food to glow

feel good food that's good for you

Like a lot of you, the past few weeks have been quite busy for me. During the summer months projects, commitments and even ideas are somehow allowed to drift along on a warm breeze of school holiday-enforced hiatus. But come September the metaphorical whip is well and truly cracked. Many of you are by now up to your eyes with summer-interrupted deadlines and the daily scurry between work, family and after-school activities – and all points in-between. Maybe like me you are also vowing to shoehorn in a little extra exercise, or add in a ‘self-improving’ evening class. Time is not elastic, but we do our best to strain at the laws of physics nonetheless. I participate, therefore I am.

My additional soupcon of activity this week was giving several nutrition workshops at the 22nd annual Scottish Conference of Cancer Support Groups (SCCSG). To be completely honest with you I was not wholeheartedly looking forward to it. I am used to my cosy number with the Maggies Centres: making food and discussing nutrition and cancer in the comfort of small groups. And my ‘target’ audience is clear: for the most part those going through treatment and their carers. The SCCSG audience was going to be hugely mixed and much larger and less intimate than my usual 6-8 person groups. And in a hotel conference space, not among the architectural nuances, squashy sofas and natural light of the Maggies’ Centres. You are right, I am spoiled.

But, as is often the case with my fears, they were completely misplaced. This truly amazing conference sees delegates from all over Scotland gathering annually to update their research knowledge, share ideas, discuss common concerns and generally share and discuss ideas for helping those affected by cancer. All of the groups provide a vital service that just isn’t possible within the confines of the NHS. Every single person I met volunteers their time and skills to help others. In other words, good people. Inspiring people. Selfless people. And they wanted to listen to me. Wow.

Despite my initial reservations at being able to entertain/inform three large groups of people for one and one-half hours at a time, I think it went well. There was clapping (small groups don’t clap, so this was new to me). On a personal level it was good to have broken out of my comfort zone, and of course to have met so many amazing people. I just hope that I  expanded my groups’ knowledge and got them excited about all of the benefits of eating well. Even as I fade from their memories hopefully they will remember my Michael Pollan-nicked and tweaked motto: Eat Real Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.

For two days my stone age flip-chart and I extolled the virtues and benefits of a plant-based diet. I shouldn’t have been nervous about talking on this subject as it is something that we as a family practise on a day-to-day basis. We eat meat occasionally, but mostly it’s about the plants – the stuff that grows in the ground or hangs from trees. If it’s edible and available, we’ve probably tried it. I’ve never really gone in for the let’s- make-vegetables-taste-like-meat idea. If I want meat I’ll have a bit. I want my food to be true to what it is. Not an analogue of something else, as if it is a lesser option.

A case in point is chili, or chilli as we spell it here in the UK. I haven’t had a good beef based chili in a while but I remember my mother’s ground beef one. It was outstanding. Slow-cooked on a low peep for a few hours, vegetable-less save for onion and garlic, and if she was feeling a bit wild, a green pepper. But she also made a mean vegetable chili which, as she became more health-conscious, was the one she always made for herself and my Dad (little sis and I had flown the nest by this point). It tasted of gorgeous beans and vegetables sassed up with half a dozen spices and a little brown sugar. No hint of meat. Delicious.

Years ago she told me a sweet story of her first attempt at making a meal for my Dad when they were newly married. Why she was still trying to impress him at this stage is anyone’s guess, but she was, bless her. Anyway, she set about making his favourite meal, chili. She bought the best meat she could afford, lined the counter with appropriate little bottles of McCormick’s spices and got to work. Everything browned up nicely and smelled wonderful so she served up a big ladleful with some rice for my father, standing back awaiting praise. Praise did indeed come, but apparently it was false. While my father tucked in, all smiles beneath his trendy 60s moustache, my mother sampled hers and nearly expired with embarrassment. She had used cinnamon instead of chilli powder. Tablespoons of the stuff. My father abhors cinnamon. Truly hates the stuff. We blame those darn McCormick’s jars of old – they all look exactly alike. To this day, I always double check my spices as I have almost done the same thing myself. I wonder if spice blindness is hereditary?

