Best Vegetarian Chili Recipe – Delicious, Easy, Healthy and (Optionally) Vegan

Vegetarian_Chili
Vegetarian chili with all the fixins’

Vegetarian chili is one of the first veggie entrees that pop into people’s minds (along with vegetarian lasagna of course). It is a delicious, easy and very nutritious meal-in-a-bowl. Add some tortillas or brown-butter cornbread and a salad and you’ll feel like a king. It also can be made ahead; it just gets better over the course of a couple of days, and it freezes well.

There are many types of vegetarian chili, some loaded up with a meat-substitute, like TVP or vegetarian ground “beef” or even bulghar wheat, and others full of vegetables. I’m not a fan. I like to highlight the beans, cooking two or three varieties with a simple and flavorful tomato-chili sauce and just a few aromatic vegetables to build the flavor base. Multiple-choice garnishes give each diner the opportunity to customize to their own palate.

This is my “weekend” version of the vegetarian chili recipe, where I boil my own beans and make a tomato-chili sauce from relative scratch. Sometime soon I’ll post a “weeknight” formula using more prepared ingredients. But remember, you can make this on the weekend and eat it all week.

Let’s talk about heat level for a minute. This sauce is flavored primarily with whole dried chili peppers. You can control the spice by how many you put in, and how hot they are. I like to build a moderately spicy base, and then add canned chipotle pepper to the nearly finished product as needed. Don’t omit them completely even if you don’t like much heat, because they provide a lot of fruity flavor and thicken the sauce. Just go for milder varieties like ancho. Aim for the lowest common denominator that your dining companions can handle, and then offer hot sauces on the side, like Tapatio or Tabasco, or more adventurous brews. Don’t try to use fresh chilis, they are for completely different types of dishes.

I use a mixture of pinto, black and kidney beans in this recipe, and soak them overnight. You can get away without soaking them, or do a quick soak for a couple of hours starting with hot water. But honestly, it isn’t the same. Overnight soaked beans just plain come out more tender and delicious, and much better than from a can.

Vegetarian Chili From Scratch
Yields around 10 cups, easily serving 5 (and doubles or triples beautifully)
Vegetarian,
gluten-free, and vegan (if you modify the garnishes)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours

  • 1 1/2cups dry pinto beans
  • 1 cup dry black beans
  • 1/2 cup dry kidney beans
  • 3 to 6 dried chili pods (any combination of ancho, guajillo, pasilla, cascabel, de arbol, … [see above])
  • 1 small can chipotle pepper in adobo (double check for gluten free, or use dried morita peppers instead)
  • 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 1 white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup canola or other neutral vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt

For garnish:

  • Green onion (sliced thin, mostly white parts only), or white onion (minced)
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Grated cheddar or queso anejo or cotija
  • Sour cream or queso fresco
  • Lime wedges
  1. Carefully sort through the beans removing any extraneous material. Rinse well. Put in the pot you will eventually cook in, add 2 quarts of water, and soak overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the beans, add water to cover by an inch or so, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are very tender, which could take 1 to 2 hours depending on their age. Add water occasionally, and stir to prevent any scorching. When nearly done, add 2 teaspoons of salt.
  3. Meanwhile, toast the chilis in a hot, dry skillet until darkened on both sides. Ventilate the room well while you do this, it produces a rather intense smoke that some people find painful. Allow to cool.
  4. (Hint: use dispoable gloves for this step to avoid having spicy hands!). Break apart the chilis and dispose of the seeds and stems. Add the chilis, tomato sauce, half of the adobo sauce from the can of chipotle, and 1 teaspoon of salt to a blender and puree until very smooth. This sauce should be pretty spicy, because it is going in that huge pot of beans soon!
  5. Saute the carrot, onion and celery with 1 teaspoon of salt in the oil for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and saute for 1 more minute.
  6. Drain most of the liquid from the beans, reserving a cup for later dilution if needed.
  7. Add the chili sauce, vegetables and lemon juice to the beans. Bring back to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes or so, allowing the flavors to begin to marry.
  8. Now taste. If it needs more heat or a smoke, add the rest of the adobo sauce. If it needs a lot more heat, you can puree the chipotle peppers and add them. Add salt as needed. You shouldn’t be tasting a lemon flavor, but there should be a subtle hint of acidity that wakes up the sauce. If the whole thing is too thick, you can dilute it with some of the reserved bean-cooking liquid.
  9. Serve your vegetarian chili forth with the garnishes listed above.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 in Favorites, Gluten-Free or modifiable, Kid Friendly, Main Courses, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

45 Responses to “Best Vegetarian Chili Recipe – Delicious, Easy, Healthy and (Optionally) Vegan”

  1. April 1, 2009 at 9:22 pm #

    What do you need fakey meat replacements for when chili is bursting with flavor, anyway? Nicely done, as always, Micheal.

