If you’re looking for a vegetarian chili recipe that has all the savoriness of meaty versions, look no further! I use a few simple techniques to add tons of flavor. Leftovers can be frozen, making this a great make-ahead meal. As an added bonus, this is also a vegan chili recipe!
Jeff and I have been trying to get better about planning out dinners to avoid last minute scrambling and unhealthy choices. In my opinion, meal prepping will be the key to our success. There are so many evenings where neither of us feels like cooking. He’s been working a long day at the office; I’ve already been in the kitchen for hours and I’m often preparing recipes that aren’t appropriate for dinner.
In addition to recipes like my Mexican Tortilla Casserole and Slow Cooker Kalua Pork, I love preparing stews to reheat throughout the week or freeze into individual portions. Stews are especially perfect for winter! This vegetarian chili is our new favorite dinner.
I knew that in order to win Jeff over, I’d need to create a vegetarian chili that packed a serious flavor punch. He’s a meat and potatoes guy (he loves my Cincinnati Chili). Before getting started on this recipe, I looked at a lot of vegetarian chili recipes. Reading through the ingredients and instructions, they all sounded so bland. What could I do differently?
How to Make Vegetarian Chili
The first recipe that caught my attention was one from Cook’s Illustrated. I appreciated how they had the same goal as me, to replace that meaty depth of flavor. They used ingredients like dried mushrooms, soy sauce, walnuts and bulgur.
The problem? There were many reviews claiming the recipe wasn’t good, especially for the amount of work involved. Very surprising since they usually have stellar recipes and reviews to match.
Plus, they were adding gluten and nuts to achieve their goals, two major allergens. This isn’t a food allergy-focused website, but why alienate so many people when these aren’t even standard chili ingredients?
Instead, I stuck with two classic culinary techniques that add tons of savoriness without requiring much effort: adding mushrooms, which are full of umami, and a process commonly used in restaurant cooking: deglazing the pan.
What is Deglazing?
Deglazing is a technique we learned on the first day of culinary school while making french onion soup, and it was life changing:
- You let ingredients cook in a pan without moving them around too much so that a brown layer forms on the bottom. You want the color to be a nice deep brown, but not to the point where it’s burned.
- Next, you add some water to the pan, which will loosen the brown bits (also known as fond). You scrape up the fond with a firm spatula or wood spoon and stir it back into the other ingredients, then start all over again.
- You can deglaze once, twice or technically as many times as you like. The more you glaze and deglaze, the more flavor you’ll have in the final dish. It requires a bit of patience.
This technique won’t work with nonstick pans. While the mushrooms are important for achieving the desired result, deglazing is the trick that will truly take this vegetarian/vegan chili to the next level, so don’t rush it if you want maximum flavor.
How Long Does Vegetarian Chili Last?
Vegetarian chili will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for approximately 4 days (possibly 5-6).
Can Vegetarian Chili Be Frozen?
Yes! If you don’t think you’ll be finishing this chili within a few days, I recommend dividing it into single serving portions and freezing it for up to 3 months.
More Vegetarian Entrees
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 3 ounces shiitake mushroom caps, finely chopped (1 1/2 scant cups chopped, see notes)
- Kosher salt as needed
- 2 medium yellow onions (2 1/2 - 3 cups)
- 3 ribs celery, chopped (1 cup)
- 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
- 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
- 2 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce + 2 tablespoons sauce from the can
- 2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans
- 1 (15-ounce) can black beans (see notes)
- Optional accompaniments: diced red onions or shallots, shredded cheddar cheese, chopped cilantro, sour cream, sliced avocado, diced or thinly sliced jalapeno or serrano pepper, lime wedges
- In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottom saucepan (do not use a non-stick pan), heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Have a cup of water nearby. Add the mushrooms and brown for 5 minutes, increasing the heat if needed. If bits of mushroom stick to the bottom of the pan and start browning, periodically add a splash of water and use a spatula to scrape up the brown bits and stir them into the mushrooms.
- Once the mushrooms are browned, turn the heat to low and add the remaining olive oil. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Turn the heat up to medium and add the celery and bell peppers. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring, then add the tomato paste. Let the tomato paste cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring only occasionally, so that it forms a brown glaze on the bottom of the pan along with the vegetables. Splash water into the pan a few times when the glaze forms, stirring it back into the vegetables.
- Stir in the garlic, cumin, and chili powder, cooking for 1 minute. Add the diced tomatoes, chipotle chilis, adobo sauce, and beans. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the ingredients to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook for at least 30 minutes or up to one hour.
- Serve hot with optional accompaniments. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 3 months (I like freezing it in individual portions).
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