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Guest Post: Vegan Sweet Potato Chili with Spicy Pepita Oil

October Cooking Tool of the Month – Cast Iron

Today’s guest post comes from Nikki who has a beautiful blog over at Art & Lemons. Now that Fall is arriving hearty chilis and stews are on the brain! And one that includes my favorite root veggie, sweet potato, is making my heart sing. Try this recipe by Nikki and let us know what you think it the comments! 

Vegan Skillet Chili by Nikki Gardner

Skillet Chili by Nikki

I come from a family that cooks with cast iron. Growing up, my favorite pan was a shallow griddle pan. I liked the weight of it, how the pan would sink my nine year-old arm to the floor if I didn’t put some effort into slinging onto the stove.

The stove was electric so it took a bit for the pan to heat up, but once it did the butter skated then puddled across easily as I tilted it from side to side for an even coating. Paper-thin griddlecakes or french toast usually followed the butter.

The only things that have changed since then are the actual ingredients I use and the breadth of cooking I do with cast iron. I pretty much cook whatever will fit: boiled pasta, sautéed vegetables, fried potatoes.

As the days grow colder though, I’ll likely turn to heartier fare like roasted root vegetables, corn tortillas, and this sweet potato chili I recently made. Warmly spiced with crunch and zip, how’s that for a bit of nostalgia?

Vegan Sweet Potato Chili with Spicy Pepita Oil

Makes 4 to 6 servings

to cook the beans: 

½ cup dried black beans (or 1 ¼ cups canned beans, drained and rinsed)

½ cup dried kidney beans (or 1 ¼ cups canned beans, drained and rinsed)

½ cup dried pinto beans (or 1 ¼ cups canned beans, drained and rinsed)

1 avocado or bay leaf

3-inch strip of kombu (a sea vegetable)



Sort through the beans and rinse them well. Soak the beans overnight in a pot with enough water to cover the beans by 2 or more inches. Drain and rinse again before cooking.

Return the beans to the pot, add 4 cups water to cover, plus the avocado leaf and kombu square. Bring to a boil, and cook at a hard boil for 5 minutes. Skim off any bean bubbles that form on the surface.

Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 2 hours, until the beans are tender to the bite. The cooking time depends on the age of the beans—older beans take longer. Meanwhile, begin working on the base for the chili.

(Note from The Blissful Chef: or you can make your beans quicker in a pressure cooker!)

skillet chili ingredients

to make the chili:

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed

1/3 cup raw, unsalted pepitas

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped finely (about 1 cup)

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

3 tablespoons tomato paste (dissolved in 1/3 cup water)

1 to 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (use less for milder spice)

Suggested garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro leaves, chopped scallions, fresh squeezed lime juice, grated vegan cheese, vegan sour cream



When the beans are done, discard the avocado leaf and kombu square. Drain the beans; set aside.

Prepare a small bowl of ice water; set aside. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan and add the sweet potato. Return to a boil, cover, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the sweet potato from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer to the bowl. Drain and set aside.

To toast the pepitas, place them in a 12-inch cast skillet over medium heat. Toss them around every few minutes until fragrant and lightly toasted. Remove from heat immediately; set aside.

Using the same skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion. Cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, then the cocoa powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, salt, and cinnamon and stir the paste mixture to combine. Add the sweet potato, stirring to coat. Cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes over medium-low heat, allowing the flavors to mingle. Add a few drops of water if the skillet gets too dry and the vegetables stick.

Add the tomato sauce and increase the heat to medium, bringing to a bubbly simmer. Stir in the tomato paste mixture, and chipotle chiles then lower the heat, and cook about 10 minutes, stirring regularly.

Stir in the beans. Simmer over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, just until the chili reaches the consistency and texture desired. If the mixture is too thick, add a small amount of tomato paste or water.

Serve with toasted pepitas and a drizzle of chili-pepita oil along with your choice of suggested garnishes and with corn tortillas or corn bread.

Spicy Pepita Oil

Makes about ¼ cup

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 ½ tablespoons raw, unsalted pepitas

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil



Place the red pepper flakes in a heatproof medium bowl; set aside.

Heat a small cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the pepitas and the oil and cook until they begin to brown, about a minute or two. Remove from heat. Pour the oil over the pepper flakes and let sit 30 minutes or so, stirring now and then.

Strain the oil mixture through a fine mesh strainer over the same bowl used for the pepper flakes. Discard the pepitas and pepper flakes. Transfer the oil to a glass jar with a tight fitting lid to store.

Do you like including root vegetables in your chili or do you like it straight up with different beans? What other kind of recipes would you like to see featured this month? 

Nikki's headshotNikki Gardner writes articles and personal essays for publications such as Artful Blogging, BlogHer, Edible Pioneer Valley, Huffington Post’s Taste, and Smithsonian’s Food & Think. Her photographs and recipes appear in Design*Sponge, GourmetLive, L.A. Times, thekitchn.com, The New York Times, WBUR’s Public Radio Kitchen, and WWLP’s Mass Appeal, among others. She blogs about the intersection of art and life at Art & Lemons.

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