recipe / remedy for no-sky july

Alaina Kafkes
salad days
Published in
5 min readJul 13, 2021


ah, summer in san francisco, sun-starved and stultifying. the chill returned last night after a day-long respite that didn’t quite warm my bones. though born and bred in the midwest, home of the Actual Cold, i’ve been bucked off my high horse by the biting ocean winds and am no longer ashamed to turn on the heat at temperatures above freezing. seven stages deep into grieving my lost weather hardiness, today’s surprise thermostat malfunction sank my spirits like a betrayal.

how best to cozy up when central heating ceases to be an option? cooking, of course! my brain beelined to a recipe i saw when skimming joe yonan’s cool beans: smoky black bean and plantain chili. i riffed on just about everything, straying far enough from the recipe to merit writing down what i did. yonan’s process remained the backbone of my work, but i also drew inspiration from carla lalli music’s turkey and bean chili — followed as close to T as i could manage (i couldn’t refrain from sprinkling in some cocoa powder) to rave reviews from my carnivorous family members — and an unabashedly commodified beyond meat chili.

i’m sharing this recipe less as a recommendation of what you must do and more as a record of what i did do. i know i’ll want to revisit it and that signals to me that it’s a dish worth sharing with more than just my future self. nonetheless, i welcome you to tear my suggestions apart, taking only what resonates, and make your own meal. chili is personal, and i’m sure this won’t be my last bout of self-expression / self-care in a bowl.

smoky, herby, and sweet vegan chili

yields 3–4 servings (from what i can tell, though i haven’t yet eaten my leftovers lmao)


  • 2 dried straw mushrooms (any dried mushrooms should work)
  • 1½ cups water, vegetable stock, or leftover pasta water (yes, really)
  • 1–2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 whatever-you-deem-to-be-average-sized yellow onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 banana pepper, coarsely diced (consider omitting or select a spicier chile because i couldn’t detect its flavor in the final product)
  • 2 beyond meat patties, coarsely crumbled or torn (could skip in favor of more beans or use another fake meat)
  • 1 overripe banana, chopped (try adding more to further sweeten the chili)
  • half of a murasaki sweet potato (or more), diced (other potatoes would work fine)
  • 3 chipotles in adobo, finely chopped, plus a couple of spoonfuls of the adobo itself
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds (i have neither ground cumin nor a spice grinder at home, but the seeds seemed to work out alright)
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • half of a 28-ounce can of san marzano tomatoes with basil in sauce
  • 1 14-ounce can of cooked pinto beans (other beans could work, too!)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (had to sneak in my greek tomato-cinnamon birthright)
  • 2 sprigs rosemary (or another herb)
  • 1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar (but balsamic might be fun)
  • cilantro, chopped, to taste (or another herb)
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste


act i
at least a half hour before you’d like to start act ii, bring the water (or, really, any flavorful cooking liquid of your choosing) to a boil over medium-high heat in a small pot or saucepan. plop in the dried mushrooms and turn off the heat. entertain yourself for 30 minutes or more while the shrooms umamify the broth-to-be.

act ii
pour the olive oil into whatever deep pot or pan you typically use for soups, stews, or shakshuka. (i used something like this, but the internet insinuates that cheffy types tend to use dutch ovens, stockpots, and cast iron skillets.)

heat the oil over medium-high heat for a few minutes. (it might smoke, and, if that bothers you, consider using an oil with a higher smoke point.)

drop an onion piece or two into the pan. once they start to sizzle, the oil is plenty hot: throw in all of the onion, garlic, and banana pepper and stir to coat in oil. sauté until translucent. (this took me maybe 5–7 minutes.)

add the beyond meat into the pan. stir to coat in oil and then leave to cook undisturbed for a few of minutes. repeat this process — stirring the beyond meat–mirepoix mixture and then leaving it to cook undisturbed — until the the mixture looks browned with some char marks. (the depth of the char is totally up to you! i ended up spending about 8–10 minutes sautéing the mixture to my liking. feel free to add salt and pepper at this stage if you wish!)

turn the heat down to medium. stir in the sweet potato and banana and sauté for another 1–2 minutes.

add in the chipotles, adobo, smoked paprika, and cumin, and sauté until fragrant. (this should happen in less than a minute, but i didn’t measure out the spices in advance so it took longer for me to incorporate them than it did for their fragrance to waft my way. feel free to add salt and pepper now, too!)

dump in the tomatoes, sauce, pinto beans, and cooking liquid that you prepared in act i. stab the tomatoes a few times to burst them and break them down into chunks of whatever size speaks to you. nestle in the rosemary sprigs and cinnamon stick. (i had to grab boots and rush downstairs to my backyard to pick some rosemary at this point.) season with salt and pepper, and then raise the heat to medium-high to bring the chili to a boil.

once the chili starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pan with a lid. let simmer for 15–20 minutes. (or longer! i’m sure i could’ve eked more flavor out of my chili had i let the ingredients meld more, but hunger.)

uncover the chili and taste it. season it with salt and pepper to your liking.

turn off the heat. stir in the apple cider vinegar and cilantro. taste and tinker, be it with salt, pepper, vinegar, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

top with more cilantro, dunk in a slice of toasted crusty bread, and serve. (though i’m fond of my homemade no-knead loaves, driftwood’s spelt bread complemented this chili quite well. in re serving, the world is your oyster! i might crumble some gorgonzola — not vegan, i realize — on top of or sink some toasted farro into my leftovers. i also chomped on some baby carrots as a low-effort side.)

whether you adhere to my steps or tease them apart, let me know how your chili turns out! hope it cheers you like it did me. ❤️



Alaina Kafkes
salad days

iOS engineer, writer, and general glossophile. she/her.