“You won’t believe it’s vegetarian” chili! Packed with tons of flavor, this is the best vegetarian chili I’ve ever tried. The secret is six (or more) different types of chili peppers that you can customize to your liking and spice level preference.
Oh, and it’s also gluten-free and can easily be vegan with no loss of flavor or that amazing texture you crave in perfect hot chili on a cold day.
What Is Vegetarian Chili Made Of?
Vegetarian chili is basically the same things meat chili is made of, except you use a vegetarian/vegan ground beef replacement. Of course, Chili made with smoked brisket, chorizo or even smoked turkey is a treat if you eat meat. But in this easy vegetarian chili, the peppers are the stars of the show.
When I initially subbed in meatless crumbles (available at almost any grocery store in the frozen food section) for ground beef in this chili, I found the taste almost indistinguishable. In fact, if you don’t mention that this chili is vegetarian, it’s highly unlikely anyone would even know.
Vegetarian Chili Ingredients
The Chili Peppers – Not all of the chili peppers are “red hot”! Some are quite mild, and others are intensely spicy. The spice level is indicated by the Scoville scale, which measures the heat level in “Scoville Heat Units” (SHUs). It’s the variety of different flavors and colors in these chilis are what make this recipe so spectacular.
Chili peppers also have different flavor profiles in addition to heat levels. The great part of this recipe is that it allows for experimentation and adding your favorite peppers. Over time, you can figure out what chili pepper flavors you really love and lean on them for your custom version.
The 6 Chili Peppers in this Recipe (which are all widely available)
|Habanero||A small, super-hot, orange chili with an intense fruity flavor.||150,000-325,000|
|Serrano||A hot, green (or red) pepper that’s a step up in heat from its larger cousin, the jalapeno. Has a earthy, crisp flavor.||10,000-23,000|
|Jalapeno||A popular green (though they can come in other colors) pepper, with medium heat. A little lighter flavor than the Serrano.||2,000-8,000|
|Anaheim||A mild, large, usually green chili pepper with a tangy, peppery taste.||500-1,000|
|Banana||A sweet, yellow pepper with not much heat.||0-500|
|Red Bell||A sweet, heat-free pepper.||0|
These six peppers give a nice mix of flavors, a medium-high spice level, and an attractive assortment of color in the bowl. The great thing about this recipe is you can experiment to make it yours. Add that Poblano, Red Fresno or Bird’s Eye chili. Or simply vary the numbers of each chili to suit your taste.
Tip: Habanero peppers seem to vary quite a bit in their level of heat. I like to taste test one first to make sure they are not pure fire, and adjust the number I add to the pot accordingly.
Capsaicin — the stuff that makes chilies hot — is used as a painkiller and is reputed to have other medicinal properties (including weight loss!). So that heat on your tongue is just maybe doing you some good.
Important tip: Always use gloves when cutting up hot chili peppers! Otherwise, the capsaicin in the peppers will get on your fingers, and if you then touch your eye or other sensitive areas… regret. Even washing with soap is not 100% effective in removing capsaicin, so just use gloves and take them off inside out.
The “Meat” – I’ve tested the recipe with the bagged “crumble” products from Morningstar Farms and Gardein. But there are many available options, including from Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger. One good part about the crumbles is that they are ‘pre-browned’ so the cooking time is a little less than if you’re browning ground beef.
I add Earth Balance butter substitute to give richness and mouth feel that mimics the fat from undrained ground beef. You can use butter or margarine, but Earth Balance is vegan and there is no difference in the result.
Tip: If you want to make a lighter version of this chili, cut the butter substitute in half, or just use 2 tablespoons of olive oil to saute the onion.
Chili powder and Cayenne pepper are just ground-up dried chili peppers, used to add more flavor and heat.
Tamari is a Japanese soy sauce that is thicker and richer (and is gluten-free) than the regular stuff; it provides umami (it stands in for Worcestershire sauce in this vegetarian recipe, as Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies).
Cumin adds a complex, earthy flavor. Salt and black pepper are self-explanatory.
Cinnamon is a popular chili ingredient, especially in “Cincinnati” chili; I don’t use it in this recipe, but many people love the taste it adds, so go ahead and add a teaspoon if it’s your thing.
The diced tomatoes and tomato paste add color and flavor, as well as help temper the heat of the chilies with sweetness.
