15 October 2011

Iron Chef Challenge: Bananas and Coffee

What makes the culinary side of veganism most enjoyable for me--as well as cooking in general--is the ongoing opportunity to turn seemingly ordinary food into unique (if not at least tasty) dishes. So I was a little disappointed that I didn't have time to participate in the first Iron Chef Challenge for Vegan MoFo last weekend. Assuming I had the necessary ingredients on hand for Iron Chef Challenge #2, I made a point to give it a try.

This week's challenge ingredients are banana and coffee. The most obvious route was to make a dessert, which would have been perfectly fine for me if I hadn't already been indulging in sweets more often than I'd like. So I opted to make a savory dish. I immediately thought to make chili, for two reasons: 1) chocolate gives chili so much depth, and coffee enhances chocolate, so it made sense in a roundabout way, and 2) I love chili and therefore always have it on the brain. Perhaps chili is not the most innovative dish, but then again, finding chili that includes either coffee or bananas is not exactly a common occurrence. As you'll see, my chili still didn't actually contain banana, although I did include it as an add-on. [Side note: Not enough restaurants serve vegan chili (or chili fries, for that matter). It's a shame, really, because meatless chili is delicious and incredibly easy to make. If we can get places to sell vegan burgers and pizza, surely we can convince a few to ladle up hearty, vegan chili, too, right? Just sayin'.]

With chili to solve the coffee riddle, I still needed to figure out a way to incorporate banana into the mix. I decided to pair the chili--which would presumably be spicy, smoky, and very much a savory dish--with a banana chutney of sorts. Mind you, I don't really know what makes a chutney different from a dip or sauce; I figure it just needs some sweet-spicy elements and jam-like consistency. Of all the chili- and banana-eating occasions I've experienced, never once have I thought to combine the two until today. It turns out that the combination really isn't that bad. I actually like it, although it probably won't become a regular pairing around here. The espresso and chocolate are subtle, but contribute to the chili's deep, rich, smoky flavor. The sweetness of the banana balances the smokiness and spiciness of the chili. A side of toasted pita bread completed an interesting, flavorful meal.
Smoky Black Bean Chili with Sweet Banana Chutney (printer-friendly version)

Smoky Black Bean Chili
Yields approximately 2 to 4 servings, depending on appetite
Gluten-, nut-, and soy-free

1-2 tsp canola oil
1/2 large onion (approximately 1 c), chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano pepper, minced (optional; remove seeds for milder version)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 T dark chili powder
3 tsp instant espresso powder
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
2 chipotles (packed in adobo sauce - check ingredients for soy, gluten, and nuts), diced
1 (14.5- or 15-oz) can cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c tomatoes, peeled and crushed
1/4 c water
2 T cilantro, chopped, plus more for garnish (optional)

Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat canola oil in a medium to large saucepan over medium-low flame. Add the onion and cook until they are softened and begin to caramelize. Add the garlic, serrano, cumin, and chili powder, and cook for an additional minute, until the garlic and spices become fragrant. Add the espresso powder, cocoa powder, chipotles, black beans, tomatoes, water, and 2 T cilantro. Stir everything until combined. Bring the chili to a low boil over medium flame, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the lime juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with rice, potatoes, bread, pasta, or starch of choice. Garnish with additional cilantro and Sweet Banana Chutney (recipe follows). Enjoy!

Sweet Banana Chutney
Yields approximately 1/4 cup
Gluten-, nut-, and soy-free

1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 serrano chili, seeded and minced
2 ripe bananas, peeled and chopped
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 c water
Pinch of salt
Pinch of turmeric
Juice of 1/2 lime

In a small, dry pan over medium flame, toast the cumin and serrano just until fragrant. Be careful not to burn them. Add the bananas, mashing them lightly. Stir in the brown sugar, water, salt, and turmeric. Bring the mixture to a low boil, then lower the heat and allow the chutney to simmer until it thickens, stirring frequently. Stir in the lime juice and remove the chutney from heat. Serve warm or at room temperature with Smoky Black Bean Chili (recipe precedes).


  1. Oooh this looks great Tiffany - I didn't even think of doing something savoury - nice going.

  2. fantastic!  this is definitely the most creative iron chef post so far!  i wonder what more we'll see before the deadline.

  3. Awesome idea! I was interested to see any savory combinations! I would never have thought of something like this and the banana chutney sounds really well spiced.

  4. Clever- very clever!  

  5. Very creative use of the bananas and coffee! More restaurants should offer veggie chili. I actually had a vegan chili at a Borders cafe several years ago while visiting Hawaii, I was surprised and happy they had it. Something like Cuban fried plantain bananas would be good with the chili too. :-)

  6. shortapsugirl10/17/11, 7:41 PM

    I can't wait to try this!


Thanks for reading! Your comments are always welcome and appreciated. :)