Category Archives: Recipes

Buckwheat the Hippie Way: recipe for buckwheat groats

hippie dinner 4The naked child is me in 1971.  The back of the photo says “flower child” in my mother’s handwriting.  That was probably the last time I was naked in public.  The other picture is of me and my mom making “seed paintings” in the One World Family commune I was born into.  The beads are from my mom, given to her by my dad (I think).  Pretty sure he brought them  back from India himself.

buckwheat 7I grew up eating this stuff.  My peers think they discovered eating whole grains.  Pshaw!  While you were all eating hamburger helper and white rice I was eating this healthy crap.

Being raised by a hippie mother left an indelible mark on my culinary palate.  While my peers are discovering the marvels of millet, raw foods, fasting, and sprouted everything, I have done my best to distance myself from these horrors from my childhood food legacy.  The best use I could come up with for millet, for example, was to pretend it was Kix cereal for my Barbies.  (Though I never got to taste Kix as a child, I knew it had to be less difficult and more pleasant to chew.)  In spite of growing up to dislike brown rice and raw tofu, my mother was a good cook and there are dishes she made that I have fond memories of.  One that I’ve been wanting to recreate is fluffy buckwheat groats with steamed vegetables served with butter and soy sauce.  It’s earthy humble food that is beloved by no one but hippies and Russians, though in Russia the buckwheat is more likely to be the bed upon which a huge roasted pig is served.

The last time I had a craving for this dish from my childhood I followed the directions on the (very expensive) package of buckwheat I bought.  The instructions said to bring the buckwheat groats and water to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.  Within five minutes of simmering it I had a pot full of buckwheat mush.  Not to be discouraged, two years later I’ve made a fresh attempt to recreate the buckwheat of happy memory.  This time I followed directions for making it the traditional Russian way.  I brought my buckwheat just to a boil and removed it from the stove and put it in the oven for an hour in a bean pot.  I’m not going to lie, the kitchen smelled wonderful while the groats cooked, but they didn’t look promising having the look of mush in progress.

When I removed them from the oven and fluffed them with a fork I realized that they were almost fluffy, which was encouraging, but when I tasted them they were bitter.  Bitter?  Frugality prevented me from throwing my experiment away.  I put it in the fridge for a day.  Sometimes magic things happen to leftovers, right?  The next day I put on some Simon and Garfunkel, got out my mom’s old Indian beads and, determined not to waste food, I heated up the buckwheat while steaming some broccoli.  I added butter and soy sauce and ate it.  I don’t know if it was the music and beads, or if taking a time out in the fridge sweetened the buckwheat, but suddenly I was taken way back to the good parts of being the child of a Hippie.  It was the perfect fare for an overcast winter day in Northern California.

Buckwheat the Hippie Way

4 to 6 servings, depending on how much pot you smoked

Buckwheat the Hippie Way


  • 2 cups toasted buckwheat groats
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 lbs broccoli, cut into florets
  • soy sauce


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°
  2. Put Simon and Garfunkle's greatest hits on your stereo.
  3. Put your India beads on and don't shave.
  4. Put the buckwheat into a medium saucepan with the water, butter, and salt.
  5. Bring just to a boil, stir it, and then put it in a small baking dish.
  6. Bake groats for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Hippies aren't specific people. Remove from oven when all the water is absorbed into the grains. If you're antsy for precision, go smoke a joint or have an orgy while you wait to calm you down like my parents did. Fluff grains with a fork.
  7. While the buckwheat is cooling down, steam the broccoli just until tender.
  8. Put a healthy serving of grains down on your plate and top with broccoli and drizzle with soy sauce.
  9. Now you're eating a piece of my authentic hippie childhood. Feel free to rebel, I know I did. But if you grew up with fare like this I promise that no matter how goth or urban chic or sophisticated your tastes become, you'll always come back to this earthy weird food.
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Beet Arugula Salad with Cashews

cashew beet saladMy sister and I went out to lunch with our dad on father’s day.  Because we’re so broke he actually took us out.  We had this amazing beet salad.  We decided to make our own version of it at home.

Taras beet saladYou don’t need a recipe for this.  We steamed some cubed peeled beets.  We chopped up some lightly toasted cashews.  The salad we had at The Lark Creek Tavern had pistachios on it but those are expensive and we didn’t have any.  Easy sub to make.

cashew beet salad 3So you put a bed of arugula on each plate.  Put about a half a cup of beets.  Then crumble some feta over it.  Or not.  This salad is just as good without cheese.  Then you sprinkle chopped cashews over it.  Slice up an avocado and put about a quarter of one on each plate.  Unless the avocado is tiny.  Then use half.  Or not.  Then dress with vinaigrette.  Or whatever you like.  We used my standard mustard vinaigrette.

