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Hearty Vegetarian Chili

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Full of beans.

This is truly the best vegetarian chili recipe I have ever had. Dense, hearty, deeply flavorful, and enough to feed a crowd, this veggie chili recipe makes the perfect one-pot meal. 

vegetarian chili with toppings

Meet this veggie chili recipe

I love a great vegetarian chili. Emphasis on the word “great.” A great vegetarian chili, unlike merely “very good” iterations, has a thick, hearty texture and real depth of flavor: smoky, rich, fragrant from cumin, plus extra points for a little spice.

It took me many years to hone what I think is one of the single best vegetarian chili recipes out there. Here it is, adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipe.

vegetarian chili recipe ingredients

What seasonings to put in chili to make it taste great

Getting great flavor in a good vegetarian chili usually involves the same general set of ingredients. Chili usually has some combination of chili powder (of course), cumin, salt, pepper, and perhaps — like this — some oregano, cocoa powder, and chipotle pepper. I also have a white bean chicken chili recipe that uses ground coriander.

Some people even add cinnamon (I do not). These spices and the chipotle’s smoky, spicy flavor gets coupled with onion, garlic, tomato, and lots of beans.

What to put in vegetarian chili instead of meat that still has a meaty texture

Vegetarian chili’s other important element is texture. This chili uses two types of beans: red kidney and garbanzo. But now a genius twist. In J. Kenji López-Alt’s award-winning cookbook The Food Lab, Kenji recommends putting the garbanzo beans in a food processor to make them a crumbly paste for vegetarian chili.

Why? Grinding the beans makes the veggie chili’s texture similar a ground beef chili. Full of beans, but with two textures. His other genius move is to add a couple of tablespoons of corn flour as a thickener, which I have also done.

 onion cumin tomato spices in pot with beans

Vegetarian Chili: Recipe Notes

Like all soups (and cake for that matter), this will be even better the next day. This veggie chili recipe makes about two and a half quarts of vegetarian chili, but you can easily halve or double it depending on how much you would like. It also freezes very well.

Don’t forget the toppings! Great toppings for vegetarian chili:

  • diced avocado
  • sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • cilantro
  • Scallions
  • Grated jack cheese, and
  • Sliced jalapeño

I like to use two chipotle peppers because I love the smoky flavor and the spice. But if you want a more mild vegetarian chili, just use one, or eliminate the chipotle entirely. A can of chipotle peppers usually has about eight to 10 peppers, so I like to flatten the extras in a plastic baggie and freeze them.

bowl of vegetarian chili with cheese and scallions on top

If you like this vegetarian chili, you’ll also like:

bowl of beans vegetarian chili with cheese and scallions on top

Super Bowl Recipes: Hearty Vegetarian Chili

Full of beans and full of smoky depth of flavor, adapted from The Food Lab.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 30 minutes
Course: dinner
Cuisine: American
Keywords:: beans, chili, chipotle, easy, j. kenji lopez-alt, soup, stew, vegan, vegetarian
Servings: 2 1/2 quarts
Print

Ingredients

  • 1 4-ounce can green chiles
  • 2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large onion, cut into a small dice
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • a few glugs of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, or 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon mild chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons corn flour
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, diced
  • 1 pint (two cups) water

Instructions

  • In a large pot, cook the onions in the olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano, salt, chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder, and corn flour and cook for about one minute more.
  • While the onions are cooking, purée the chickpeas in a food processor until chunky. Use a little water to loosen the beans if they are too stiff.
  • Add the remaining ingredients -- the kidney beans, garbanzo paste, chiles, chipotles, and tomatoes -- to the pot, along with the water, and stir.
  • Bring to a boil, the lower to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for about 1 1/2 hours. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot, or better yet, the next day.

18 comments

  • 5 stars
    As a vegetarian, I‘ve made a lot of chilis over the years. This is hands down, the best I’ve ever made. Will be in the rotation moving forward!

    • Unpeeled

      Amazing! Thank you so much and I’m glad you like it. I think putting the chickpeas in the food processor is a game changer.

  • 5 stars
    Haven’t made it yet, but am anticipating that it is definitely a 5 star. I don’t have corn flour so can I substitute regular flour or just omit it completely. Also see that your Chicken & Black Bean Enchilada recipe calls for corn flour. Again, can I omit it? Thanks

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Peggy! Just omit the flour entirely for the chili. It will be great without it. As for the enchiladas, the corn flour acts as a bit of a thickener for the sauce, which you definitely will want. So a flour substitution will be fine. I hope you enjoy!

  • 5 stars
    I rarely rate recipes, but I felt compelled to make an exception. The combination of the spices and ingredients seemed so crazy that I had to give this recipe a try. I was certain it would not be any good. I was wrong. It was so good that I do not think I’ll ever make chili with meat ever again. Thank you. Lisa!

    • Unpeeled

      Hello and thanks so much! This comment made my day. I know what you mean — chickpeas and cocoa powder, whaaat?! I am glad that you think it works as much as I do. Thanks again!

  • 5 stars
    A great chili, thick and filling. I added celery and mushrooms. I left out the chipotles in adobo (didn’t have it), which made a very mild chili. Very tasty and those that wanted more heat added it. Anxious to try the leftovers. Thanks for another great recipe. Served this with your cornbread which was a great match.

    • Unpeeled

      Chili and cornbread is one of life’s great food pairings. So glad you liked it, and mushrooms are a great idea — nice and earthy, like the beans.

  • Hi I have corn meal, is that the same as corn flour?

    • Ok so I bought corn flour to make this and it was great! My family loved it and we are not vegetarians. I thought they’d kick up a fuss but all was well! I made it the day before we ate it as per your suggestion. Thank you!

      • Unpeeled

        Fantastic! Thanks for the note. I’m not vegetarian, but love when vegetarian recipes win over non-vegetarians 🙂

    • Unpeeled

      Hi! Great question. Cornmeal is a little more coarse than corn flour. Corn flour dissolved into the chili, but cornmeal will probably stay a little gritty. I’d just leave out the corn flour. It will still be thick and delicious. Hope it goes well!

  • 5 stars
    This chili is excellent! I’ve never made chili without celery, so added some here. The texture of the chickpeas was perfect.

  • Marianne

    5 stars
    🙂 So good!!!! Another great recipe.

  • Johanna T.

    5 stars
    six stars out of five. this is my new vegetarian chili recipe. everything was exactly perfect. no need to make any adjustments or anything. great thickness and texture.

  • 5 stars
    This. Is. So. GOOD!! I love the mashed chickpeas. It almost tasted like ground beef! Great recipe.

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Audrey! Thanks so much!! That is what I think, too, re: the texture. Glad you liked it.

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