Paleo Schmaleo, I’ll Take the Chili


Apparently hunter-gatherers didn't eat stuff like this.

Have you heard about the paleolithic diet?

As a vegetarian, I’ve experienced more than my share of people not minding their own business about what I eat. In restaurants, certain family members and co-workers scour the menu for things I “can” eat before looking for themselves — even though I’ve been successfully ordering off menus for more than a quarter of a century. I really believe in not eating animals, and am always happy to answer questions, but I’m not a┬áproselytizer. Vegetarianism is simply not a choice most people are going to make, and to assume otherwise is to be naive and annoying.

The paleo people are proselytizers. They believe that, since we are genetically identical to those hunter-gatherers, we should all be eating the same things that they did prior to the agricultural revolution that happened 10,000 years ago: vegetables, herbs, fruit, grass-fed animals. And that’s it. No dairy, grains, oils, salt, alcohol, coffee, sugar or, get this, legumes.

At a party over the summer, I was cornered by an otherwise intelligent-seeming Palestinian man who told me that my vegetarianism would lead to cancer and obesity (!). Granted, I was gorging myself on cheese at the time, which probably made him intensely jealous, but it was still really strange. I mean, we had just been introduced an hour before.

There is a lot of evidence that this method of eating is based on faulty assumptions and even more to suggest that it is downright unhealthy. I won’t go into those here. Mostly because my brain is stuck on that thing about no legumes.

Beans! What is wrong with beans?!

I agree, most of us would be better off with less dairy, fat, salt, alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fewer (though surely not zero) grains. But legumes? Lentils, peas, peanuts? Delicious and nutritious, they are very high in protein and fiber, contain almost no sugar and, except for peanuts, are very low in fat. As a protein source, they are sustainable in ways that animals, even free-range ones, will never be. Legumes actually improve the land they are grown on.

High bean intake has never been linked with colorectal cancer.

I have trouble buying into a dietary system that allows for bacon but not oatmeal; and for some reason, I just can’t accept that a steak is better for me than this chili that I made last night. (See where this is going?)

In addition to being incredibly easy and mind-bendingly delicious, this has almost no fat and is super high in protein. Also, it’s cold, it’s January and there are all kinds of sporting events on television.

Really Easy Non-Paleo Wintertime Chili

It’s also vegan and gluten-free.

I used

  • Two tablespoons of a high-temperature oil, like peanut or canola
  • Two onions, chopped
  • One garlic bulb, peeled and diced
  • One ghost pepper, one of the hottest peppers in the world. You can use a different pepper, or a few tablespoons of chili flakes or nothing, if that’s what you’re into.
  • One and a half tablespoons of cumin
  • Two heaping tablespoons of paprika
  • One tablespoon of garlic powder
  • Three 12 oz cans of beans (or equivalent dried and soaked; you’ll have to add an astonishing amount of salt if you do it this way). I used black, dark red kidney and pinto. You be the judge!
  • One 12 oz can of crushed tomatoes (or equivalent of fresh). I got a few cans of fire-roasted garlic tomatoes on sale, so I used one of those.
  • 36 oz of water (that’s three cans full)
  • One cup of brown basmati rice

Here’s what I did

I used a slow cooker, but a pot will work nearly as well. This is as easy as it comes. The only real trick is to sloooowly saute the onions, garlic and peppers in the oil to release all of their great flavors. I let mine sit in the slow cooker for two hours before I added anything else, but half an hour over low heat on a stove should work okay. Everything should be tender and smell amazing, with no hint of burning. Then add the spices and let them cook until you can smell them across the room.

If you’re in a hurry, add the rice at this point and turn the heat up to medium high. Stir until the rice barely begins to toast, about five minutes, then add all of the other ingredients. Cover and cook until the rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Then turn down the heat, uncover and let any remaining fluid evaporate until it’s the texture you like.

Personally, I like to add everything except the rice and cook on medium for an hour or so, so that the flavors meld, before adding the rice, which will then absorb the flavor. If you need more water, add some. If you need less, uncover your pot.

Chili is one of the main reasons why I will always have a slow cooker, even as I’ve learned to live just fine without a toaster or microwave. For one thing, it won’t burn, and it can be hard to keep something as gloopy as chili from sticking when it’s on a stovetop. And I’m pretty convinced that it tastes better when it cooks for a long time, even when the beans are from a can.

I garnished my chili with a dollop of plain yogurt, avocado slices, cilantro and a wedge of lime. A sprinkle of cheddar would be fantastic. This morning, I ate some cold, standing in front of the open refrigerator, shoveling it into my mouth while the coffee steeped. That was really good too.

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4 Responses to Paleo Schmaleo, I’ll Take the Chili

  1. Amy Ziari says:

    I am so with you on the Paleo stuff. Just because hunter-gatherers missed out on many of life’s nutritious pleasures like doesn’t mean we have to. Not to mention, it’s far too rigid to be sustainable for most people. How would you ever eat out?

    I blame CrossFit for the craze and so does Google:,+paleo

  2. Sara says:

    I’m with you too. Hey if that diet works for you, great. But the paleo people I know are obnoxious. Utterly relentless in their quest to get you to drink the kool aid. And when I politely decline, they scornfully attack me with wonderfully inviting statements like “Well don’t blame ME when you poison yourself with those toxic grape nuts!!” or some such BS. I am totally turned off by anything with the word paleo in it now. Want nothing, zip, nada to do with it. And am fully aware that makes me irresistible to them… Oh well. I’ll try your chili! Thanks for the recipe.

  3. julie says:

    Generally my reaction. Beans? Why beans? While it is true that the low-fat stuff didn’t work for me, I would prefer beans over meat any day. I’m not vegetarian, but eat lots of veg and beans and fruit and even what the paleos call, derisively, “healthy whole grains”, but I am super-healthy, especially for my age. I lost weight and maintain that comfortably. If I had to guess, I’d say anybody who gives up most of the processed crap of any nutrient composition will be much healthier for it, and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s a far distance between brown rice and white bread, people deny that at their peril. There’s my $.02

  4. Exactly. Avoid processed crap and use your brain. A great rule for food and life.

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