Today’s recipe uses some of the spices my mother used in her chili: allspice being the rather unique one that I think works really well here. I often serve it with cornbread – homemade as we don’t get mix packets here (heck, we don’t even call cornmeal, cornmeal), but sometimes with some oven-baked plain basmati rice. I don’t tend to serve it with two starches unless it is for company, so they can have a choice. The only other thing you may want is a salad or even some steamed broccoli. For leftovers the following day I served the chili over steamed shredded kale and it was really good. The nip of the kale complements the spices beautifully. I will be doing that again, for sure: a great trick if you are cutting back on excess starchy carbohydrates. I like my cornbread too much to forgo it so will be having chili over kale and next to cornbread. I’m greedy that way.

Very Veggie Black Bean Chili

This is an easy and vegetable loaded take on traditional chili. Serve with white or brown basmati rice or – my favourite – cornbread. This recipe easily doubles for freezing or parties.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 ½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried crushed oregano
½ heaped tsp ground allspice (optional if you don’t have it but it does add something special to the soup)
1 ancho chilli (a dried poblano chilli) or other mild, fruity-tasting dried chilli
400 ml vegetable stock (keep more handy in case you find you want it soupier)
1 x 400g tin good quality chopped tomatoes (I like Cirio)
1 tbsp sundried tomato paste or regular tomato paste
½ aubergine/eggplant, small cubes
2 x 400 g tins black beans, drained but not rinsed 
20 g packet leaf coriander, chopped just before using
1 lime, halved

Heat the olive oil in a large, lidded saucepan. Saute the onions over a low heat until translucent, about four minutes (you can sauté in a little bit of vegetable stock rather than the oil). Stir in the other vegetables, garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander, allspice and ancho chilli, and sauté for one minute before adding the stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, aubergine/eggplant and beans. Bring to the boil, then turn down to simmer. Allow to bubble away for 20 minutes before stirring in chopped coriander (save a little for garnish), juice from half of the lime, and any seasoning. Fish out the chilli and serve the black bean chilli topped with crème fraiche/sour cream, extra lime and a big wedge of cornbread. I find chilli is even better the next day, but cornbread is best on the day it is made. Serves 4

Southern Corn Bread

The real deal. Serve with chilli, black bean soup – any soup really. I’ve converted this from my mother’s American measurements recipe into metric, but have included both because I use American cups when I make this. 

Use a cast iron skillet if you have one; it’s traditional and it gives the bread a fantastic all-over crust and somehow just makes it taste even more delectable.

1cup /125 g plain flour OR gluten-free flour blend (add 2 tbsp more liquid if using g-f flour, or as package directs)
¾ cup/125 g cornmeal (fine is preferable – large Tescos and Asian shops stock fine white or yellow cornmeal; use polenta if cornmeal is unavailable but it is a different texture)
2 ½ tsps baking powder
½ tsp salt
25 g butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 carton buttermilk or 230 ml milk, yogurt or soya milk
¼ cup /50 ml olive oil or rapeseed oil


Add the butter to a 10 inch skillet or 8 inch round baking pan and place in a 200C oven. Don’t leave for longer than five minutes.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk and oil. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture and any additional ingredients (see below). Stir just until moistened (may be a bit lumpy – that’s okay).

Remove the hot skillet from the oven, swirl the melted butter and pour in the cornbread mixture. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until risen, golden and starting to pull away from the pan around the edges.

