Monday 2 February 2015

Chile Con Veggie and Pale Ale Tortillas

I’ve been trying real hard to think of more vegetarian recipes for this blog. Unfortunately, my thought process usually goes:

Meat -> Things that go with said meat -> Recipe.

So I haven’t been hugely successful in that department. Meat simply makes almost everything more awesome. I’m just holding out for bacon ice-cream… wait, that’s already a thing?! Well then. Game-set-match, I guess. But taking a break from meat for a couple of days a week is probably a good idea. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that. Or grow healthier, either works.

As awesome as Chile con Carne is, there’s so much going on besides the meat that it makes a great candidate for going full veggie. The trick to a great chile is to use way more chillies than you think could possibly be safe. Just remove all the seeds and ribs, and I promise it won’t taste like the surface of the sun. And once you smother it in cheese, sour cream, avocado and lime juice before bundling it into a warm, fluffy, beer infused wrap… yeah, you won’t miss the meat. You’ll be too busy proposing to your veggie burrito.

Now for the elephant in the room. Choice of spelling. I call the pepper a “chilli”, because I’m Irish. And due to a rather long and colourful history, that means I speak English of the Queen’s variety, as opposed to the Ronald McDonald dialect. I call the dish “chile”, because, in case the “con carne” didn’t give it away, it’s Spanish. As in “not English”. So with that cleared up, let’s be on our way.

Less linguistics, more cooking.

1) Mix half a bottle of beer and some oil with enough flour to make a dough. Knead, then set aside.

2) Toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds and dried chillies in a pan. Deseed chillies and grind with the spices.

3) Fry chopped onion, garlic, fresh chillies (seeds and ribs removed), and sweet peppers. Add ground spices and tomato paste.

4) Roughly chop a tin of drained chickpeas and finely chop some mushrooms. Add both to the pan and fry.

5) Pour in a tin each of chopped tomatoes and kidney beans. Add chopped up coriander stalks.

6) Throw in some cinnamon, cocoa powder, plenty of salt and sugar, and the rest of the beer. Simmer for half an hour.

7) Roll out golfball sized lumps of the dough as thin as you can, and fry in a hot, dry pan. Flip after a minute.

8) Serve the tortilla with sliced avocado, sour cream, grated cheese, a squeeze of lime, torn coriander leaves, and the chile.

Fold the tortilla however you can. Don’t worry, nobody actually knows how the heck you’re supposed to do it. Anyone who says otherwise is just making shit up.

Sounds to me like you’d be better off just throwing in some minced beef.

If you’d like, you can totally do that! But with the chickpeas and the mushrooms, there’s already plenty of “meaty” texture to the chile, and it tastes brilliant as it is. Embrace the change.

Ingredients (serves 4) - €18

For the Tortillas
  • ~300g plain flour
  • half a 330ml bottle of beer (some tasty IPA)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

For the Chile
  • 1 1/2 heaped tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 heaped tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 dried chilli peppers (I know, there are different types, but I haven’t a clue. I used “small red ones”)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 fresh chilli peppers (go for a mix if you can)
  • 1 sweet red pepper
  • 1 sweet yellow pepper
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 400g tin of chickpeas
  • 100g of large mushrooms (like portobello)
  • 1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 400g tin of red kidney beans
  • a handful of fresh coriander
  • 1 tsp salt (or 2 tsp soy sauce)
  • 1 tsp sugar (or honey)
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder (or a large square of dark chocolate)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • the rest of that bottle of beer

For the Extras
  • 2 avocados
  • 200g strong cheese (jack, cheddar, or something similar)
  • 2 limes
  • 200ml sour cream

You’ll also need a pestle and mortar, and a rolling pin. Because we my friends, are going old-school.

    Start by sorting out the tortilla dough. Dump about 250g of the flour into a mixing bowl, then pour in the oil and the beer. Do yourself a favour and get a nice craft beer, you won’t regret it. Mix the lot together, and it will already smell amazing. Seriously, this alone makes it worth preparing your own tortillas. You could just use water instead of beer, but the end result isn’t nearly as fluffy or incredible tasting. Work it into a dough with your hands, and add more flour until it’s no longer super sticky. It should still feel tacky though (like blu-tack, not like neon Christmas lawn ornaments). Pick it up and squash it, mould it, punch it, roll it and otherwise play with it for a few minutes. After you’ve gotten over the shock of how tired it made your forearms (“I’m totally stronger than this, right!?”), cover it and set it aside.

