Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili Credit: Sandy Oliver

This chili is so good that you won’t notice that there is no meat in it.

I cooked this for a crowd as a vegetarian option. Despite the fact that the group was mostly carnivores, this chili was all gone before the meat option was.

Of course, you can add meat if you want, and that is really yummy in a bowl with cheese on top or sloppy joe-style on a burger roll. I turned a few spoonfuls of leftover chili into soup with the addition of a little chicken stock and by mashing up chunks of sweet potato to thicken it a little. What a handy recipe.

The seasonings in the original recipe which prompted the following variation were so wimpy that I turned teaspoonfuls of cumin and chili into tablespoonfuls, doubled up on garlic, and added oregano, too. For capsicum, you could use jalapenos, fresh or canned. I used chipotle powder, but a few flakes of red pepper would work, too. Smoked paprika is not hard to find and is a great addition. Obviously, you adjust the seasonings to your own taste.

If you don’t stick to a vegetarian diet, you can use chicken or beef broth. Otherwise the recipe will not only be vegetarian but also vegan.

I get a kick out of growing and drying my own beans, so I used homegrown black beans, soaked overnight and boiled until tender next day. You could make this chili a lot faster if you used canned black beans, but it’s cheaper if you use dried beans that you soak.

Do you know about speed soaking? Put the dry beans into cold water, bring to a boil and set aside for an hour, then boil again, adding more water until they are tender.

Sweet potatoes are terrific, but if you grow butternut squash with a similar firm texture, consider substituting squash for the potatoes as a variation. Why not change the proportion of beans to sweet potatoes to suit your taste or supply, or add a pound or more of cooked hamburger? Double the recipe and serve a crowd or freeze half. Halve it and take care of supper tonight. Let the recipe be inspiration for your version of a chili.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

Makes 6-8 servings without meat, and up to 12 with it

2 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight

2 large sweet potatoes, or 4 cups, cut into half-inch cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion chopped

2-3 cloves garlic minced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped, optional

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika, or more to taste

2 tablespoon ground chili powder

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 14- or 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes, or a scant 2 cups of diced tomatoes

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (and more as needed)

Pepper and salt to taste

1. Soak the black beans in water all day or overnight. Drain and add fresh water to cover by a few inches. Bring beans to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot. Add the onion and cook for about three minutes, then add the sweet potato and garlic, and cook for about 10 minutes.

3. Add the jalapeno, if used, plus cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika and oregano, and heat all together for a few minutes.

4. Add the cooked black beans, diced tomatoes and 2 cups of vegetable broth, and bring to a boil.

5. Reduce the heat and cook for half an hour, or until the sweet potatoes are tender.

6. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and additional spices to suit your taste.

7. Add optional cooked ground meat and more spices as desired.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...