My sister plated this and I think she did an awesome job!

If you need a portable recipe for the End Times I’ve got you covered!  I just posted the first recipe on The Post Apocalyptic Kitchen —> Check it out!

Hot ‘n’ Juicy: food blogger discovers new torture method!

Imwalle Gardens garlicIn a totally unexpected turn of events, by simply being greedy about a source of locally grown garlic and a race to process it all without using gloves, I have discovered a more effective and more nefarious method of torture than the always popular Chinese Water Torture.

what earth givesHere’s how it works:

  • Sit your prisoner down at a table equipped with a huge pile of whole garlic heads.
  • Force prisoner to peel all the garlic with bare hands and offer no water to rinse them with once they start getting grimy and sticky.
  • Within one hour the accumulative effect of the hot ‘n’ sticky fresh garlic juices will begin to burn the prisoner’s fingers and the skin under their nails will be especially painful.
  • They will brave it out for a while and that’s when you bring in a fresh pile of whole heads of garlic and make them peel these too.  The sight of more garlic may be enough to break them at this point.
  • Tell them about the permanent damage the hot garlic juice will do to their fingertips by the time they have peeled 40 heads of garlic with their bare hands; how the tips of their fingers will be destroyed by the volatile juice as though they had been dipped in hydrochloric acid.

whole garlic cloves in oilThe beauty of this torture is that there’s virtually no end to it.  The pain is cumulative so you don’t even feel it coming until it’s unbearable and renders your hands completely useless.  It will wear down even the most sturdy of prisoners and, like all good torture methods, will get you RESULTS.


chopped garlicWith this method you are guaranteed to get 100% unreliable intel out of any prisoner you use it on because they’ll be desperate to tell you whatever they think you want to know.

chopped garlic 3An exclusive benefit to the Hot ‘n’ Juicy Garlic Method of Torture©® is that once your prisoner breaks you’ll have a year’s worth of garlic to put in the freezer!

Good things happen when you combine smart thinking with urban homesteading!

Disclaimer: for best results use freshly harvested garlic.  Inventor cannot be held responsible for revenge plots hatched and carried out by the victims of this torture method.

Preserving notes: 76 heads of garlic grown locally by Imwalle Gardens has resulted in many jars of whole and chopped garlic in olive oil in the freezer and possibly permanently damaged fingertips on the left hand, especially the index finger.  Would like to further note that claims of magic tricks to peel garlic using jars or bowls did NOT result in more than 1 in 50 cloves being peeled.  Hand peeling still best method.  Recommend using gloves even if you have to rinse them every 60 seconds to keep them from sticking to everything and making you want to hurl because it triggers sense of panic and claustrophobia of the hands.


Cajun Spiced Potato Empanadas

empanada 5I created this empanada in hopes of Max liking them.  He loves cajun spiced fries.  He loved fried potatoes.  He needs to eat less fried foods (as in: frozen tater tots and fries).  So I thought some cajun spiced empanadas would be just the ticket.  Flavors he likes all neatly packaged up in dough.

He didn’t like the filling because it was too mushy.  However – we loved the filling!  I made twice as much filling as I needed to fill the empanadas but I’m going to present the recipe here just as I made it because the leftovers make a fantastic breakfast.  If you don’t like leftovers (WHAT?!) then halve this recipe.

Cajun Spiced Potato Empanadas

Serving Size: 24 empanadas plus amazing leftovers for breakfast

Cajun Spiced Potato Empanadas


  • 1 batch of empanada dough
  • 4 russet potatoes, peeled and diced small
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 tsp cajun seasoning, plus extra for dusting dough
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg whisked with a little water for brushing the dough


  1. Bring a pot of water fitted with a steaming basket to a boil and steam the diced potatoes until tender and just falling apart.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°.
  3. While potatoes are steaming, heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the onions. Saute onions until they are translucent and soft.
  4. In a large bowl mix the potatoes, onion (scraping any extra oil into the bowl from the pan), and the seasonings really well.
  5. Roll out the empanada dough according to the instructions in the recipe. Fill each round with a couple of teaspoons of potatoes (adjust according to the size of your empanadas - you want them filled as full as you can while still being able to close the dough shut without leaking the filling out).
  6. Place empanadas on a baking sheet fitted with parchment paper.
  7. Brush them with the egg and water and then sprinkle a little cajun spice on each one.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes


The way I've made these isn't that spicy. My cajun spices are mild and I only added a little cayenne. You can ramp up the spiciness as much as you like.

