Does the world really need another vegan chili recipe? That can be argued, but I want to share my version of a classic in the plant-based repertoire — easy, hearty, and inexpensive. This vegan chili makes a great anytime meal for the family, company, and game days.
From the days of modern vegetarian publications — say, the early 1970s — to today’s massive inventory of vegan cookbooks, dozens include some variation on chili. It has become an essential recipe in the plant-based repertoire.
Don’t be daunted by the length of the ingredient list. Everything gets tossed into the pot once the onion sauté is done, and the result is a generous pot full of warming chili that can be enjoyed just as much the next day.
What to serve with classic vegan chili
For a classic combo, serve with cornbread and a colorful salad. For a simple salad, combine mixed greens, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, olives, and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. If you have little extra time, the Cilantro-Lime variation of Vegan Ranch Dressing adds a refreshing note to the salad, teamed with the chili.
Adapted from Plant Power by Nava Atlas. Photos by Hannah Kaminsky.
Variations on the theme of vegetable chili
Vary your chili each time you make it in one or more of the following ways:
Switch up the beans: Use pink, pinto, red, or black beans, changing them up each time you make this. Using two different beans adds to the visual appeal.
Chile peppers: For a spicier effect, use jalapeño or serrano peppers, or 1 or 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (the latter come in cans or jars and are supremely incendiary). For a milder effect, use poblanos.
Add a little cocoa powder: 2 teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder give the base a rich, dark color and a lovely flavor.
Add a grain: For added texture, stir in a cup or so of cooked grain — quinoa, whole-grain couscous, or bulgur all work well. Adjust the liquid as need be.
Add plant-based ground: Give this chili a meaty texture with about 8 ounces of plant-based ground or chorizo. Add it when tossing in all the other ingredients, unless you’d like to brown it a little first, in a separate pan.
Winter squash or sweet potatoes: Adding a small amount of these orange vegetables to chili is not only delicious, but adds to its visual appeal. Toward the end of cooking time, add 2 cups or so cooked, diced sweet potato or winter squash. Butternut or sugar pumpkin are particularly good.
Get creative with leftovers: Serve leftover chili stuffed into sweet potatoes (shown below) or small squashes.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium or large bell pepper (any color), finely diced
- 4 to 5 cups cooked or canned (drained and rinsed) beans; see Note
- 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
- 1 to 2 fresh hot chile peppers (see note), seeded and minced
- 1 tablespoon good-quality chili powder, more or less to taste
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt to taste
Garnishes (any or all)
- Chopped lightly cooked or raw onion or scallion
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Grated vegan cheddar or pepperjack cheese
- Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat until the onion is golden.
- Add the remaining ingredients except the salt and garnishes, along with 1/2 cup water. Simmer gently, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season gently with salt and adjust the other seasonings.
- If time allows, let stand for an hour or so off the heat, then heat through as needed before serving. The chili should be very dense, but if you’d like it a bit more on the soupy side, add 1/2 to 1 cup additional water and continue to heat through.
- To serve, ladle into bowls and pass around the garnishes.
If you don’t want to use fresh hot chili peppers (like jalapeño or serrano) substitute a 4- to 8-ounce can mild chopped green chiles
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