  2. April 1, 2009 at 10:47 pm #

    Oh, I’m always up for some good chili, this sounds amazing!

  3. April 2, 2009 at 1:49 am #

    Wow – what a gorgeous picture! I was actually just commenting on another blog that I’ve been in the mood for chili lately. Looks like I’ll have to give your recipe a try…

    Also, I love your new blog style/layout. Although I have to confess that I haven’t visited for a short while (I’m a bit behind), so I’m not sure how “new” it really is. Either way, it looks GREAT :)

  4. April 2, 2009 at 7:25 am #

    I try to fix at least two meatless dinners a week and one of them is always a vegetarian chili. It’s one dish where you don’t miss the meat. I’ll have to try the chili pod method.

  5. April 2, 2009 at 8:49 am #

    Mmmm – this looks delicious Michael.
    I love the photos of the dishes you post – they make it very enticing to try the recipes.

  6. April 4, 2009 at 8:35 am #

    Oh this looks delicious! Chili is one of those dishes where I often prefer vegetarian versions to meaty ones – there’s so much flavor already, the meat just seems sort of unnecessary. I had a delicious veggie chili a few weeks ago that included chick peas along with pinto and black beans that I’ve been wanting to try to recreate, thanks for sharing your method so I have a great starting point!

  7. As we are in winter Down Under, your great chili recipe was a delicious find. So, many thanks for developing & sharing. I needed a GF, veggie meal for some new friends this weekend, & after many days trolling the net found your great site.
    Now you say this is easy – in Seattle, fantastic city that it is, I’m sure it would be, but here in rural Tasmania, Australia, not so easy! First finding dried beans was a task! I had assorted beans, which I tested, used & seemed fine, but the available purchase from the supermarket warned they could contain gluten! Oh NO!
    In my nearest town I found a grocers with just 2 bags of red kidneys left, but no black or pinto, so had to substitute Grt Northern & Borlotti, which with their red striped shells added visual texture as well as flavour.
    During my research, I was reminded that un-soaked dried beans carry certain toxins & ingestion is not recommended, and it was advised that to reduce flatulence multiple rinsing & over-night soaking was recommended. I also remember my Gran using bicarb of soda in her 1st soaking (boiling) water (which I believe aids color retention while reducing the gaseous effects! I think my beans were really fresh, as I only soaked them 6-hrs, rinsing & replacing the soaking water twice, and I suspect the beans were cooked in around 30 minutes, so the 1-hr+ was much too much for my beans!
    Now to the Pepper! I loved this idea of smoked pepper flavor, but I was unable to locally source Chiptole – can you advise a suitable substitute? There were NO smoked chili’s in my supermarkets or grocers, so I cooked up extra as per recipe, and highly recommend this method for adding a wonderful depth & warmth to any dish requiring a bit of heat, with none of that nasty bitterness which I find with reg store-bought ground chili. I cooked up extra, removed the seeds & ground the pods to pepper for extra garnish & to now add heat to other dishes. I found reg bottled whole chilies & jalapeño peppers, which I de-seeded & used instead of your (unavailable!) suggestions, together w/a few dashes of Tabasco, which I think worked really well, and let the dish mature for a good 24hrs.
    I then split the dish, adding my GF mince base to the half for those that liked it & leaving the veggie as was, although as the beans were over-done added some corn & chopped sweet peppers for fresh texture & color, put them all in the oven till ready to feast, then served with all the fixings, incldg: rice, grated carrot, assorted gf & wheat tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, shredded lettuce, parsley-chopped tomatoes AND fried polenta coyotes & cactus shapes for the kids to dip & sup – Hum Hummmmmmmm looked fab & was delicious – completed with my GF Bakewell Cake & Ice cream! What a Feast! So many thanks for this great site and a wonderful recipe that could make me the Chili Queen of Tasmania! :)