I used an actual teaspoon to fill mine. If you use a real teaspoon instead of a measuring teaspoon then you just want a scant teaspoon. That is - if you are making small empanadas. I have no idea how much you will need in each empanada if yours are a different size than I made mine. Just wing it. You can do it.

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Empanada Dough Recipe

empanada 2This week was the first time I have made empanadas.  I was hoping that I could get Max to eat them because I thought empanadas would be the perfect little packages of food.  He liked the package aspect and the flavor of this dough.  He did not go for the filling.  But we did.  That recipe will follow.

I based my recipe on one I found in the cookbook “The Latin Road Home” by Jose Garces.  It’s got some of the flakiness of pie dough but is more sturdy.

Empanada Dough Recipe

24 small empanadas

Empanada Dough Recipe


  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup ice water


  1. Put the flours, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse to blend.
  2. Cut the butter up into pieces and add to the flour. Pulse until the butter pieces are roughly the size of peas.
  3. Crack the egg into a small bowl and scramble it with a fork before pouring slowly into the processor while it's running.
  4. Add the ice water to the mixture by the tablespoon while the processor is running until the dough forms a ball. You may not need all of the water, depending on the humidity of your kitchen.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a smooth clean surface and knead just enough to bring the dough together smoothly.
  6. Shape it into a flat round disc and refrigerate for an hour or up to a day.
  7. Preheat oven to 375° when you're ready to make your empanadas.
  8. Roll out the dough to 1/8" thick. Using a round cookie cutter - cut out rounds and fill, crimping the edges shut with a fork. Continue to roll out scraps until you've used up all of the dough.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes.


I used a 3" cookie cutter to make my empanadas. I got about 30 appetizer sized empanadas out of it but I made a few ugly ones from the scraps that were too hard to roll out and cut. Your yield will vary depending on the size you make yours.

Optional: whip up an egg with a little water to brush over the empanadas. I did this with mine so that the cajun seasoning I sprinkled on top would stick.

You can fry these too.

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Cinnamuffin Recipe

cinnamuffinI first made this muffin when Max was a toddler and he loved them until the great food rejection began.  I got the recipe from The Bed & Breakfast Cookbook by Martha W. Murphy.  It’s a great little muffin full of oats, low in fat and sugar, and has a maple glaze.  I decided to make it for Max to try again but I knew the whole oats would be texturally repugnant to him so I came up with a revised version of this muffin by pulverizing the oats in the food processor until they were as fine as I could get them and this worked well for Max.  The result went like this:

“This tastes just like a cinnabun*!  You should give this recipe to them to make and sell.  Seriously mom, it’s THAT good!”

*I don’t think it tastes like a cinnabun but I’m perfectly happy to have him think it does.

For Max’s sake I have been making the glaze into more of a frosting and I make it fresh each time and don’t measure at all.  I will provide instructions for making the glaze how the recipe was originally meant to be (thin) and I will tell you how I have perverted it to suit Max’s needs.

Cinnamuffin Recipe

8 -ish muffins

Cinnamuffin Recipe


  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, pulverized in food processor to a coarse flour
  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 Tbs melted butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • butter or oil for greasing the muffin tin
  • For the Glaze:
  • 1 Tbs. butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbs. maple syrup


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  2. Grease a muffin tin.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients, except for the sugar, in a medium sized bowl.
  4. Mix the sugar and all the wet ingredients together.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, avoid beating the crap out of it.
  6. Fill the muffin tins about half full.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, then cool for a few minutes before removing the muffins.
  8. Make the glaze by madly stirring the three ingredients until they become super smooth. If you want a thicker glaze (as shown in the image) add more powdered sugar until it reaches the thickness you want. If you make a thick glaze it will cover fewer muffins, so make MORE. Capisce?


About the yield: my square muffin tin yields between 8 and 9 muffins depending on how I've divvied up the batter. If using a standard sized round muffin tin you'll be more likely to get 12.

This recipe is adapted from The Bed & Breakfast Cookbook by Martha W. Murphy.

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How (not) to Cure Olives with Lye

I have wanted to try curing olives for a long time.  Moving back to California where olives are planted all over the place as landscape trees and finding actual clear instructions for curing them (not a lot of information could be found 12 years ago) meant it was time to forage for olives and play with lye.  If you want to play with olives too – always use a source who has lots of personal experience SUCCESSFULLY curing olives.  I recommend Hank Shaw’s instructions for Curing Olives with Lye.  I am writing this post merely to illustrate what NOT to do.

  • The first thing you need to do is pick through your olives and remove any bruised or bitten ones.  What likes to bite into a tongue-numbingly bitter fruit?  Olive fly.  Also remove any blushed olives.  You only want really hard green ones.

I removed all olives with olive fly holes in them and all the bruised ones but I couldn’t bear to remove all the blushed ones.  Which are now an unbecoming shade of grey.