Variations: Double corn – add 100 g of drained sweetcorn; Cheese – add 75 gm grated sharp cheese to the batter; Chilli – add 2 tbsps drained chopped jalepeno chillies and 75 g sharp cheese OR one fried onion. Makes 8-10 wedges 

29 thoughts on “Very Veggie Black Bean Chilli with Southern Cornbread

  1. Yummy, was on the look out for a veggie chilli – this ticks all my boxes x

  2. Niki Fulton says:

    Well the timing of this landing in my in box was perfect. A wet Sunday & I was thinking about what to make for supper so it’s currently simmering away and smells glorious. It has taken me right back to my childhood where the village I lived in had a house party at the drop of a hat and neighbours used to pile round with big pots just like this. We had a fab mix of ageing hippies, Quakers, pilots, teachers and scientists in our street and we spent many a weekend dunking warm bread into big steaming pots together. You’ve taken me back, bliss, thank you.

  3. Oooooo mama, this looks good. I love making lots of quinoa chili and freezing it for busy nights. That cornbread looks amazing! Do you think it would work with vegan egg-replacer?

    1. I don’t see why not. Egg replacement tricky for me to get, but It should work. I’m thinking of experimenting with soaked chia seeds as an egg replacer. Have you tried that? I keep a few hens so I have a ready supply of highest welfare eggs but I would like to know for others, like yourself.

  4. Looking at this actually made my stomach rumble! I will definitely be trying this as soon as possible! I’ve always wanted to make cornbread too, so this is just perfect. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Heather. We have cornbread at the drop of a hat around here, but I think few Brits have had the real thing, just a sweetened, dry version with ersatz American-style food – yuck. Hope you try it. My husband always wants it with corn, but I prefer it straight up. It is really lovely with sauteed onions though. Don’t do what hubby did for his poker buddies and put in a can of creamed corn – a wet disaster! He’s learning… 😀

  5. Deb says:

    Very much see myself making this chili (LOL, California spelling!) as soon as our late summer turns to fall. What a vibrant and healthy recipe for a windy, rainy day. I couldn’t agree more, keeping the integrity and flavor of the foods we choose to eat is the soul of great recipes.

    1. Well, I’m glad you are hanging onto to summer over in California. Not jealous, not a bit (she writes, crossing fingers behind her back). Here in Scotland it is in the 60s but bright and breezy today, perfect to start thinking about dragging out the crockpot, hoarding pulses and updating the warm spices. Today we are even having a bit of meat – a lamb, prune and chickpea tagine that I will write up soon. Veggies shut your eyes…Glad you agree with me about being true to your ingredients. It’s easier that way, and no one gets disappointed.

  6. EA Stewart says:

    Hi! I saw your comment at Foodtrainers and stopped by to check out your blog. Looks like you have some lovely recipes here-You chili looks delicious! I’m in California too, but right now where I am by the coast it’s foggy and drizzly-really perfect chili and cornbread weather actually. Will definitely try your recipe out!

    1. Brilliant! Thanks so much for checking me out. It’s funny although I live in Scotland (originally from Florida) I have an interestingly high amount of readers and subscribers from CA. I guess you Californians are just especially keen on healthy food! Thanks for commenting. Hope to hear from you again soon. 😀

  7. Faith says:

    Allspice is a fantastic addition to this beautiful chili! You’re a girl after my own heart, as cornbread with chili is a must for me too. 😉

    1. Thank you faith, so glad you like it. Allspice is such a great background spice, as well as being an essential ‘Christmas’ spice. And cornbread is always a must for chilli (and stew and leftover for breakfast with some chilli jam…). I wish I could take photos like you, btw. 😀

  8. Niki Fulton says:

    Yum! I’ve just made the corn bread & for those making it GF & DF, I used Doves Farm GF flour, soya milk & sunflower “butter”. I added the onion “option” and it really is fantastic. I’ve never made corn bread before & I’m hooked already, thank you!

    1. Thank you for the great GF and DF tips, Niki. I figured it would work but I am glad that you have put it to the test as GF, as well as doing it dairy free. I will make an amendment this evening after work to that effect. Let me know if you used any different measurements, esp re the liquid content. If there is any leftover (as if, with your ravenous teenage boys!) it is nice toasted under a grill and slathered with salted butter (Brittany?) and topped with a poached egg. Mmm. Haven’t eaten breakfast yet….

