Instant Pot Eggplant Chili is a hearty vegan dinner perfect for a busy meat-free weeknight. This recipe comes to me from an unlikely source: the 1995 cookbook Open House, prepared by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. It’s a weird little cookbook. On the outside it looks like a run-of-the-mill community cookbook, down to the generic cover art and cheap plastic binding. On the inside is a collection of recipes and stories from various celebrities and celebrity chefs, befitting a fundraiser for a national organization. The fifty or so “celebrity” recipes are supplemented by another two or three hundred unattributed recipes, which appear to have been provided in corporate partnership with Hillshire Farm. Eggplant Chili is one of the “padding” recipes.
If you’ve looked anywhere else on this site it should be abundantly clear that neither I nor my family are vegan. If anything we are emphatically not vegan, and probably consume more meat than we ought to. But having spent the last two decades in the Pacific Northwest it’s kind of impossible not to dine vegan every now and again. And I’m not talking flaccid seitan or some sort of pasty cashew cheese. There’s a pizza place downtown that serves up a vegan slice that’s better than any of their omnivore slices, and does it without any sweaty meat substitutes or fake dairy. Just a good red sauce, some caramelized onions, and a little bit of nutritional yeast. Add to that a killer crust, and you won’t miss the cheese and pepperoni. These guys taught me the secret to good vegan food: stop trying to copy the carnivores. Once you embrace your limitations you’re free to chart your own course, and there’s plenty of delicious plant-based ingredients out there to work with.
Instant Pot Eggplant Chili follows the same rules. There’s no pretense of trying to make a greasy chili con carne by lazily substituting eggplant for ground beef. Instead, the recipe embraces its ingredients and respects its limitations. Chili powder brings out something different in eggplant and mushrooms than it does in beef, and the recipe leans into those differences. You might still be able to pile Instant Pot Eggplant Chili into a Frito pie or over a (plant-based) hot dog. It will still work as a belly-filling comfort food on ac old night, but it’s not trying to fool anyone. It’s lighter, more savory, and dare I say ‘fruitier’ than a bowl of slow cooked traditional chili. It fills the same niche and need, but is a whole other experience.
The original recipe was written well before the introduction of the Instant Pot, but it’s a natural fit. I’ve noted elsewhere that I usually despise trendy kitchen gadgets. I’ve got limited cabinet and counter space, and if I’m going to make room for a gadget I’d better get some use out of it. And even though it takes up a conspicuous spot on my countertop, I’ve loved my Instant Pot since I bought it. I’m not obsessed with it like some users: it’s a pretty lousy slow cooker and makes mushy rice, but the pressure cook function has made my life measurably better. The original recipe required two hours of simmering, but the Instant Pot pressure cook cuts it down to about 25 minutes. Enough to make this approachable for a busy weeknight.
Besides adapting the instructions for the Instant Pot, I’ve made a few adjustments from the original recipe. The most important is that I’ve chosen to sauté the vegetables before sending them to pressure. The original recipe just had me chop a bunch of vegetables and throw them in a pot together, but I’m a fan of the Maillard reaction. It’s transformative for onions and mushrooms, and also lets them sweat a little bit of liquid and concentrate their flavors. I’ve also swapped out green bell peppers for a mild green Anaheim pepper. It’s got a better taste and texture (and let’s be honest, there’s not much worse in this world than a mushy, cooked green bell pepper). Both the original recipe and my adaptation have an unspecified amount of ginger: I found that a little goes a long way, and serves to distinguish this dish even further from run-of-the-mill chili. If you’re a traditionalist feel free to omit it altogether.
Instant Pot Eggplant Chili was an unexpected hit with the family, despite being a detour from our usual warm weather fare. We usually reserve chili for cooler weather, but the eggplant seemed to lighten things up enough to make it work on a hot summer evening. Not quite as heavy in the gut as a rich chili con carne but still enough to fill my teenagers bellies. I paired it with a dessert-sweet cornbread from the same cookbook. The sweet helped to cut the rich bitterness of the vegetables and probably played a bigger role in the overall meal’s success than I’d like to admit. You could also serve this with corn chips and traditional chili fixin’s: chopped onion and sour cream will work well, but I’d forego cheddar cheese in favor of something milder like Jack or Gruyère. I’m not sure how often I’ll return to the well on this one, but it’s comforting to have a vegan main in my back pocket that the rest of us omnivores enjoy just as well. You never know who you’ll meet in the Pacific Northwest. Enjoy!
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 sweet onions (thinly sliced)
- 2 pints fresh mushrooms, any variety, sliced
- 2 anaheim or pasilla peppers (chopped)
- 2 stalks celery (chopped)
- 2 medium-sized eggplants (cut into 1-inch cubes)
- 2 15 oz cans kidney or pinto beans (rinsed and drained)
- 1 28 oz can tomato puree
- ½ cup water
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- finely grated fresh ginger
- salt and pepper to taste
Instant Pot Directions
- Heat the Instant Pot using the saute function. When the pot is hot, add the olive oil. When the oil starts shimmering, add onions, mushrooms, chopped peppers, and celery. Saute for 3-5 minutes until onions and mushrooms are lightly browned and have lost a good amount of their water.
- Add eggplant, stir, and cook for 3-5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
- Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cook for 10 minutes on the low pressure setting. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 15 minutes, then quick release any remaining pressure.
- Season to taste and serve.
For other recipes from this same cookbook follow the link.