Recipe: Why you should put pumpkin in chili

Pumpkin + football = chili.

How do I know the equation adds up? A chili expert checked my work.

I envisioned stirring pumpkin into a pot of thick, spicy, smoky chili I could take to a tailgate.

I saw pumpkin roasting in the oven with whole garlic cloves. I imagined the flavor of caramelized brown pumpkin chunks mingled with cumin, chipotle, fresh poblano peppers and beef so tender it falls apart at a spoon's touch.

Was I crazy? Would anyone else think putting pumpkin in chili was a good idea?

"Um, well, I've been kind of thinking about it since you mentioned it," Steven Peachey Jr. said when I called to ask about his 2015 win in the Indiana State Chili Cook-off in Cicero.

Peachey won the people's choice award, so I was thrilled when he said of pumpkin chili, "I don't think it's crazy."

We discussed possibilities based on Peachey's winning chili recipe, which he explained was more method than formula. First, he sautés chopped onions and peppers in a large soup pot until the vegetables have softened. He then adds ground beef to the pot and browns the meat with the vegetables.

Spices, chicken stock and tomato paste and/or canned tomatoes go in next. That's the point when Peachey said he would add canned pumpkin to lend flavor and body to the stew.

Peachey normally seasons his chili with four to five tablespoons of Mexene chili powder, available at Kroger, along with ground cumin and coriander. With pumpkin, he liked my idea of playing smoky chipotle against the pumpkin's sweetness.

Peachey's chili simmers for a couple hours before a few cans of Red Gold Chili Hot Beansland in the pot. That would be the likely time to drop in roasted pumpkin, too. We agreed a dash of cinnamon might make a nice pumpkin chili finishing touch.

As we talked, Peachey, 28, revealed that his aunt was legendary Indianapolis cook Cathy Peachey. In the '80s and '90s, she ran a string of coffee shops named CATH (coffee and tea house) before anyone knew what a pumpkin spice latte was, much less Starbucks.

Breast cancer claimed Cathy Peachey in 1994. While battling the disease, she worked tirelessly to increase state and federal funding for breast cancer research. The Catherine Peachey Fund in 1994 published the first "Just Peachey: Bearing Fruit" cookbook to continue raising money for the cause. A 20th anniversary edition was published in 2015, Steven Peachey told me.

I bought the book a couple hours after Steven Peachey and I spoke. He had yet to review the latest edition's all-new recipes from area chefs and home cooks. I planned to crack it open that night, but before I did, Peachey tagged me in this tweet "page 230 of the cookbook...butternut squash chili."

I think we both took the recipe as a nod from Cathy Peachey herself to test pumpkin chili recipes. "The squash chili definitely has my eye," Steven Peachey emailed me a day later. "Pumpkin would be an easy sub. It's on my dinner menu for next week!"

"Mine, too," I told him.

Find the "Just Peachy: Bearing Fruit" vegetarian Butternut Squash Chili recipe below. I hope it inspires you to tell us about your pumpkin chili recipes and share your chili photos with the hashtag #pumpkindy.

Butternut Squash Chili

¼ cup olive oil

1 medium white onion, diced

1 medium green pepper, diced

1 medium red pepper, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

5 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced or buy 1½ pounds pre-diced (substitute 2 cups raw, peeled, diced pumpkin)

1 cup water

½ cup vegetable broth

2 14½-ounce cans diced tomatoes

1 15-ounce can black beans

1 15-ounce can kidney beans

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans

Salt, to taste

Brown sugar, to taste

Garnish: sour cream or Greek yogurt and fresh, chopped cilantro

Heat half the olive oil in a large soup pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers. Sauté the vegetables until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook about 6 minutes more. Remove contents from the pot and set aside.

Add remaining olive oil, chili powder and cumin to the pot. Sauté until spices mix with the oil. Add tomato paste and cook about 2 minutes. Add the squash (or pumpkin) and cook about 5 minutes. Add the water and broth and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking for 15 minutes, or until squash is tender, adding more water or vegetable stock if necessary.

Add the tomatoes, beans and the sautéed garlic, onions and peppers to the pot. Cook chili for 15 minutes. Add more vegetable stock if desired. Taste and season accordingly with salt and/or brown sugar.

Source: Heather Witte of Carmel for "Just Peachey: Bearing Fruit Cookbook, 20th Anniversary Edition" (The Catherine Peachey Fund, 2014, $24.99).


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