  8. As we are in winter Down Under, your great chili recipe was a delicious find. So, many thanks for developing & sharing. I needed a GF, veggie meal for some new friends this weekend, & after many days trolling the net found your great site.
    Now you say this is easy – in Seattle, fantastic city that it is, I’m sure it would be, but here in rural Tasmania, Australia, not so easy! First finding dried beans was a task! I had assorted beans, which I tested, used & seemed fine, but my next available purchase from the supermarket warned the beans could contain gluten! Oh NO!
    In my nearest town I found a grocer’s with just 2 bags of red kidneys left, but no black or pinto, so had to substitute Grt Northern & Borlotti, which with their red striped shells added visual texture as well as flavor.
    During my research, I was reminded that un-soaked dried beans carry certain toxins & ingestion is not recommended, and it was advised that to reduce flatulence multiple rinsing & over-night soaking was recommended. I also remember my Gran using bicarb of soda in her 1st soaking (boiling) water (which I believe aids color retention while reducing the gaseous effects!) I think my beans were really fresh, as I only soaked them 6-hrs, rinsing & replacing the soaking water twice, and I suspect the beans were ready in around 30 minutes, so the 1-hr+ was much too much for my beans! So cooks, you might want to check your beans reg after 1/2hr for doneness!
    Now to the Pepper! I loved this idea of smoked pepper flavor, but I was unable to locally source Chiptole – can you advise a suitable substitute? There were NO smoked chili’s in my supermarkets or grocers, so I cooked up extra as per recipe, and highly recommend this method for adding a wonderful depth & warmth to any dish requiring a bit of heat, with none of that nasty bitterness which I find with reg store-bought ground chili. I cooked up extra, removed the seeds & ground the pods to pepper for extra garnish & to now add heat to other dishes. I found reg bottled whole chilies & jalapeño peppers, which I de-seeded & used instead of your (unavailable!) suggestions, together w/a few dashes of Tabasco, which I think worked really well, and let the dish mature for a good 24hrs.
    I then split the dish, adding my GF mince base to the half for those that liked it & leaving the veggie as was, although as the beans were over-done added some corn & chopped sweet peppers for fresh texture & color, put them all in the oven till ready to feast, then served with all the fixings, incldg: rice, grated carrot, assorted gf & wheat tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, shredded lettuce, parsley-chopped tomatoes AND fried polenta coyotes & cactus shapes for the kids to dip & sup – Hum Hummmmmmmm looked fab & was all delicious – completed with my GF Bakewell Cake & Ice cream! What a Feast! So many thanks for this great site and a wonderful recipe that could make me the Chili Queen of Tasmania! Ha!! Vee :)

  9. Michael Natkin
    June 11, 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    Sounds like you had an amazing meal. I don’t think I have much input as far as substitutions that would work in Tasmania, no idea what is available way Down Under!

  10. August 21, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    Hello Michael,

    What a great blog. Its great the way you write detailed steps. I once got a huge can of chilli powder from sams that has a chilli blend and varoius spices like cumin etc. SO Far I have mostly used that for the chilli. But using a chilli combination sounds really fresh and much more flavourful..

    This almost makes me wish cold weather was here soon.

    Thanks

  11. Michael Natkin
    August 21, 2009 at 10:50 pm #

    Thanks PB! That kadhi you have on your blog looks delicious to me. I wish
    there was more variety at the Indian restaurants we have in Seattle (there
    is better luck out in the suburbs, but I can’t get out there very much).

  12. Anna
    October 18, 2009 at 1:50 pm #

    I made this vegetarian chili for a birthday party yesterday. I am not a vegetarian, and I usually don’t like vegetarian dishes (sorry!). But, I was doing it for a very important friend and wanted the vegi chili to be DELICIOUS. And, I was looking for a recipe where you build the flavors from scratch.

    My friends, this is a good recipe. It is incredibly flavorful.

    I was so impressed with the simplicity of this recipe as well. Aside from soaking the beans, this recipe takes hardly any time. I was able to find all the ingredients at my local grocery store, too.

    Toasting the chilies in a pan gave such a beautiful deep flavor to the sauce, and the texture of the beans and other vegetables was very pleasing. I agree that using soaked beans instead of canned is the way to go. I may never use canned beans again, unless I have to – the texture is so much better.

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. You have introduced a new winter staple into our house, and several others. You know everyone asked for the recipe because is was soooooooo delish!!