  • Put very cold water in a non-aluminum container.  Put on gloves and safety glasses.  Measure your lye with a non-aluminum measuring device and add it to the cold water.  Stir it up with a non-aluminum spoon.  Now weight the olives down because if the olives are exposed to air while curing they will darken.

This, my friends, is the trickiest part of the whole process: keeping those suckers submerged.  I suggest figuring out what works BEFORE you mix up your lye and mess up your olives.  Even if you think you have a system that works – it might not.  Do not weigh your olives down with anything aluminum.  By now you may have noticed that aluminum should have nothing to do with your lye curing project.  Lye + contact with aluminum = poison.

I had two batches of olives to cure.  So I had two stainless steel pots.  Pickling crocks would work way better.  I haven’t got any pickling crocks because they are so flippin’ expensive.  What’s up with that?!  One of my pots worked pretty well because a smaller lid fit perfectly inside it without letting any of the loose olives float to the top.  But the other pot?  Nothing fit well in it.  I finally found a ceramic pie weight that almost fit.  I got it so the olives weren’t quite able to float up around it to the top.  I walked away for one hour.  ONE hour.

And all of the olives had managed to get around the small space at the sides of the weight like crafty little bastards and were floating at the top.  I think “dicolored” is so gentle sounding.  They were RUDELY discolored.  Check it out:

Angry orange-ish red.

And blackened.  Needless to say I had to throw half of this batch out.  Even if the discoloration wouldn’t have rendered them technically inedible – would you eat that?

Hank has a solution mentioned in his instructions and if I had been smart I would have tried this to begin with.  Tie the olives up in cheese cloth (but make sure the olives are pretty loose inside so liquid can flow freely between them).  Then your weight doesn’t have to match the circumference of your container precisely.  Worked like a charm.  So if you don’t have the perfect container and plate or lid situation: listen to Hank.


  • Let the olives soak in the lye for 12 hours.  No need for more.  This is the perfect amount of time to leach out the bitterness and preserve flavor.

I left mine in for 21 hours.  Because to take them out at 12 hours would have required me to be showered and dressed by 8am with a clean enough kitchen to be dealing with lye and olives.  I think I might have gotten dressed around 11am but then I had to clean the kitchen and then some other random bullshit came up and I didn’t get the olives out of the lye until 1pm.

This is what you’ll see at 21 hours.  The water/lye solution will be a reddish color.  Kind of like deadly punch.

  • Drain the lye solution out and then rinse the olives.  Next you fill your container with water, covering them, and weigh them down again, they can still discolor. You want to rinse the olives and replace the water 3-4 times a day for 2 to 4 days (until the lye is completely rinsed out).

Or if you’re me: 2 times a day for the first 2 days and then once a day for the next 9 days.  Because I am lazy.  And I forget about them.  If you did it like you were supposed to then in 2-4 days your olives will be ready for the next step.  How do you know they’re ready?  The water will look clean when the lye is completely rinsed out of the olives.  How do you make sure the lye is all out?  You  bite into an olive, if it’s soapy tasting then they need more soaking and rinsing.  And no, you won’t get sickened or die if there’s a little lye in your olive at this point.  There’s very little and it’s no longer caustic.  Trust me, I did it.

Lye is in traditional soap.  So the olives will be foamy and slippery like you’ve just slathered them up with some soap.  Because that’s essentially what you’ve done.  See the discoloration of the water in that picture above?

Now there is no discoloration.

The next step after all the soaking and rinsing in plain water is brining the olives.  I just did that last night with my first two batches while putting a whole new crop of olives in lye with a much better container this time.  But as per my usual way of doing things – I picked some olives 9 days ago that only got into the lye last night along with some olives I picked fresh yesterday*.  So I’ll be able to report to you if curing olives that have been off the tree languishing on a warm sunny project table are worth bothering with.

Next up: brining and flavoring the olives Angelina-style.

*I tied up the old ones and new ones separately in cheese cloth so they don’t mix together.  I am very scientific.

Southwestern Style Saute for Freezing

If you need new ways to use up your zucchini, corn, and peppers – this recipe is for you.  I got access to fresh local corn being sold 4 for $1 and had to take advantage.  I bought 80 ears – I froze 9 pints of plain blanched corn, made and froze 5 pints spicy corn chowder, and froze 5 quarts of summer vegetable soup with corn.  But I still had a lot left.  This is what I did with it.  I made this last year and added it to pots of bean chili in the winter – it was a great way to make a chili with very little prep work.

