A big bowl of vegetarian chili is the ultimate quick and easy comfort food. Multi-colored beans simmer in a mix of smokey, savory, and spicy seasonings. This recipe is all about choosing the right pantry ingredients to maximize the flavor.
A good weeknight vegetarian chili needs to be both flavorful and easy to make. That’s why this recipe uses convenience products and seasonings that you likely already have in your pantry. From start to finish, dinner is served in under an hour.
I like to make beans from scratch on the stovetop or instant pot for the best taste and texture, but most often times, reality hits and busy days call for quicker options. Canned beans and fire-roasted tomatoes are the base of the recipe. I’ll show you how to turn bland legumes into a bowl of chili that even a meat lover would enjoy.
Any type of bean can be used in this chili. An equal combination of red kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans makes for a colorful mix. I also like how they have different shapes and textures, ranging from super creamy to tender bites that pop in between your teeth. A hearty mix of beans provides a nutritious vegan protein option and is fiber-rich.
How to make vegetarian chili
- Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, then add olive oil.
- Add onion, bell pepper, salt, and jalapenos, saute until softened.
- Bloom the dried spices with the vegetables until fragrant.
- Add the corn, beans, and fire-roasted diced tomatoes, stir to combine.
- Add tomato sauce and vegetable broth, bring to a boil.
- Reduce chili to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened.
- Taste chili, season, and serve hot with toppings.
Add-in fresh ingredients for aromatics
The first step is to build a flavorful chili base using some fresh ingredients. Diced onions, bell pepper, spicy jalapenos, and garlic all provide a hint of pungency. As they cook together, they release volatile flavor molecules that make your mouth water.
As the onions cook, they also get a little sweeter and they carmelize in the pan. This is complemented by the corn kernels if fresh is available that is the best, otherwise canned for frozen work too.
Selecting the right seasonings
A hearty amount of chili powder, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, black pepper, and chipotle adds earthiness and a charred taste. Since there is no meat in this chili, like pork, bacon, or beef, we need to compensate with these spices.
As the chili simmers, the water-soluble and fat-soluble flavors are dispersed and meld together. Over time, the spices are even more pronounced. That’s why they typically taste better the next day, which is perfect for meal prepping!
Use different types of tomato products
Canned fire-roasted tomatoes have already been charred which adds a smokier flavor to the chili. I like to buy the pre-diced tomatoes to save on prep time, and they provide a chunkier texture to the chili. Adding in canned tomato sauce thins out the chili, without diluting its flavor.
Ways to adapt this vegetarian chili
- Stir in some quinoa for extra plant protein.
- Farro adds some nuttiness and ancient grains to each bowl.
- Crumble up some firm tofu for a different texture and hearty servings.
Top with shredded cheese like sharp cheddar, sour cream, green onions, sliced spicy peppers, diced onion, or crushed tortilla chips for a gluten-free crunch.
More tasty chili recipes
Bloom the spices
The fastest way to elevate the flavor of jarred spices is to “bloom” them in the cooking oil before adding the beans. That’s because they contain fat-soluble flavors that can only be fully experienced when cooked first in oil. This process helps to release the flavor before incorporating other wet ingredients that would mute the spice’s potential.
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- 1 cup (138 g) diced yellow onion, ¼-inch dice
- 1 cup (138 g) diced red bell pepper, ½-inch dice
- 1 tablespoon (10 g) minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon (3 g) minced jalapeno
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon (8 g) chili powder
- 2 teaspoons (4 g) ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon (1 g) ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon (2 g) smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup (145 g) corn kernels, fresh, canned or frozen
- 15 ounces (425 g) canned red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 15 ounces (425 g) canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 15 ounces (425 g) canned black beans, drained and rinsed
- 19 ounces (822 g) diced fire-roasted tomatoes, plus juice
- 16 ounces canned tomato sauce
- 1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth
- Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, once hot add the onions, bell pepper, jalapenos, and salt. Cook until the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, paprika, chipotle chili powder, and black pepper, cook until fragrant, 30 seconds.
- Add the corn, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, and diced tomatoes, stir to combine.
- Add the tomato sauce and vegetable broth. Stir the chili and bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook until the chili is slightly thickened about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper.
- Serve chili in individual serving bowls and add desired toppings.