Full of beans.
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.
You’ll also like: Tomato, Kale + Chickpea Stew and Homemade Salsa Fresca
Starting Point: The Building Blocks of Flavor
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. 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.
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 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.
Recipe Notes: Full of Beans Vegetarian Chili
- Like all soups (and cake for that matter), this will be even better the next day
- This Full of Beans Vegetarian Chili recipe makes about two and a half quarts of 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 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 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.
Did you make Full of Beans Vegetarian Chili? Tell us about it!
Truly Great Vegetarian Chili
- 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
- 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.