I was cooking up a few batches of this saute the other day when I needed to come up with a quick dinner.  I made a Southwestern style pasta salad using this recipe, whole wheat rotini pasta, and a cilantro dressing with lime juice – my family ate it so fast I barely got any of it myself.  But I got enough to be able to tell you it was so good I can’t wait to make it again.  (I’ll be making it again so I can post the recipe for you!)

Southwestern Style Saute Recipe (for Freezing)

Southwestern Style Saute Recipe (for Freezing)


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 Hungarian wax peppers
  • 8 oz green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2" pieces
  • 3 zucchini, diced into 1/2" thick pieces
  • 4 cups corn


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan on med/high.
  2. When olive oil is shimmering, add the onions, green beans, and peppers. Saute until onions are translucent.
  3. Add the zucchini. Keep sauteing on med/high heat until zucchini start to brown at edges.
  4. Add the corn and saute just until some of the kernels have started browning. Take off the heat.
  5. Once completely cooled - put the sauteed vegetables in a 1 gallon Foodsaver bag and freeze it.
  6. When contents are completely frozen - seal the bag using a vacuum sealer and label before returning it to the freezer.


I always freeze the contents of my Foodsaver bags first so that when I'm using my vacuum sealer it doesn't suck the juices out and a) prevent a perfect seal and b) collect messily in the drip tray.

This sauteed vegetable dish can be defrosted, heated, and eaten as a side dish. It can be added to chili or soups. And it can also be defrosted and added to pasta with a cilantro dressing.

When frozen in a vacuum sealed bag this will stay good in the freezer for about 8 months (possibly longer - we used ours up within 8 months). If you store it in a ziplock freezer bag - make sure you get as much air out of the bag as possible before closing it and use it up within a couple of months.

If you are cooking for less than 4 people you may wish to halve this recipe.

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How to Make Great Vegetarian Chili Without a Recipe

There are as many opinions about what authentic chili has in it as there are people making it.  Some purists think “real” chili should never have beans in it but other sources suggest that beef, being expensive, was not always the main ingredient and that beans were probably traditionally used by many poor people either with or without meat.  The main thing about chili is that if it doesn’t have chili peppers in it in some form – it isn’t chili.

As a life-long vegetarian I have never associated chili with meat.  For vegetarians it’s nearly always a bean and chili pepper based stew that may have a bunch of other vegetables in it – or not.  I’ve been making chili for as long as I’ve been cooking and I have never once used a recipe.  I made the best batch of chili I’ve ever made just the other night (according to Philip) and so I planned to make it a couple more times paying close attention to measurements so I can write out the recipe to share.  Maybe I’ll still do that, but today I am going to share my guidelines for making great vegetarian chili without using precise measurements or ingredients.  What will make it great is that you’ll make it to your tastes, not mine.  If you already make chili all the time yourself then you don’t need this set of guidelines.  This will be similar to my post Soup Philosophy which is a guideline for making soup without recipes for people who aren’t confident or experienced enough yet to trust themselves to wing it.  Being able to cook great food from scratch without recipes is a cook’s greatest tool in the kitchen.

I need to mention that I always cook my beans in a crock pot now so I can put them in and then not worry about them until I need them.  This works really well for me.  If you don’t have a crock pot then you’ll either used canned beans or you’ll have to cook them on the stove top: soak the beans over night, then cook them for a couple of hours before preparing the rest of your ingredients.

Chili essentials:

The foundation ingredients for vegetarian chili:

  • beans, chili powder, diced tomatoes, onion, and salt.  Everything else is just building on those ingredients.  So when you’re making chili from scratch without a recipe, consider that your foundation.

The rest of the ingredients:

  • I am giving you a list of ingredients to work with.  Consider it a list of possibilities – things that go well with the foundation ingredients.  I have made great batches of chili using every possible variation of the ingredients I’ve listed.  It’s YOUR chili so you get to leave out anything you don’t like and add everything that sounds good to you.

Why you don’t need precise measurements:

  • As long as all the ingredients you’re working with are complimentary to each other – you can’t ruin a dish by playing around with them.  If you’re tasting your work as you add things to it you have control over the flavor.  You don’t need exact amounts of beans.  If you add two cans of beans to the pot and it doesn’t seem like enough, you can add another one.  How will you know if it’s the “right” amount?
  • There is NO such thing as “right” or “wrong” amounts.  There’s only a question of what you like.
  • If you follow my general guidelines you’ll have an idea of the general proportions of ingredients that I like to use.  But that’s highly personal to ME.  If I’m using rice I like to use a ratio of beans to rice that’s close to 4 to 1.  But that’s just how I like it myself.  My ratio of beans to veg is much closer.  In the summer when there is fresh corn and summer squash my bean to veg ratio is around equal parts.  In the winter when I don’t have so much fresh veg available the ratio is more like 3 to 1.

