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Butternut Squash Chipotle Chili with Avocado.

Fall is in the air, as they say. The green leaves are just beginning to acknowledge the change in seasons along their peripheries; my nose is following suit with incessant sneezes. It’s that wonderfully awkward transitional time when I’m never sure what to wear: shorts now, or a sweater for later? And what do I cook: the last of the tomatoes, or sweet potatoes? We’ll be bundled up in scarves, carving pumpkins and crafting Halloween costumes before we know it. I can’t wait.

This butternut squash and black bean chili is just right for fall weather and football games. It strikes that balance between spicy and sweet that I love in Mexican food, like a good mole sauce. Chipotle and chili powder provide ample spice to round off the sweet, seasonal flavor of butternut squash. Top with crispy tortilla strips and plenty of creamy, diced Avocados from Mexico for a hearty meal that will satisfy vegans, carnivores and gluten-free eaters alike. Meals like that aren’t easy to come by, you know?

The chili happens to be super simple to make, too. Once you have your vegetables chopped, your work is almost done. Speaking of which, I’ve done my fair share of cursing at butternut for being difficult to peel and slice, but I didn’t have any trouble when I followed Simply Recipes’ method. I don’t know if it was her method or this butternut squash in particular, but it was a breeze. Try it!

Vegetarian Butternut Squash Chipotle Chili with Avocado

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 small butternut squash (1 ½ pounds or less), peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
½+ tablespoon chopped chipotle pepper in adobo* (start with ½ tablespoon and add more to taste, I thought mine was just right with 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained, or 3 cups cooked black beans
1 small can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes, including the liquid**
2 cups vegetable broth (or one 14-ounce can)
Salt, to taste
2 Avocados from Mexico, diced
3 corn tortillas for crispy tortilla strips (or substitute crumbled tortilla chips)
Optional additional garnishes: Chopped fresh cilantro and/or red pepper flakes

INSTRUCTIONS

In a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion, bell pepper and butternut squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are turning translucent.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the garlic, chili powder, ½ tablespoon chopped chipotle peppers, cumin and cinnamon. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the bay leaf, black beans, tomatoes and their juices and broth. Stir to combine and cover for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Taste about halfway through cooking and add more chopped chipotle peppers if you’d like.

You’ll know your chili is done when the butternut squash is nice and tender and the liquid has reduced a bit, producing the hearty chili consistency we all know and love. Remove the bay leaf and add salt to taste.

To make the crispy tortilla strips: stack the corn tortillas and slice them into thin little strips, about 2 inches long by ¼ inch wide.

Warm a drizzle of olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat until shimmering. Toss in the tortilla slices, sprinkle with salt and stir. Cook until the strips are crispy and turning golden, stirring occasionally, about 4 to 7 minutes. Remove tortilla strips from skillet and drain on a plate covered with a piece of paper towel.

Serve the chili in individual bowls, topped with crispy tortilla strips and plenty of diced avocado. I added a little sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional). Cilantro would be nice as well. You might want to serve this along with some chipotle hot sauce (Tobasco makes one) for the spice addicts like myself.