Vegetarian Chili

4.88 from 16 votes
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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 about choosing the right pantry ingredients to maximize the flavor.

If you love chili as I do, you’ll want to try my slow cooker turkey chili, white bean chicken chili, and Instant Pot beef chili.

Vegetarian chili recipe in a bowl with sliced avocado and jalapeños on top.

A good weeknight vegetarian chili recipe must 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 or the best taste and texture. However, most often, 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 delicious, hearty bowl of chili. Serve this chili with cornbread, biscuits, or crunchy chips to dip!

Three varieties of colorful beans being washed in a colander.
Step 1. Rinse the beans and drain

Bean selection

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 the different shapes and textures, from super creamy to tender bites that pop between your teeth. A hearty blend of beans provides a nutritious vegan protein option and is fiber-rich. I use canned beans as a quick cooking option.

Dried seasonings placed in a dutch oven with diced tomatoes and onions.
Step 2. Saute the aromatics

Add-in fresh ingredients for aromatics

The first step is building a flavorful chili base using fresh ingredients. Diced onions, bell pepper, spicy jalapenos, and garlic all provide a hint of spice. They release volatile flavor molecules that make your mouth water as they cook together.

As the onions cook, they also get a little sweeter and caramelize in the pan. The sweetness is enhanced with corn kernels. If fresh corn 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 lightly charred taste. Since there is no meat in this chili, like pork, bacon, or beef, we need to compensate with these spices.

The water-soluble and fat-soluble flavors are dispersed and melded as the chili simmers. 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 pre-diced tomatoes to save on prep time, providing a chunkier texture to the chili. Adding canned tomato sauce thins out the chili without diluting its flavor.

How to make vegetarian chili

I like to grab my trusty dutch oven to make the chili. The heavy bottom prevents the spices from scorching. The onions, bell pepper, salt, and jalapenos, are sauteed in olive oil until softened. To elevate the taste and aromas of the dried spices, saute them in the hot fat.

Add the corn, beans, fire-roasted diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and vegetable broth, then stir to combine. Bring to a boil to warm the chili quickly, then reduce heat to simmer until slightly thickened. The cooking process only takes about 30 minutes.

Close up of a pot of vegetarian chili simmering on the stove top.
Step 4. Simmer the chili

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.
  • Make a pumpkin chili or add diced sweet potato or butternut squash for fall-inspired flavors.
  • For a tangy taste, add some fresh lime juice

Chili toppings

Feel free to have fun with the toppings! I like to serve various ingredients in bowls to make a chili bar for guests, especially on game day. Top with shredded cheese like sharp cheddar, sour cream, green onions, sliced spicy peppers, diced onion, creamy avocado, or crushed tortilla chips for a gluten-free crunch.

Vegetarian chili inside a dutch oven with sliced jalapeños on top.

Serve this with

Frequently asked questions

What is the best meat substitute for chili?

Add extra protein sources to the vegetarian chili, tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa, or plant-based ground options like Impossible or Beyond Meat are available at major grocery stores.

What veggies can you put in a chili?

Any legumes make the base of the chili. Kidney, black, and pinto are colorful additions. Corn, zucchini, and green beans are tasty. Make the chili heartier with diced potatoes, sweet potatoes, or butternut squash.

How can I thicken my vegetarian chili?

Simmer the chili until the starches in the beans help to thicken the mixture. A cornstarch slurry can also be added at the end of cooking. Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Stir into the chili, and boil until thickened, about 1 minute.

Close up photo of a pot of chili with beans, corn, and tomatoes.

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.

Vegetarian Chili

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.
4.88 from 16 votes
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time55 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Soup
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion, ¼" dice
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper, ½" dice
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh, canned or frozen
  • 15 ounces canned red kidney beans
  • 15 ounces canned pinto beans
  • 15 ounces canned black beans
  • 19 ounces diced fire-roasted tomatoes, plus juice
  • 16 ounces canned tomato sauce
  • 1 cup vegetable broth

Instructions 

  • Prepare Beans – Place the beans in a colander and rinse them with water. Drain thoroughly and set them aside.
  • Saute Aromatics – Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, once hot, add the onions, bell pepper, jalapenos, and salt. Cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
    Stir in the garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, paprika, chipotle chili powder, and black pepper, and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds.
  • Add Beans and Vegetables – Add corn, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and vegetable broth. Stir to combine.
  • Simmer Chili – Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the chili is slightly thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  • To Serve – Portion chili into bowls and add desired toppings.

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: About 8 cups
  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Topping Suggestions: Sliced chili peppers, green onions, cilantro, cheese, sour cream, or avocado.
  • Storing: Cool and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Freeze in a resealable bag for up to 3 months, and defrost before using. 
  • Reheating: Cover and microwave on high in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until hot. Alternatively, reheat on the stovetop over medium heat. 

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 servings
Calories 228kcal (11%)Carbohydrates 38g (13%)Protein 11g (22%)Fat 5g (8%)Saturated Fat 1g (5%)Sodium 1204mg (50%)Potassium 728mg (21%)Fiber 12g (48%)Sugar 7g (8%)Vitamin A 1068IU (21%)Vitamin C 11mg (13%)Calcium 101mg (10%)Iron 4mg (22%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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17 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Judy says

    You always have recipes for everyone Jessica. One of the many things I appreciate about you. This looks delicious and yes I do have most of those ingredients on hand. I think my husbands going to be having some chili and corn bread next week. Xoxo

  2. Terry says

    Jessica, I think there’s an error in the ingredients list. I think it should be 1 cup of diced red bell pepper, not 1 tablespoon.

  3. Marilyn G. says

    I made your chili recipe for the first time for our Bunco group last month because some of our members are vegetarians. Your chili recipe was a hit! I served it up with cornbread, and provided separate serving bowls of sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced green onions, chopped avocado, sliced spicy peppers, and tortilla strips, to please everyone’s palate. Can’t wait to make it again! Thanks for your great recipe, Jessica!

  4. Erin B. says

    I made this for my husband tonight. He loved it so much he went back for seconds and then thirds. I am defining making this again. One of the best vegetarian chili’s I have made yet.

  5. Anne K says

    This is delicious! I’m the only one in my family who will eat it, so I make a big pot, divide it up and store it in the freezer for fast lunches and dinners. I like mine with shredded cheddar, avocado, tortilla chips or Fritos and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. This one is a keeper!

  6. Judy says

    We made this chili tonight and it is hands down the best chili recipe we have had. I loved all the suggestions for ideas to top the chili with. We used a bit of grated Tillamook Medium cheddar cheese, a Tbsp of sour cream and slices of avocado. The chili had some eat and the sour cream with that heat was delicious. The avocado added a nice creamy texture with the Chili and who doesn’t like some cheese on their chili. My husband and I both said this is definitely a favorite recipe now that we will use again and again. I just love Jessica and all she offers to us home cooks.

  7. Rosa says

    Is it really just a teaspoon of jalapeño? Also, how do you measure 19 oz. of the tomatoes? I have a 28 oz. can.