The red kidney beans give the chili some nice substance, color and another great texture.
Onion adds flavor. I also add a cup of veggie broth or bouillon to lighten the consistency without diluting the flavor.
Step by Step for How to Make Vegetarian Chili
- Using gloves, slice the chili peppers and remove and discard the seeds and inner pith. Then chop the chili peppers into small pieces.
- Heat a large saute pan or pot over medium heat. Saute the diced onions with a sprinkle of salt in 4 oz of Earth Balance butter until they are translucent.
- Add the “meat” and the other 4 oz of Earth Balance and continue to stir over heat until the mixture is consistent and heated through.
- Add in the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, chilies and vegetable broth.
- Stir in the spices to combine completely.
- Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for one hour.
- After about an hour, the vegetarian chili is ready to serve with your favorite toppings.
Top Tips for Vegetarian Making Chili
- Make the chili a day ahead. The flavors become even more complex and have a chance to meld together overnight, so it’s even better the next day.
- Always use rubber gloves when chopping or cleaning chili peppers. Take them off inside out and discard immediately when you are done and wash the cutting board and knife with warm soapy water.
- Remove the seeds and inner pith from the peppers, as the pith is really spicy and doesn’t add much flavor besides the heat. The seeds have a bitter flavor and disrupt the texture of the chili.
- Taste the hot peppers before adding to the chili. If something is super hot, then you might want to add less of it to start.
- If the chili is too spicy, add another can of diced tomatoes to bring down the level without affecting the taste or consistency. If you’ve really overdone it with the spice, add some more beans and “meat.”
- What if I’m a real spice wimp? The best thing to do in that case is cut down on the chili powder and cayenne pepper. If the fresh peppers are adding too much heat, reduce the number of Habaneros, and sub in milder peppers. If it’s just one person who can’t take the heat; stir in a little sour cream in their portion will bring down the heat level.
Favorite Chili Toppings
Chili toppings are kind of a personal thing. These are our suggestions, which can also be kept vegan.
- Fresh Diced Red Onion
- Sliced Avocado
- Grated Cheese
- Fresh Cilantro
- Sliced Green Onions
- Sour Cream
Chili Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Can You Keep Vegetarian Chili?
Vegetarian chili will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator in a sealed airtight container. Stir it will when you re-heat it to combine any ingredients that might have separated.
Can I Freeze Vegetarian Chili?
You definitely can freeze this vegetarian chili (if you happen to have any left over). Be sure to cool it down before placing in the freezer. Re-heat over a low simmer for best results.
What to Eat With Chili
- Corn Bread
- Over Spaghetti Pasta or Rice
- Make a chili dog by pouring it on a hot dog or sausage in a bun
- Serve it in a bread bowl
- With a healthy kale salad
- Over a baked potato
- 2 12 to 14 oz bags of vegan “beef” crumbles
- 16 oz Can Diced Tomatoes
- 16 oz Can Kidney Beans drained
- 8 oz Earth Balance Buttery Spread
- 6 oz Can Tomato Paste
- 1 cup Low Sodium Vegetarian Broth
- 1 Diced Medium Onion (about 1 cup)
- 5 Habanero Peppers
- 2 Serrano Peppers
- 4 Anaheim Peppers
- 2 Banana Peppers
- 2 Jalapeno Peppers
- 1 Red Bell pepper
- 3 tbsp Dark Chili Powder
- 3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 tbsp Cumin
- 2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 1 tsp Cinnamon (optional)
- Using gloves, slice the chili peppers and remove and discard the seeds and inner pith. Then chop the chili peppers into 1/2" pieces.
- Heat a large frying pan or pot over medium heat. Saute the diced onions in 4 oz of Earth Balance butter until the onions are translucent.
- Add the "meat" crumbles and the remaining 4 oz of Earth Balance and continue to stir over medium heat until the mixture is consistent and heated through.
- Stir in the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, chilies and vegetable broth.
- Add the spices and stir to completely combine.
- Cover and simmer over low heat for one hour.
- Serve immediately or chill and serve the next day with your favorite toppings.
- If you like other kinds of fresh chili peppers, toss or sub a couple in, being careful not to overdo it with the spiciness
- The seeds can add a bitter flavor and affect the texture, and the pith tends be really spicy hot while not being flavorful.
A big thank you to my good friend Jim Miller for contributing his award-winning recipe to share with everyone.