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Vegetarian Chili is an Immature Artform
Just returned from the 16th Annual Lonestar Vegetarian Chili Cook-off, sponsored by the Vegetarian Network of Austin. It was held out at the Austin Zoo, southwest of the city. Fifteen teams were ladling out chili that they'd prepared that morning to a crowd of vegetarians, vegans, and their friends. You were issued a bowl and a spoon on entry to the park, along with enough tickets to get a taste of everything.

In general, I wasn't impressed. Most of the recipes used beans and TVP, along with a smattering of spices. In some, the TVP was ground fine, while others used TVP chunks that approximated the texture of meat. One chili used canned mushrooms to poor effect, and a few really undercooked the beans, leaving them a little crunchy. I like the VNA entry, an Indian-influenced chili served with roasted pumpkin seeds; they got my audience vote. However, as my friend Charles said, we could probably enter this next year and own the place.

I met up with lizardprincess and her friend K.D. at the event, and the four of us went off to see the rest of the zoo. Austin's zoo is a habitat for rescued animals, with many of them having been former pets or circus animals. I saw lions, tigers, cougars, lizards, monkeys, deer, bears, goats, birds, wallabies, and lemurs. The tortoise exhibit was impressive, with a wide range of creatures; I commented that it was like a perpetual-motion rock garden, with most of them stationery on the ground or slowly moving around.

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my parents won one year. they just used frozen tofu, red beans, chili pepper... it wasn't that complicated a recipe.

Congrats to your parents. The frozen tofu should have given it a pretty good texture. The beans can work if they're cooked well, but a lot of the entries this year had them undercooked. A few entries had OK mouth feel, but nothing was very spicy or complex, with the exception of the Indian-pumpkin entry, and a Lei Lady chili that had garbonzo peas and celery salt (huh!).

Ew on the garbanzo beans and celery salt chili
the pumpkin variety sounds good
my parent's wasn't really spicy
that year there were tons too spicy for me to eat though

I've been curious about both those veggie chili cookoffs and the Austin Zoo. No giraffes?

No, I didn't see any giraffes. Sorry.

my sister, next year's winner of the cookoff

And she isn't even a vegetarian - just a suburban housewife with a cookbook borrowed from the library. But dang, that stuff was good.

Re: my sister, next year's winner of the cookoff

That will only happen if I can't get my dad out here for it. He makes a really nice pot of veggie chili that's very well spiced. I'd need to work on texture a little, but I think once you've got the flavor right, the mouth feel is something that you can manage pretty easily.

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