Adjusting the water or stock:

  • A lot of the flexibility of soups and stews of all kinds is that you can adjust the consistency very easily with the addition of water or stock.  You don’t measure how much of everything you added to the pot so how do you know how much water you need?  You don’t.  You start with what I list in the guidelines I give.
  • You will absolutely, no matter what, need at least a quart of water.
  • If you aren’t using diced tomatoes you will need to use at least two.  This you can count on.  If you decide you want to make a much smaller batch than I always do – then start with a little less.  If you’re making a much bigger batch than I list here (like making two pots at one time, for example) you will use more.
  • You can tell when you need more water because your chili will be getting too thick before it’s done cooking.  You add more.  The more dried rice you use the more water you’ll need to add too.
  • If you add too much water, you simply cook it down.  It takes a little longer but if you’re checking on it periodically and stirring it, it’s no big deal.

Batch size:

  • If you were to make a batch of chili using all my suggested ingredients in one batch at the largest amounts suggested you would probably be able to feed about 10-12  people with generous portions.
  • If you use the lower amounts of every ingredient listed you would probably be able to feed 6-8 people with generous portions.
  • If you use only half the suggested vegetables and omit the rice you will probably still be able to feed about 6 people.
  • If you omit all but the very basic veg (onion and tomatoes) and omit the rice to make a very basic chili, you will probably have enough to feed 4 people.
  • My point is this: the amount you end up with really depends on how many ingredients you use.  Every ingredient that isn’t a spice adds volume.  If you like your chili ingredients proportioned like I have them but you only want enough to feed 2-4 people (I have never done this in my life, by the way.  Even when living alone I always made enough for at least 6 servings and would freeze some and eat leftovers several times too) then you only use half an onion, 1/2 to 1 stalk celery, use 1/2 to 1 carrot, etc.  Just go down the line of ingredients and halve the smallest portion I suggest.

Experimentation and repetition make perfect:

  • “Perfect” in this case meaning a chili that you love and want to make again and again.  The more you make chili without a recipe the more you’ll end up having a basic “recipe” of your own based on tried and true preferences.  But it won’t really be a recipe because you won’t ever have to measure anything.  You’ll just KNOW.  You’ll develop a feel for making it just how you like it.  If you make a batch that is crazy good – like everyone who tries it is asking for more – and you want to remember how to make it like that again?  Make it again within a day and write down what you used and approximate measurements.

What can go wrong with a batch of chili?

  • Burning it.  You forget it’s on the stove and it sticks and burns.  OR you had the heat on too high and it cooks down faster than you can keep track of and the liquid all cooks down and it burns.  Burnt chili is not nice.  Although I once burnt a batch and my mom and Philip said it was really good and had a “smoky” flavor.  Huh.  I think maybe they were just so hungry that day that they were light-headed and easily pleased.
  • Too much of a particular spice.  This is why you add spices in increments and taste as you go.  That prevents major problems like half a jar of cumin resulting in chili that smells like a gym.
  • Undercooked beans.  Now that I cook my beans in the crock pot I haven’t had this issue.  Cooking them on the stove top – I get impatient.  Once or twice over the years I’ve considered the chili done only to find that the beans weren’t quite done.  Total fail.  Not good for the digestive system either.  You avoid undercooked beans by taking a few out and trying them.  You’ll know.  They’re tender when done.  Not crunchy or chewy or chalky.

That’s it.  So if you aren’t already skilled at making chili from scratch I hope these guidelines will give you the confidence to start making it without a recipe.  Let me know if you have any questions not answered in this tutorial.