  9. Sally says:

    I’ve printed this off to make for tonight. With one vegetarian daughter in the family I am always looking for recipes that all of us will enjoy so I don’t have to cook twice. Lovely.

    1. Hi Sally! Hope it’s a lovely day in Dubai. Just a note re the recipe: my friend and unofficial proofreader/tester, Niki, has said that I mention sugar in the instructions but no mention in ingredient list. Be assured there is no sugar. It’s an historic relic from an older recipe. It’s been corrected now but your copy will have the error. Hope you al enjoy it. Thanks 😀

  10. Didn’t manage to find the ingredients for the corn bread, but made the chilli on Monday, me and the wee man had some for dinner last night with brown rice – very yummy. The leftovers are all mine along with some mashed avocado – NOM!!!

    1. So glad you made the chilli Sam. Did your little guy like it? Maybe don’t answer that! Regarding the cornbread recipe, the larger Tescos always have it in the ‘ethnic’ section, with the Indian and Pakistani products. Big bags of the stuff – white, fine yellow and medium yellow. By Natco, I think. I think for cornbread it’s best to use the fine yellow kind. In the States white is preferable, but it is finer ground there. Here we call it maizemeal. You could always use polenta but it’s a bit coarse for some folks’ taste. Hope that helps. You could also try any Indian grocer. I sent a friend a photo from the aisle as I was shopping at Tesco so she could see what to look for. Can do same for you if you like :D. She is a cornbread convert now…

  11. Two of my favorite foods. I just remarked it was feeling like chili weather. Thank you for stopping by Foodtrainers, I’m so glad to have found your blog.

    1. It’s a shame that summer has to end, but the cooler weather is more than compensated for in colourful trees, more beautiful light quality and, of course, different food ideas. After a certain point many of us want to have more hearty foods, and it’s good to have a few non-stodgy recipes up our sleeves. I hope these recipes fit the bill for you. Thanks for commenting. Hope to see you commenting again soon, Lauren.

  12. Julie Day says:

    My husband made this last night with the cornbread – he impressed himself! Thank you so much – our kitchen these days is full of new wonderful ingredients.

    1. Bless him, Julie. Did he do a good job? It’s wonderful to try new recipes and even better when someone else does all the work! I’m going to do an easy family fish recipe on Friday so look out for that and hope that gets made for you too. Thanks for commenting, Julie. Enjoy your ‘new’ kitchen 😀

  13. Your chilli sounds amazing and I’ve had a recipe for zucchini cornbread that I’ve been meaning to try for ages. I’ve got some arepa corn flour do you think I could use that and cut out the normal flour completely? I’ve never made cornbread before but all recipes use flour as well as corn flour.

    1. Oh thank you. Your zucchini cornbread sounds really interesting. As for using arepas flour I hadn’t heard of it but had a wee scout around online and it seems associated pretty much exclusively with savoury pancakey things (all sound scrummy). I’m not sure how the grain is compared to wheat flour, nor of it’s properties. Could be an interesting experiment. My friend Niki commented on here that she used Dove’s g-f flour and that it worked. Perhaps you have something similar for general g-f baking? If g-f not an issue I would recommend just using the flour – maybe a refined spelt flour for extra B vits if you like. All cornmeal would be quite heavy and what you want is light and open. Does that help? Probably clear as mud!

  14. The Chilli was a hit with the little man too – he did pick out the aubergine but otherwise he LOVED it!

    1. Yay! Well done Master C. And congrats on raising a child who eats most anything you make. I think I just got lucky with mine 😀

  15. That cornbread looks amazing Kellie. am going to have to try that!

    1. Thank you Urvashi. Coming from you that is a real honour! We love cornbread in our house. I always have a little pot of buttermilk for when the urge strikes. 😀

If you have time, I would love to hear from you. Thanks so much!

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