Veggie-Packed Chili

1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes and 2 teaspoons salt, OR
1 pound firm tofu, frozen, defrosted and crumbled, OR
1 cup textured vegetable protein granules (TVP)
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
2 medium zucchini cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium red or green peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can (28 ounces) tomatoes, coarsely broken up
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon crumbled, dried oregano
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes, more or less to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
1 can (19 ounces) black beans, pinto beans or red kidney beans, drained (or 2 cups home-cooked)
1 1/2 cups corn, fresh cut from the cob or frozen or canned

If you're using the eggplant, place the cubes in a colander set over a bowl and toss with about 2 teaspoons salt. Let sit for about an hour to drain, then rinse and pat dry with paper towel. This will draw the excess liquid out of the eggplant and help it cook more quickly and reduce any bitterness. If you are in a big hurry, you can skip this step.

If you're using the TVP, measure the granules into a large bowl and add enough boiling water to cover. Let soak, then drain and, by hand, squeeze out as much of the excess water as possible.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven and cook the onions, zucchini, peppers and garlic over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add either the eggplant cubes, rehydrated TVP or the crumbled tofu (depending upon which you are using) and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 or 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Add the tomatoes with all the juice from the can, the chili powder, cumin, oregano, pepper, hot pepper flakes and salt and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

Add the beans and the corn to the pot, and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Serve hot, sprinkled with shredded cheese, if you like, over hot cooked rice or with a big chunk of cornbread.

Makes about 8 servings.

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