How to Make Great Vegetarian Chili Without a Recipe

How to Make Great Vegetarian Chili Without a Recipe


  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • I usually use olive oil but you can use vegetable oil instead if you like. If you're only going to sautee onions and celery from this list of ingredients - reduce the oil amount to 1 Tbsp. If you're using tons of the vegetable options listed - use 3 Tbsp cause that means you're making a fat pot of chili and you need more oil to get a good browning on the vegetables.
  • Vegetables you can include in your chili:
  • 1 onion, diced
  • If you're making a huge batch of chili you may want to use 2 onions.
  • 1 - 2 stalks celery chopped
  • I frequently leave out the celery but it really adds a nice base flavor along with the onion. If you like it use it. For smaller batches or lighter celery flavor, use 1 stalk.
  • 1 - 2 carrots, chopped
  • I personally love carrots in my chili. I love having lots of vegetables in it but carrots only make it into my chili about 50% of the time.
  • 2 - 4 summer squash of any kind, chopped chunky
  • Use what you have on hand or leave it out entirely. I love summer squash in my chili and my favorite to use is zucchini or Mexican summer squashes but you can use patty pan or crookneck too. You chop them chunky so they don't completely disintegrate into the stew as they cook.
  • 2- 4 ears of corn, kernels sliced off the cob
  • I doubt corn has ever been considered a traditional ingredient in chili by anyone - I'm not a purist and when there is fresh corn available this is an amazing ingredient to include.
  • 1 quart of diced tomatoes with all the liquid OR 6 - 10 tomatoes (depending on size) diced
  • My chili is always tomato based. Always. But you don't have to use them if you don't like them or don't have them. If you don't use tomatoes then you may want to increase the amount of chili powder you use to add richness and color. Another option is to use 1 quart of diced tomatoes in their juice and an additional quart of tomato sauce . This will result in a much more tomato-y and rich chili but tomato sauce is thicker than water and so if you do this you are almost certainly going to have to add a little bit of water too - even for smaller batches. I've done this from time to time depending on what tomatoes I have left in my pantry. Most commonly I just use the quart. Home canned quart = 28 oz commercially canned. They're equivalent enough for our purposes here.
  • 3 - 6 small fresh chilis of any kind, minced OR 3 - 6 pickled jalapenos, minced
  • I make my own pickled jalapenos and I started using these in my winter chilis because I don't buy fresh peppers out of season. It turns out that I prefer using the pickled to fresh now because it adds a slight tang with the heat. You don't have to use any fresh or pickled chili peppers at all if you don't tend to like them. I usually use a mild chili powder so I like to add heat with small fresh ones. It's up to you. Experiment.
  • 1-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Sometimes I use garlic, sometimes I don't. Think of garlic not as a main flavoring agent but as a subtle one here. You want your chili flavor to shine.
  • Beans:
  • 2- 3 cups dried beans OR 4 - 6 cups cooked beans
  • Pinto, black, kidney, or any heirloom dried bean that is similar in character to these are great choices. (I DON'T recommend using navy beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans, lentils, mung, or black eyed peas). How much beans to use? If you're making a med sized batch (to serve around 6) I would use 2 cups dried or 4 cups cooked but for a larger batch use more. If you're only wanting to serve around 4 people, use even less.
  • Rice:
  • 1/2 to 1 cup dried OR 1 - 2 cups cooked
  • Rice is not a traditional ingredient in chili, however, rice with beans makes a complete protein so for vegetarians this is a good addition nutritionally. Use a little or a lot. I don't want my chili with tons of rice so I add a modest amount of 1/2 cup dried rice per pot of chili. The more rice you add the more water or stock you'll need to add too. Just bear that in mind.
  • Seasonings/spices:
  • 1 - 40 Tbsp chili powder
  • The all important chili powder! As I mentioned - I go light on the chili powder but this is where you must taste as you go to find out how much you like. There are a million different chili powder blends out there - I have yet to find a favorite - that's a different quest. I use mild but many people like their chili to be HOT. What do you like? Try different blends to find what works for you. I tend to use between 1 and 2 Tbsp of chili powder per batch - very little. I think this is a good place to start but the average person is probably going to want to use a lot more. Start with 1 Tbsp and taste, add another, taste. Let it cook for a few minutes and then add more. And so on. Keep tasting. That's how you'll get an idea of how much you like in your own chili. It's very personal. Once you've made chili a few times just winging it - you'll have a sense for how much to add and without even measuring you'll end up using approximately the same amount every time.
  • 1 - 2 tsp cumin
  • Cumin smells like armpits. It's true. I like it, but in moderation. I rarely add more than a teaspoon. I like to use it to add depth of flavor. But sometimes I want a cleaner brighter flavor so I'll leave it out. Cumin is earthy and heavy so add in small increments to find out how much you like, if at all. If you already know you hate cumin - just skip it.
  • 1- 2 tsp salt
  • I don't like to over-salt my food. For a medium sized batch start with 1 tsp. This is often enough for my tastes. You can always add salt at the table.
  • 1- 2 tsp Mexian oregano or regular oregano
  • This addition will not make or break your chili but it's a pleasant subtle addition that I really like. Try it out.
  • 1 bunch cilantro, minced
  • For the best batch of chili I ever made I didn't use any cilantro. I don't think leaving it out is what made it the best batch, but it just goes to show you that you don't need this. Some people think cilantro tastes like soap. Soap soup is no one's idea of delicious. If you hate cilantro - leave it out because this is definitely not a traditional addition to chili either. I love it though. LOVE IT! I use an entire bunch per batch. Especially in the winter when I want more green and fresh tastes.
  • juice of a lime
  • Secret ingredient. Not traditional but it adds a brightness the same way a little vinegar would, or more salt. I often add the juice of a lime at the end of cooking at the same time I add the cilantro. Give it a try - but know that great chili doesn't require lime juice.


