vegetables in the recipe without hurting the proportions. The chili is topped with fresh avocado salsa. The salsa, while seemingly not necessary for the enjoyment of the dish, is what really makes it perfect for summer.

The avocado topping cools off the chili significantly, and the lime and cilantro add a zing to the dish that is not often found in winter chili. The salsa also makes the dish more filling. I tried serving the chili once without the salsa, and found that it did not make quite enough to feed my family of three by itself.

I was introduced to this vegetarian chili for the first time in May at a lunch gathering for a moms group I belong to. It was a hot day and we were eating outside. Chili did not sound remotely like something I wanted to eat, but it looked really good so I got a small bowl. I ended up going back for seconds and even thirds.

I am not a vegetarian, and I generally have at least some meat at every main meal except breakfast. This chili was so filling and tasty that I did not even notice the lack of meat.

The chili has become a favorite healthy dish in my home and with my extended family. I did learn that doubling the recipe increases the cooking time quite a bit, so planning ahead is a must.

I did not like avocados very much until several months ago, but I have learned to love them. Because they are chopped instead of mashed, the salsa has a lot of texture and the lime keeps it from discoloring. While avocados are fatty, they are a source of healthy fats and are very good for you.

The recipe originally came from a South Beach Diet cookbook. My friend who gave it to me adapted it slightly to include 2 avocados in the salsa. I like to use chicken broth in the chili instead of vegetable broth, although I once used water for the liquid and did not notice a significant difference in flavor.

Vegeterian Chili

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 can (14-19 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 ½ ounces) diced tomatoes
1 can (14 ounces) vegetable broth
1 can (4 ounces) green chile peppers, chopped
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup fat-free sour cream
1 lime, quartered
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

To make the vegetarian chili:  Heat the oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for three minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes (with juice), broth, chile peppers, chili powder, garlic, cumin and oregano, and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve with the avocado salsa, sour cream and lime wedges. Sprinkle with the cilantro. You can add cheddar cheese.  

Avocado Salsa
1 (or 2) medium avocados, peeled, pitted, and finely chopped
1 small tomato, finely chopped
¼ red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 large lime
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

To make the avocado salsa: in a large bowl, combine the avocado, tomato, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, cumin, and pepper. Lightly toss. Let stand for 30
minutes in a non-reactive bowl.