vegetarian chili


When my sister plans meals for once-a-month freezer cooking, she usually tests a small batch of a recipe before making a larger batch to freeze. This is good practice, I recently learned. A few months ago, I made vegetarian chili to bring on a camping trip, and even though I was experimenting with the recipe, I was confident enough that it would turn out great that I made a huge batch and froze half. Mistake!


There are a lot of recipes where I think ground meat is just extraneous, and chili is a great example. There are so many other flavorings in chili that it doesn’t usually taste beefy, and the beans provide plenty of protein, so the meat isn’t nutritionally required either. It’s just filler, and expensive, sort of unhealthy filler at that.

When I noticed that my favorite vegetarian chili recipe was very similar to my favorite beef chili recipe, except for the beef, I decided to combine parts of each that I liked. Where I screwed up the first time was in not taking into account that with less filler, I’d need less tomatoes as well. The result was (a huge pot of) chili-flavored spaghetti sauce (that I had to share with friends on the camping trip – sorry guys!).


And before I could give it another try, I had to finish all of the frozen way-too-tomatoey stuff in the freezer. When I did finally make vegetarian chili again, I knew exactly what changes I wanted to make. I made a smaller batch this time, just in case, but wouldn’t you know it that I totally nailed it this time with a rich, spicy, meaty-even-without-meat bowl of chili that gets even better when topped with an assortment of garnishes.


One year ago: Salmon Cakes, Flaky Biscuits, Hashed Brussels Sprouts – I made almost this exact same meal again recently (different biscuits though), and it’s just so good.  Restaurant quality food for sure.

Vegetarian Chili (adapted substantially from Jeanne Lemlin’s Vegetarian Classics and Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

I like to chop up the tomatoes a bit before adding them to the chili. I usually just stick a pair of kitchen shears into the can of tomatoes and start snipping.

I’ve never actually added the butter, in an effort to reduce the fat in the recipe. However, I’m guessing it helps mimic the richness that beef would provide.

2 tablespoons olive (or vegetable) oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1½ teaspoons ground coriander
¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
Garnishes: lime wedges, sour cream, cheddar cheese, scallions, red onion, cilantro

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onions, bell pepper, garlic, and spices and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes, beans, salt, and soy sauce. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cook, covered, at a low simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. If the chili is too thin, cook uncovered until it’s your preferred consistency. Stir in the butter and serve with the garnishes.


  1. Mmm, hearty goodness!!

  2. This looks so good! I think the best part about chili is the beans, so I would definitely love this. I’ve found that I rarely miss the meat in dishes like this.

  3. This looks really great and hearty. I’m definitely going to give this a try. Although DH may grumble so I might have to cook a side of ground beef for him to stir in 🙂

  4. I love chili, it is so easy and flavorful. Thanks for the great recipe!

  5. This looks great! I’m always looking for new ideas for chili. I’ll have to try it.

  6. Mmmm, that looks tasty! I think I’ll be trying it soon!

  7. I made a really good bean chili a while back, but couldn’t find the recipe again recently. This looks like a good substitute although I think mine was a 5-bean recipe.

  8. pinkstripes says:

    Your veg chili looks and sounds wonderful. Perfect for cold weather. YUM.

  9. This is so on my list to make soon! Thanks for sharing this!

  10. I love veggie chili! I can’t wait to try your recipe. It looks so filling and delicious!

  11. It seems like you have chili down to an art after your initial mistakes! I think of chili as one of those dishes that I wouldn’t go out of my way to make, but only because I’ve never made a good batch. There’s never a better time to start than now, is there?

  12. I love chili, and this looks so hearty and delicious! Thanks for sharing!

  13. rlberry says:

    We’re huge chili fans, and I am always on the lookout for the next great recipe to try. This one is at the top of the list now! The black bean/red bean combo sounds great.

  14. Your chili looks mouthwatering! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  15. This looks so good – I’ve been trying to find a veggie chili similar to this one. I’m making it for lunches this week – can’t wait to try it!

  16. Michelle says:

    Mmmmm, sounds delicious. I usually make vegetarian chili too, for the reasons you mentioned. I usually add some cooked bulgur wheat for the meat loving husband though, it bulks it out a bit and the texture is just like ground beef – so much so that he didn’t notice the difference!

  17. Michelle – The vegetarian chili recipe that I adapted to make this one actually calls for bulgur. I like it, but I also like to serve chili with cornbread or something similar, so I figured I would cut down on the carbs in the chili by leaving it out.

  18. Funny, I consider beans nutritionally inferior “filler” and usually leave those out. 🙂 It’s certainly cheaper to go the veg route, though! The chili looks fab.

    Your food photography is stunning!

  19. This chili was fantastic! FI loved it too! Just finished my last bowl of leftovers 🙁

  20. I’ve just made this chili and it looks fantastic! Still cooking. Great recipes you have and awesome photos. Thanks for making the effort to share your skills!

  21. yummy. can’t wait to give this a try in the winter. 🙂

  22. Shari says:

    Question on what the calorie count is. Would you know off hand.

  23. Melanie says:

    Looks very good. I can really make a good homemade tomato sauce with canned or picked tomatoes. It took maybe five six times before finally becoming a chef of the homemade tomato sauce. I really like this recipe and I’ve always been a person to go for meat free dinners. I’ve been meat free since last feb. and I don’t regret it at all. I love this thanks for sharing this is exactly what I had in mind. Regardless if anyone loves their meat here my hubby loves meat. He says you make the best steaks and your a vegetarian. Going out to eat there is not much offered for meat free yummy foods like these. Thank you.

  24. Melanie says:

    Just what I need to make.,..or desire. I really have to say thank you one more time for sharing. So sweet.

  25. Kelly says:

    Super delicious and full of flavor!

  26. Cintra says:

    I have cooked using Jeanne Lemlins recipes for about 35 years and she has a number of lovely chili recipes…. you can’t go wrong with any of her recipes … they are all delicious and easy to make.


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