    Cook your beans:
  1. Put them in a crock pot several hours before you need them and cook them on the high setting. Or cook them overnight on the low setting. I usually put about 4 cups of dried beans in my crock pot and then fill it almost to the top with water.
  2. If cooking on stove-top you want to soak your beans over night. In the morning you pour off the soaking water and rinse the beans. Put in a big pot and fill the pot with water covering the beans by several inches. Bring water to a boil and then turn it down to medium. Cook them until you forget about them and they stick to the bottom of the - whoops - sorry! Cook them for 2-3 hours until they are tender. Check frequently to stir and add water as needed. (You need to add water if the beans aren't tender yet but you don't see much liquid.)
  3. Your third option is to use canned beans. This is the expensive but convenient and super quick option. There's no shame in using canned beans. To use canned beans - haha - if you don't know how to open a can of beans - email me. We need to chat.
  4. To make the chili:
  5. In a large soup pot heat the oil on high. Add all your vegetables with the exception of the pickled jalapenos (if using them) and the garlic. Sautee your vegetables on high until they start to brown at the edges. Browning them adds depth of flavor. Stir frequently so they don't burn.
  6. Once you've got some good browned edges going on - add your diced tomatoes and a quart of water (or stock) and stir. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to medium.
  7. Now add any of the following that you're going to use: garlic, chili powder, salt, cumin, oregano, pickled jalapeno.
  8. If you're using rice, add it now. Cook for about a half an hour and then check to see if you need to add more water (You need to add more water if the chili is already thick without the beans in it). Depending on how much rice you used you may need to add more water. Chili is meant to be thick but you don't want it to stick. Add water in pint increments. If you add too much water - you can cook it longer to cook it down.
  9. Add the cooked beans, however much you're using. If you cooked your own beans - include the congealed cooking liquid. If you're using canned - rinse them off before adding because that canned liquid is creepy. Turn the heat down to med/low and cook for a half an hour, checking on it periodically to stir. if it gets really thick and starts sticking to the bottom of the pot - add more water.
  10. Turn the heat off and if you're using cilantro and lime - stir it in now.
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I made a garnish of fresh tomatoes, finely diced red onion, some minced cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.  It was an excellent topping for this batch of chili!

Sautéed King Trumpet Mushrooms Over Polenta Recipe

I found these local king trumpet mushrooms at a little market near Sebastopol.  I tried to walk away from them but I kept going back because they were so fresh and pristine and beautiful.  A worthy splurge.  I wanted to prepare them very simply so that the mushrooms could really shine.  I didn’t salt or pepper the sauté and I made the polenta plain.  Because of this I think it’s really important to finish the dish with a drizzle of olive oil – it adds just the right amount of richness without taking anything away from the mushrooms.

Here is a dish that doesn’t want cheese on it.  As I ate it I had no desire to add any Parmesan curls* or feta.  It was perfect as it was.  For my vegan friends – if you don’t already prepare mushrooms this way – please try it!

Sautéed King Trumpet Mushrooms over Polenta Recipe

4 servings

Sautéed King Trumpet Mushrooms over Polenta Recipe


    For the polenta:
  • 1 cup fine polenta
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • For the saute:
  • 1 lb King Trumpet mushrooms
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp parsley, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced fine or pressed
  • olive oil for finishing


    Prepare the Polenta:
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a medium sauce pan and add the salt to the water.
  2. Once boiling turn the heat to low.
  3. Whisk the polenta into the water.
  4. Cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes.
  5. Prepare the Mushroom Saute:
  6. Clean the mushrooms.
  7. Trim off the ends of the stems and slice mushrooms lengthwise. (Small ones in half and large ones in three slices.)
  8. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan on med/high. When hot toss the mushrooms in the oil and sauté until they are cooked all the way through and are golden at the edges.
  9. Turn the heat down to med/low and add the parsley and garlic and cook for a couple more minutes stirring frequently so the garlic doesn't burn.
  10. To serve:
  11. Ladel the polenta into bowls.
  12. Top each bowl of polenta with the mushrooms.
  13. Drizzle olive oil over each serving.


If you use a medium or coarse grind of polenta you'll need to give it more time to cook. I prefer the finely ground polenta both for its smoother texture and speed of cooking.

You can substitute the king trumpets with any other mushroom but I hope you can find these because they're really wonderful.

This dish is vegan and gluten free (provided your polenta was not processed in a plant that also processes gluten products).

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*Like I ever actually make Parmesan curls?  Right.  I’m the girl who dumps piles of grated Parmesan on everything.