    To get your spices extra freakin awesome, we’re gonna toast them. So heat up a pan and throw in the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and the dried chillies. Toss them around for a minute or so, then get them off the heat. Trim the stalks off of the chillies, cut them open and scrape out the seeds and, more importantly, the “ribs” that run along the inside. Those white membranes are where most of that terrifying heat comes from. The flesh of the chilli can be a bit spicy, but it’s mostly delicious sweet, smokey flavours. Finely slice up the chilli flesh and grind it with the toasted cumin and coriander in a pestle and mortar. You’ve just make a chilli powder over 9,000 times better than most store bought stuff. Now you’re ready to go Super Saiyan on your chile.

    Dice an onion and get it frying in a pan with the vegetable oil. While it’s softening, chop up the garlic and prepare your fresh chillies. Ireland isn’t exactly chilli country, so I’m not really an expert on the different varieties. Try to get a mix though, as they do have different flavours, and it’ll give real depth to your chile. In any case, remove the insides just like you did for the dried ones. If you like your chile spicy, leave the ribs on one or two. Cut the chillies up nice and small, and add them and the garlic to the onion. Right about now, Murphy’s Law dictates that you will develop an itchy eye. Good luck with that.

    Remove the stem and the seeds from both the sweet peppers, dice them up and add them to the frying pan as well. Dump in the ground spices and let them fry for a minute. Squeeze in the tomato paste, stir well, then leave the flavours to do their thang.

    Next up, we gotta add texture. We want a chile with body, not just some spicy soup. Drain the can of chickpeas, rinse them with cold water, then drain them again. Empty them onto your chopping board and roughly hack them up. You’re aiming for an average sized piece being about a quarter of a chickpea, and once you get there scoop them into the pan. These will really go a long way to giving your vegetarian chile a proper, hearty texture. The second half of the texture equation is the slight spring, graciously provided by the mushrooms. So chop those fungi up small and throw them in the frying pan too. Mushrooms also deliver “umami”, which basically means savoury flavour. Adding meat is like, instant umami for any meal, so a lot of meatless dishes can suffer from tasting unsatisfying because they lack this. Which, if you recall, was The Rolling Stones’ problem.

    After 10 minutes of frying everything, pour in the chopped tomatoes. Do that whole drain-rinse-drain thing with the kidney beans, and add them too. Separate the fresh coriander leaves from the stalks, and finely chop the stalks. Keep the leaves to one side, and add the stalks to the chile. Dump in something salty, like salt (duh) or soy sauce, and something sweet, like sugar or honey. These aren’t in the ingredients photo, because… well because I forgot. Add the cinnamon, the cocoa and the rest of that bottle of beer, stir, then turn the heat down and leave it to simmer for about half an hour. All those flavours need a little time to get to know each other, like a bunch of random people at a party. Adding beer helps in both scenarios.

    When the chile’s almost ready, it’s time to make the tortillas. Roll up them sleeves, grab a rolling pin, clear some space on a counter and dust it with flour. Pull off a chunk of that beer dough you made earlier (golfball sized or a little bigger) and roll it out as thin as you can into a circle. Keep dusting flour and moving the dough to make sure it doesn’t stick to the counter. Repeat until you’ve got enough tortillas. Any leftover dough can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days.

    Heat up a second frying pan, and when it’s hot lay one of the raw tortillas on it. After maybe a minute, air bubbles will have risen on it and the underneath should have a few lightly browned spots. Flip it over and cook until the other side looks the same. Don’t let it get too crispy, or it’ll snap when you try to fold it. Keep the finished tortillas warm while you cook the rest.

    Quickly skin, stone and slice up the avocados, grate the cheese, cut the limes into wedges and stick a spoon in the sour cream. Serve with the tortillas and chile in a big messy pile, top with the coriander leaves and faceplant into it. Repeat until none remains. Which shouldn't take long.

(The best part about making this chile was figuring out how awesome and easy it is to make tortillas. If you have flour, you can have fresh flatbread in about 30 minutes (it’s best if left to rest for at least 20 after you knead it). Using beer really makes them so much better, but even with just water they’re pretty amazing. They’re perfect for any kind of wrap, or for making quick quesadillas.

Also, feel free to swap the plain flour for wholemeal or wholegrain flour! The result would be slightly chewier, and have a nutty flavour which would complement the beer.)


  1. Oooh oooh! We made this for dinner yesterday! (or I made the chili and the dough on monday and heated it up and made the tortillas just before serving) and it was delicious! Thank you so much! I've made tortillas before, but making it with beer was an excellent idea - they really turned out pretty fluffy and with lots of chili, cheddar, avocado and sour cream it was excellent! Woo!