Garden Chili and a Building Pot Luck

October 2, 2009

I’m tellin’ you, the uses of zucchini and tomatoes are absolutely endless!

Last night our building had a little pot luck dinner.  So wonderful to sit around the table with your neighbors, especially when they are as cool as ours.  And Thom, I’ll need you two to guest post about that cous cous!!

So, I love a crock pot when it comes to pot luck, especially when the number of guests is undetermined until the last minute.  I put a bag of dried red beans out to soak the night before, what’s better than big pot of chili the first day of October?

The only catch is that at least one set of neighbors is vegetarian, bordering on the vegan side, so no chili con carne tonight.  This is actually excellent news for the pocket book.

As the beans slow cooked, I set about sourcing other ingredients:

1 GIANT zucchini from funk town garden, free
2 ears of fresh sweet corn, Lucky’s grocery store, pretty sure its local ($1.50)
5 red romas from funk town garden, free
1 big green tomato from funk town, free (the green ones have great, tart flavor, its like adding lemon juice to a recipe!)
1 onion (farmers marke stash, probably cost 50 cents)
A few cloves of garlic (farmers market stash, probably cost 10 cents)
An asortment of dried chilis from farmers markets and travels past (maybe $1’s worth)
a table spoon or so of paprika and cummin
….and, the key to texture:  A cup of green lentils.  They mush up almost like ground beef and sort of hold the beans together. (from Farmer Joes.  probably $1’s worth of lentiles)

I realize the term “sourcing other ingredients” sounds complicated, but it was more thoughtful than work-ful.  The garden and the grocery story are a two block triangle from my pantry.

I cooked the beans in the crock pot with a sachet of herbs from the garden, rosemary, oregano, etc…. to give them some built – in flavor.  On low, I give my crock pot 6 to 8 hours to cook beans that have soaked overnight in cold water.

About an hour before serving:

I drained off some of the extra water (but not all) and added the green lentils, putting the crock pot on high to cook the lentils.  Just watch the pot, if the beans dry up, add more water.  It’s not high maintenance, but it is interactive.

I sauteed all the veggies in olive oil, beginning with the garlic and dried chilis, which released a lot of flavor on contact with the heat of the skillet.  I had way more veggies than would fit in my skillet, so I did a few rounds, just trying to impart some flavor in the food before adding it to the pot.

Then I hucked the crock pot up stairs to the dining room and plugged it in on warm until everyone was ready to chow.

Becasue the table was alreayd elbow to elbow, I didn’t want to have to make room for plates AND bowls, so I smashed some potatoes from the pantry (just boil ’em and mash ’em—any dairy you can add is great, but I left it out for the vegans) and served the chili on the plates in little mashed potato bowls.  You know, a scoop of potatoes with a ladel-size whole in the middle.

To drink, I put a BIG bunch of fresh mint (garden) in the bottom of a pitcher, add two trays of ice on top of the mint (to keep it from floating to the top), fill with water, and then squeeze the juciest lemon I could  find into the pitcher.  VERY refreshing.

The Building Pot Luck:

The Table. No one wants to be the one to carry the dining room table up or down stairs.  We found a long piece of ply wood and laid it across folding TV trays.  Its very easy to set up and take down, we just leave the ply wood leaning against the wall when we don’t need it.   It’s important to get everyone at the SAME table, not a bunch of clicky four-tops.

Dishes.  BYO.  Its the same amount of work as cooking and cleaning up for yourself.

Chairs. BYO.  Everyone can carry one chair.  What would take one person 1 hr to set up takes ten people ten minutes.

Food. Pot Luck.  There’s always more than enough, and if you’re a picky eater, fix something you know you’ll eat.  It doesn’t matter if your plate is full of everyone else’s food, it matters that you’re at the table. I promise, after the first one, people will learn who’s allergic to shell fish, who doesn’t drink, who is vegetarian and begin to accommodate at future dinners.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch an empty space turn into a community dinner.  If you have access to a roof top, a garden, a patio, a vacant apartment, even a side walk, put a note on your neighbors’ doors and invite them to share a meal together.  You’ll sleep better, and smile more in the morning.

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