Turn up the heat in your dining room with a spicy treat that’s good for the body and good for the soul, writes Ewen Macdonald…

You have of course heard of Chilli Con Carne, so what is Chilli Sin Carne I hear you ask? For any of you Spanish language novices, Chilli Con Carne means Chilli with Meat and Chilli Sin Carne simply means mean Chilli without Meat.
Before all you carnivores tune out, this recipe is totally adaptable to minced beef or pork. But in the interests of a new season, with the joys of spring fast approaching and summer just around the corner I thought of something not just healthy but environmentally friendly too. One meal without meat needn’t be a bore, or a chore. Think of how smugly fit and healthy you’ll look and feel on our overabundance of fantastic Cornish beaches this summer.

Ingredients
1 Tablespoon Olive/Vegetable Oil
1 Red Onion
1 Clove of Garlic
1 Sweet Pepper
Chilli Peppers
1 Teaspoon Sweet Paprika
½ Teaspoon of Chilli Powder
2 Teaspoons of Tomato Puree
Puy Lentils
1 Tin Italian Plum Tomatoes
1 Tin of Red Kidney Beans
1 Lime
1-2 teaspoons of Sugar
500ml of Vegetable Stock
Salt
Pepper
Fresh Coriander

  1. Method
  2. I find a heavy casserole pot is best for cooking this dish. Heat the oil andthen roughly chop the red onion and cook it until transparent. Dice the sweet red pepper, chop or crush the garlic clove and add them to the onions.
  3. Chop and add your fresh chillies. These come in so many shapes and sizes and differentials of Scoville heat units that it’s almost impossible to reduce it to an exact science. The rule of thumb is the bigger the chilli the milder, the smaller and the uglier the chilli the hotter. Look up Ghost chillies, one of the meanest in the world, but certainly not one of the most aesthetic. Jalapeños, Bird’s eye and Scotch bonnet are regularly available in most supermarkets.
    Best advice is to go easy on the heat, it’s easier to add more spice than trying to take it away. If you cut away the seeds and membrane it reduces the chilli’s potency and as such you can add more chillies to the cooking process and sample their delightful and remarkably fruity flavour.
    Soften the sweet pepper, chillies, and garlic with the onion, being careful not to burn the garlic as it will take on a bitter acrid taste.
  4. Next add the tomato puree, sweet paprika and chilli powder and mix in well with the other ingredients.
  5. You can buy pre-cooked Puy lentils, if you buy dried you will need to cook the lentils separately, then sieve and add at the same stage. One advantage of cooking the lentils yourself is judging their bite, if you prefer them al dente. Just remember they will still cook further at this stage.
  6. Likewise, I use a tin of red kidney beans rather than soaking them overnight. The reason is simply time, effort and when I’ve done this in the past I’ve tended to find them a little grainier and gritty and simply put, less pleasant to eat. However, the choice of what you use is in your own capable hands. If you don’t like kidney beans then you could use pinto beans, black eyed beans, haricot, cannellini or a mixture of all. You can even buy a tin of mixed beans, often in their own sauce from the supermarket.
  7. Add the Puy lentils, the tin of Italian plum tomatoes, the red kidney beans and the sugar to the pot and stir all the ingredients in together.
  8. Cut the lime in half and squeeze it in to the chilli. Limes are hit and miss ingredients, with some being juicier than others. Roll it hard on a chopping board with the palm of
    your hand before cutting in half. I turn them inside out and squeeze every last gasp of fluid from them even if some of the pulp escapes into the mix. This isn’t fine dining at its best, it’s funky, punky home cooking. Make a good fist of this dish and trust me nobody will be complaining about how inelegant it is.
  9. Now add the vegetable stock, cover and leave it on a low heat to simmer until the liquid on top is gurgling like a thick, red fiery bowl of goodness. Then salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Chop the coriander and use as a garnish.
  11. At its heart this dish is essentially a Mexican Dhal and the best way of eating a Indian dhal is with freshly made roti/chapatis.

GUACAMOLE
Another classic accompaniment to any Tex/Mex meal is of course the ubiquitous green goddess of Mexico: Guacamole. This is a wonderfully fresh and healthy supplement to the meal.

Ingredients
1 Ripe Avocado
1 tablespoon Soured Cream
Pinch of Chilli Powder
Juice of 1 Lime
Salt

Method
Half the avocado and remove the stone, then scoop the ripe flesh into a bowl. Mash rigorously with a fork until fully pulped. Add the pinch of chilli, the lime juice, soured cream and a pinch of salt, then mix thoroughly together and serve immediately.
Simply add some olive oil if you want to loosen the guacamole further, or to turn it into a zesty, extravagant salad dressing. If you’re counting the calories, and an avocado is quite high for fruit, then you could replace the soured cream with low fat yogurt. Save some of that coriander as a finishing touch to this extra ray of sunshine.

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