Chili, Butternut Squash-Style

Fall is my favorite. A reprieve from the heat, a time to enjoy the outdoors before winter shows its face. Excitement seems to be filling everyone’s heart (or at least their Facebook status) as we light our favorite apple cinnamon or spiced pumpkin candles to fill our homes with warm fuzzy scents and turn on the tv to enjoy the football game. People are happy to welcome fall. For me, this excitement must be celebrated in the kitchen. There are few things I get more excited about cooking (and eating!) than a great big pot of chili. Pretty much from September through February I make a pot of chili at least once a week. My kids are great chili-eaters, so that helps.
This year, I am in training. While friends spend weeks, (sometimes months) training for marathons, I am training to compete in a big chili-cook off. Bectoria sent me an email last week about a chili competition that a local grocery store chain in hosting, and I couldn’t be more delighted. My husband, however, is a tad reticent about the ordeal, as I have chosen to compete in the vegetarian category, so he’s looking at several weeks of practice chili, sans meat. (I’ve already won awards for my traditional chili, it’s time to move on to bigger challenges…..ok.. I admit, the awards I’m referencing were two 3rd place medals in a church competition several years ago, but still!)
Since chili is something I’m already crazy about, and in the spirit of the start of fall, I want to combine this beloved dish with my newest infatuation: the butternut squash. What’s more fallish than that??? Well, pumpkin maybe, but they aren’t out, yet. And pumpkin is not as easy to prepare as my new friend, the butternut squash. I have somehow avoided this fine piece of produce until now. I think I assumed it would be complicated, like its relative the acorn squash. If you aren’t cutting an acorn squash in half and baking it, you are in for a frustrating experience. Those things are a PAIN to peel! They have what are called hills and valleys, which refers to the ridges found on the outer layer, and should you attempt to peel it before cooking it, make sure your children are in another room, because they don’t need to be subjected to the language that is going to come out of your mouth. But even if you wait and try and peel it after you cook it, you’re still going to have some choice words to spout off, because it’s going to come off in bits and pieces and be very messy, and you will lose chunks of squash flesh in the process.
But the BUTTERNUT SQAUSH is not complicated. It peels very easily with a vegetable peeler, even before you cook it. The seeds are only contained in the bulbous portion of the squash, so it will only take you seconds to remove them with a serving spoon. I’m telling you, this thing is easy-peasy. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been experimenting with this squash, and I have been delighted every time. Butternut squash lasagna was a home run, and I will definitely be making that again. But that’s for a different post.

Today, I’m going to share my recipe so far for butternut squash chili. It’s going to be revised a few times before I enter it in the cook off, but I think it’s a winner in it’s current state, already. This recipe is vegan/vegetarian, but I will give the adaptation at the end for those of you who aren’t into that whole meatless genre of main courses.

1 butternut squashed, peeled, seeded, and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp Cheyenne pepper
2 TBS dark brown sugar
2 large cans diced tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles
2 cans black beans, drained
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can cannellini beans, drained
12 oz dark beer

In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat. Add onion and cook 2 minutes. Turn heat to med/high and add squash, garlic and seasonings. Watch carefully so that the onions don’t burn, but you get a good sear on the squash. When squash begins to carmelize, add beer and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to a stock pot and add remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on med/low for 1 hour (or put in crockpot for 2-3 hours on low) stirring occasionally. Serve with slices of avocado, sprigs of cilantro, and a dollop of sour cream (unless you’re vegan!)

*Meat version: omit olive oil, brown 1/2 lb pork sausage with onion, then add squash, garlic, seasonings and beer and continue as above.

You will be delighted when you taste this chili. Give it a try and tell me what you think.

While there are still grilling days left in the season, give grilled butternut squash a try: peel, quarter (lengthwise) and seed the squash, then slice into 1/4 inch medallions. Brush with olive oil and season with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Grill in foil or in a grill basket over medium heat with lid closed 2-3 minutes per side, or until each side has good grill marks. Enjoy! It’s so delicious even skeptics will appreciate this tasty side.

Do you have any wonderful butternut squash recipes? Please share!

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