Vegetarian Chili

Vegetarian Chili {Sweet Pea's Kitchen}

It never fails, as soon as the first flake of snow falls from the sky, we start craving chili around here. There’s something so satisfying about chili that makes everything better. Whether it’s beef chili, chicken chili, turkey chili, or just bean chili-I love them all. So when Cooks Illustrated named their newest chili recipe the Best Vegetarian Chili-I had to try it! Classic chili relies on meat for texture, savory flavor, and richness. This meatless chili has all three with the help of some surprising add-ins.

Vegetarian Chili {Sweet Pea's Kitchen}

You start this chili by soaking a mixture of dried beans in a Dutch oven for one hour. The original directions suggested using at least two types of beans, one creamy and one earthy.  I decided on navy beans (creamy) and red kidney beans (earthy), but you can use cannelloni, pinto, or even black beans. Dried chiles are then toasted in the oven until fragrant and puffy. I love using dried chilies instead of the typical chili powder from the jar, it gives the chili such amazing flavor. The toasted chiles are then ground into a powder along with dried shiitake mushrooms and oregano. Diced tomatoes, tomato paste, jalapeños, garlic and soy sauce are processed in a food processor until smooth. Two pounds of onions are sautéed before the ground chile mixture, tomato mixture and beans are added to the chili. The pot of chili is then transferred to the oven where it is slow cooked until the beans are fully tender. Finally bulgar is added to the chili right before serving to give it that meat chili heartiness. Vegetarians and meat lovers alike will enjoy this chili. It is hearty, filling, and easy to prepare. You can even make this chili recipe up to three days in advance.

Vegetarian Chili

Yield: Serves 6 to 8


1/2 pound (1 1/4 cups) dried Navy beans, picked over and rinsed
1/2 pound (1 1/4 cups) dried Red Kidney beans, picked over and rinsed
2 dried ancho chiles
2 dried New Mexican chiles
1/2 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms, chopped coarse
4 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained with juice reserved
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 - 2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed and coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 pounds onions, chopped fine
1 tablespoon ground cumin
7 cups water
2/3 cup medium-grind bulgur
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


1. In a large Dutch oven over high heat, bring 4 quarts water, 3 tablespoons salt, and beans to a boil. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain beans and rinse well.

2. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Place anchos and New Mexican chiles on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant and puffed, about 8 minutes. Transfer to plate to let cool, about 5 minutes, before stemming and seeding chiles. Working in batches, grind chiles, mushrooms, and oregano in spice grinder (or with mortar and pestle) until finely ground.

3. In the bowl of a food processor process walnuts until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl and set aside. In the food processor process drained tomatoes, tomato paste, jalapeño, garlic, and soy sauce until tomatoes are finely chopped, about 45 seconds.

4. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Add onions and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add ground chile mixture and cumin; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rinsed beans and water and bring to boil. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook for 45 minutes.

5. Remove pot from oven. Stir in bulgur, ground walnuts, tomato mixture, and reserved tomato juice. Cover pot and return to oven. Cook until beans are fully tender, about 2 hours.

6. Remove pot from oven, stir well, and let stand, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Stir in cilantro and serve with lime wedges, sour cream, diced avocado, chopped red onion, and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, if desired.

Recipe Note: Making this chili with whole dried chiles is best, but it can be prepared with chili powder. If using chili powder, grind the mushrooms and oregano and add them to the pot with 1⁄4 cup of chili powder in step 4.

Source: Cook's Illustrated, November 2012

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7 Responses to “Vegetarian Chili”

  1. #
    Katrina @ In Katrina's Kitchen — January 9, 2014 @ 7:06 am

    I love how thick this chili is. And I pile mounds of crackers on top of my chili too :)

  2. #
    Cat Davis | Food Family & Finds — January 9, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

    Probably goes against the point of making a meatless chili but that looks good enough to slop over a roasted hot dog. I’m a little sad though, the only chili seasoning I’ve ever loved was made by Mr. Hogg’s and he died last year, taking his recipe and seasoning with him. :(

  3. #
    Trish — January 9, 2014 @ 8:44 pm

    I love a good meaty chili and I’ve never seen a vegetarian version I thought would be as satisfying, but this one looks SO good. I’d totally give it a try!

  4. #
    Laura Dembowski — January 10, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

    This sounds like a very hearty meal. You wouldn’t even miss the meat!

  5. #
    Ruby @ The Ruby Red Apron — January 10, 2014 @ 8:40 pm

    Oh this looks so delicious! I love chili and using dried chiles is definitely best!

  6. #
    Kirsten — January 25, 2014 @ 9:39 am

    This looks so yummy! My 13 year old has recently stopped eating all meat, which has left me scrambling for recipes that will give her a good source of protein. This will be perfect for the whole family!

    • Christina replied: — January 27th, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

      I hope you and your family enjoy the chili Kirsten! :)

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