  13. Michael Natkin
    October 18, 2009 at 8:12 pm #

    @anna – So glad to hear it was such a hit! And I'm glad we've got you converted to soaking and cooking your own beans, it really is a big difference, isn't it? I plan to buy a pressure cooker soon so I can have both the speed and the improved texture.

  14. October 18, 2009 at 8:25 pm #

    This is such a great recipe!! I have prepared this dish twice now, once on the stove and once in the slow cooker and it was a perfect mid week dinner.

    Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  15. Jenifer
    March 18, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    Sounds delish. I’d love to see the weeknight version if you have it. Thank you!

  16. Michael Natkin
    March 18, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    Oh yeah, I never did publish that weeknight version I promised! Well, basically I would substitute canned beans – roughly 3 pinto, 2 black, 1 kidney but of course you can adjust as you see fit. I’d also skip using the dried chilis and just mash more chipotle with a fork and stir it right in until it was the heat level I liked.

  17. cynthia
    March 23, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    you could use some smokey paprika for instead of chipotle
    I make veg chile with black beans only, ground cumin and toasted cumin seed, jalepeno, onions, tomatoes and garnish with cilantro blended in sour cream or yogurt and lime juice,more fresh cilantro on top

  18. Heidi
    March 29, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    I’ve been looking for a really good vegetarian chili for some time. Nothing so far has met the mark. I want to try your recipe, but am scared it will blow our heads of with the heat. I guess we would like it extremely mild by your standards. Our normal supermarkets only have dried chili flakes (hot). They don’t specify the type of chili. Is this okay to use? Or should I tried to hunt down some of the specific types you mentioned to get the right flavour? I’m fairly certain we can’t get canned chipotle either.

    Also, does type of bean matter? I have red kidney, but not pinto or black. I don’t think we can even buy black beans (dried or can) around here (Australia). I have Adjuki, Navy/Haricot, Blackeye and Soy. Would using red kidney and substituing any of the other 2 I do have be okay?

    If I end up with a chili that is perfect, I will make the effort to locate the right ingredients.

  19. Michael Natkin
    March 31, 2010 at 5:47 am #

    Hi Heidi – I'm pretty sure if you start with 3 ancho chilis, which are quite mild, you won't have your head blown off. Don't try to do this with dried chili flakes, they are typically quite hot by volume. Given your choices of substitution I'd probably use only the kidney and blackeyed peas. I've heard from others that the ingredient selection in Australia can be a lot smaller / different than what I'm used to in the states. Good luck and let us know how it turns out!

    Thanks,
    Michael

  20. October 7, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    Thanks for the great recipe. I am always trying new veggie chilis, especially in the Fall/ Winter. I will definitely try your recipe next!

    Chili is also an easy satisfying meal for non-veg dinner guests, and when you reminded them they had a filling meal without meat, they laugh! I posted two chili recipes on my small time vegetarian blog if you are interested (www.vegetariansalmon.wordpress.com). They are less spicy, but good for crowds where you don’t know if people like spice.

    Thank you!

  21. Marnie
    January 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    I just made this recipe using my pressure cooker. It turned out great. After cooking for 20 minutes, the beans turned out perfectly cooked and not mushy. I love this chili!

  22. Michael Natkin
    January 3, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Thanks, Marnie! Glad it was a winner for you.

  23. nenece2@yahoo.com
    January 20, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Would this chili work well if other veggies instead of carrots/celery. Would vegetables such as green/red bell peppers, zuchinni and mushrooms work? I just want to make sure other vegetables would blend well with this recipe.

  24. Michael Natkin
    January 20, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    It wouldn't be a disaster at all! The way the onions, carrots and celery are used in this dish, they are sauteed first to lay down a base of aromatic flavors. Peppers can be used that way too. If I was doing zucchini and mushrooms, I'd probably add them after the onions and peppers have cooked a bit, and cut them up fairly small, then let them brown before going on to the next step.

  25. Victoria
    February 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    My family and I are newly vegetarians and we’ve been trying to find easy vegetarian recipes to make during the week. This looks delicious and my family loves chili! Thanks for posting!! :-)

  26. Miss Bianca (the healthy foodie)
    March 9, 2011 at 1:22 am #

    I tried this recipe a while ago and it was AMAZING! It is so full of flavor! It is pretty heavy, but so, so good that I find myself serving more than I should eat in one serving! I had to make a last minute chili for superbowl and I used canned beans, and the sauce for this recipe but it did not compare. Slow cooking the fresh beans allows the beans to absorb all of the sauce a lot better, and it just gives the chili so much more body to it. I could go on and on about how great this chili is, but I just better start making another pot to serve for my mother-in-law’s birthday…any excuse to show off your recipe!

