2016-2 Lentil, Sweet Potato and Ancho Chili


As the thermometer continues to dip, nothing warms the body and soul better than a big bowl of chili. But journey across the country and you’ll find this classic served in many different ways. It’s slathered over tamales in San Antonio and hot dogs in Detroit. In Santa Fe it’s served with Fritos and Cincinnati, ladled over spaghetti! In The Chili Cookbook, award-winning author Robb Walsh digs deep into the fascinating history of this classic American dish. His exploration and experimentation rewards us with 60 mouth-watering recipes—from slow cooker to braised, filled with beef, venison, shrimp and everything in between.

Lentil, Sweet Potato and Ancho Chili | Serves 10-12

One of the hardest things about vegetarian chili is getting the consistency right: it’s hard to achieve the ideal gravy-to-chunk ratio. This lentil and sweet potato version gets very close—the secret is pureeing half the stew and adding it back in as a thickener. Fresh ginger, garlic, and basil sautéed in butter and a pinch of cinnamon and allspice give it some zing.


  • 1 pound dried green lentils, soaked for 4 to 6 hours then drained

  • 1 large sweet potato, chopped (do not peel)

  • 1 pound tomatoes, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 4 cups vegetable broth

  • 3 dried ancho chiles

  • 1⁄2 tablespoon butter

  • 2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, chopped

  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (about 1 teaspoon)

  • 6 leaves fresh basil

Put the lentils, sweet potato, tomatoes, salt, paprika, cayenne, cinnamon, and cloves into a Dutch oven. Cover with the broth, cover the Dutch oven, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender, about one and a half hours.


Tear the anchos in half and discard the stem and seeds. Toast the anchos in a dry skillet over medium heat until warm and aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes each side. Turn off heat and transfer chiles to a small saucepan and cover with water. Press them down into the water so that they’re mostly submerged. Heat the water over medium heat for a few minutes, then turn off the burner. Do not boil.

In a small frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in fresh basil leaves and wilt for about another minute. Remove from the heat.

Once the sweet potatoes are tender, ladle about half of the solid ingredients (about 4 cups) into a high-powered blender or food processor, allowing most of the liquid to drain back into the pot before transferring. Drain the softened anchos. Chop coarsely and add to the blender along with ginger and garlic mixture. Puree until very smooth and thickened; the mixture should be a thick paste.

 Use a rubber spatula to return the paste to the pot and stir well to integrate completely. Continue simmering over low heat for about 15 minutes to combine flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in a bowl, family style.


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“Reprinted with permission from The Chili Cookbook: A History of the One-Pot Classic, with Cook-Off Worthy Recipes from Three-Bean to Four-Alarm and Con Carne to Vegetarian by Robb Walsh, copyright © 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.”

Photography credit: Eva Kolenko © 2015