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 meal planning to avoid last minute scrambling and unhealthy choices. There are so many evenings where neither of us feels like cooking.
This vegetarian chili is our new favorite make-ahead 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!
I knew that in order to win Jeff over, I’d need to create a vegetarian chili recipe that packed a serious flavor punch. Something with enough savoriness to replace the richness of a meat-based chili. Jeff’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?
However, several reviews claimed the recipe wasn’t actually good, especially for the amount of work involved. Very surprising since Cook’s Illustrated is often my go-to for this sort of thing.
Also, they were adding gluten and nuts to achieve results, two major allergens. Could I get around that?
To create the richness I was seeking, I used two classic culinary techniques that add tons of savoriness without requiring much effort:
- Adding mushrooms, which are full of umami
- Deglazing the pan (more on this below)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Yellow onions
- Bell peppers
- Tomato paste
- Chili powder
- Canned diced tomatoes
- Chipotle chilis in adobo sauce
- Pinto beans
- Black beans
What is Deglazing?
Deglazing is a technique we learned on the first day of culinary school, and it was life changing:
- You let ingredients cook in a pan without moving them around too much until 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).
- Scrape up the brown bits with a firm spatula or wood spoon and stir it back into the other ingredients, then start all over again.
- Repeat once, twice or 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. You want to use stainless steel, aluminum, or enameled cast iron. While the mushrooms are important for achieving the desired result, deglazing is the trick that will truly take this vegetarian chili recipe to the next level. Don’t rush it if you want maximum flavor.
Good, news, this is also a vegan chili. Keep in mind, though, that some of the toppings in my photo are not vegan, such as the sour cream and cheese.
How Long Does Homemade Chili Last?
Vegetarian chili will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for approximately 4 days (possibly 5-6).
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.
The Best Chili Toppings
You can enjoy vegetarian chili on its own, but there are so many toppings that will take it to the next level! Here are a few of my favorite chili toppings:
- Sour cream
- Shredded or freshly grated cheese (I like a Mexican blend or cheddar cheese)
- Diced or sliced jalapeños (you could also use poblanos, serranos, or canned green chilis)
- Finely diced red onions or shallots
- Sliced or diced avocado
What to Do With Leftover Chili
You can use leftover chili as an amazing topping. Try adding it over nachos, baked potatoes (like my twice-baked potatoes), french fries, or tater tots! It would also go amazingly well with baked sweet potatoes (or microwaved sweet potatoes for a quick dinner).
What Are Chipotle Chilis in Adobo Sauce?
Chipotle chiles are simply jalapeños that have been dried and smoked. Adobo is a tangy sweet red sauce that’s just slightly sweet. When you purchase canned chipotle chilis in adobo sauce, the heat from the peppers infuses into the sauce, making it wonderfully spicy.
Check out some ways to use chipotle chilis in adobo sauce in this article from Serious Eats.
How to Chop an Onion
This recipe calls for chopped onions. Check out my fast and easy technique for how to chop an onion with step-by-step photos!
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, drained
- 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained (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).
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
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