  27. Sabrina
    August 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Instead of cooking the beans, could I just use canned beans?

  28. Michael Natkin
    August 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Absolutely. It won't be *quite* as good but it is a whole lot quicker. I do that sometimes, especially if I haven't planned ahead.

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Strawberry "Shortcake" with Cornbread and Tarragon Whipped Cream – Recipe

  29. Sabrina
    September 25, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I made this last weekend and it was delicious-made with dry beans (that were soaked over night). It came out fabulous! Thanks for the wonderful recipe!!!

  30. Michael Natkin
    September 25, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    Good deal! I ate some vegetarian chili at a kids camp this weekend and I was really missing this recipe :) :)

  31. Melissa
    November 28, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Chili was delicious, but the chipotle pepper in the adobo sauce shouldn’t be used if anyone has a wheat/gluten sensitivity due to the ingredients in the sauce…we had a reaction to it…making it again tonight with only the fresh ingredients…yummm…

    • November 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

      Oh, that’s a great point! I’ve updated the ingredient list to note this and offer a suggested alternative.

  32. Chihana Schiffer
    January 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Hi Michael! I am making this chili recipe right NOW. It’s really rich and flavorful and I am so excited to eat it tomorrow as we will be snowed in. However, I am now wondering if I can add anything to the mixture as it cooks to tone down the spiciness a bit. Any suggestions?

    I only added half the chipotle peppers in sauce and toasted and put in 3 guajillo peppers….

    Thank you so much in advance. I love your blog. Say HI to Sarina and girls ;-)

    Best,
    Chihana

    • January 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

      Hi Chihana – there really isn’t anything you can do to remove spiciness once a dish is spicy. The heat comes from the capsaicin in the chile peppers and there is no way to filter it out. You can maybe add a small bit of sugar to reduce the perception of spiciness. Or you can try to dilute it somewhat, but that will affect the other flavors. Or you can serve it with a dairy product like sour cream which is good at removing some burn.

  33. Carrie
    February 2, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    This recipe looks great! I will be trying it out for the Superbowl and can’t wait to make it. As for dried Chile pods, I purchased anaheim and ancho. How many of each do you suggest I use?

    Thanks!!

    • February 2, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

      I’d start with a couple of each if you like a moderate spice level. If that isn’t enough, you can always puree more with a small amount of boiling water and mix them in.

      • Carrie
        February 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

        Will do. Thank you!

  34. Michelle Mc.
    April 18, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    Hi Michael – We are having a chili cook off at work and I have never made chili. Fortunately we do have a few vegetarians in the office (other than mysefl) so making something would be worth it. Since I have enjoyed so many of your recipes, I am defintily going to make this! :)

    • Michelle Mc.
      April 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

      Woo Hoo, I won I won I won! This recipe was so delish, especially with the toppings, yum yum yum. I really didn’t anticipate winning, but this is tops!! Thanks Michael for yet another fabulous recipe!!

      • April 24, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

        That’s awesome! I love that you won a chili cookoff with vegetarian chili!

  35. sam g
    January 17, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    have you posted the “weeknight version” of this? I’ve tried to find it but can’t, and I’d really like to make this recipe, but since I live in a college dorm and have to borrow my friends kitchen to make it I can’t really make something that will take so much time.

    • January 18, 2013 at 11:04 am #

      Hey Sam – I never did publish the weeknight version – basically, just use canned beans. Rinse them first, don’t use the “bean snot” in the can. Add water as needed at step 8, and if you don’t feel like dealing with the chili pods, use all dried chili powder (preferably individual varieties like ancho, but even a mixed chili powder will do in a pinch.

  36. nterese
    May 2, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    It is May in MO and we are expecting snow tonight. My last chili attempt was horrible and I didn’t do it all winter and made taco soup instead. I don’t have the ingredients you suggest. I have instead used 4 cans of beans, 2 cans of tomatoes, and I have some bell pepper and onion cooking to all go in my crock pot with some spices. Would you recommend any tomato sauce with that?

    • May 2, 2013 at 11:00 am #

      I would break up the canned tomatoes, let it simmer a bit, and then add sauce if it seems like it is needed – trust your instincts!

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