The BEST Vegetarian Chili
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To me, this is the BEST chili, vegetarian or otherwise. It’s loaded with vegetables, and it has nice body thanks to bulgur (or quinoa) as well as beans. Chipotles in adobo give it a nice smokiness and heat, and chili powder and cumin offer more spice and smoky notes. This is a staple all fall and winter long. You won’t miss the meat — I promise!
Last Greek Easter while standing around the lamb turning on a spit, a few of my cousins confessed:
- They had become mostly vegetarians.
- They had been making my meaty weeknight chili recipe without the meat.
These admissions, I should note, didn’t stop anyone from fighting over the crispy lamb skin, but they did inspire me to create a vegetarian chili recipe.
Upon returning home, I set to work with a few goals in mind, namely ease and flavor: I wanted it to feel as effortless (or nearly so) as the weeknight chili recipe mentioned above, but just as satisfying with good heat, smoke, and heft.
This recipe is the product of my experiments, a hearty mix of both beans and bulgur (or quinoa), a heap of vegetables, spices, and umami-rich pantry staples. It has nice spice and smoke, thanks to chipotles in adobo sauce, cumin, and chili powder. It yields a good amount — about 6 quarts — and it freezes well. I find it deeply comforting, and I hope you will, too.
Here are the details:
Vegetarian Chili: Key Ingredients
- Pinto Beans: As you may know, I can be a little particular about cooking beans from scratch. With chili, however, I don’t fuss so much — the beans need not be cooked perfectly. Here, dried un-soaked pinto beans go right into my Instant Pot with six cups of water for 40 minutes at high pressure followed by a quick release. The beans emerge cooked, but firm, and they soften up perfectly as they simmer with the other chili ingredients. Canned, rinsed pinto beans will, of course, work here as well.
- Bulgur or Quinoa: Inspired by a favorite old vegetarian chili recipe in The Frog Commissary Cookbook, I’ve added bulgur here, which, in addition to the beans, provides texture and substance. It doesn’t taste “meaty” but it adds a meatiness. Duru extra-coarse bulgur is my favorite brand. It makes excellent tabbouleh. That said, if you can’t find extra-coarse bulgur, quinoa works beautifully in its place.
- Chili powder and cumin: Chili powder and cumin, two classic chili spices, provide heat and smoke respectively. I like to use a mix of chipotle chili powder and traditional chili powder. Chipotle chili powder is very spicy, but its got great flavor.
- Chipotles in adobo. Chipotles in adobo sauce are are dried, smoked jalapeños. I love their intense smoky, fiery flavor. As with the chipotle chili powder, you can tailor the amount to include depending on your heat tolerance.
- Vegetables: Here I’ve used nearly 4 quarts of chopped vegetables, a mix of onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. You can use whatever vegetables you like, just go big — a heap is key!
- Tomato paste: Just as it does with soups and sauces, tomato paste adds depth of flavor (umami!) to chili.
- Vinegar: A hefty splash of vinegar in soups, stews, and the like is never a bad idea, and chili is no exception. Colavita white balsamic is what I use for nearly everything, but any white vinegar you have on hand will work.
Here’s the play-by-play: Gather your ingredients:
This is the bulgur I love: Duru extra-coarse bulgur. Quinoa works beautifully in its place. I like the red quinoa.
Cook your beans (or open a few cans): In the Instant Pot: 40 minutes, high pressure, quick release.
While the beans cook, chop the onions.
Then sauté them in olive oil.
While they cook, chop the peppers, then add them to the pot.
While they cook, chop the mushrooms.
Then add them to the pot with the onions and peppers.
Meanwhile, mince up some garlic, and add it to the pot.
Meanwhile, chop up some chipotles in adobo sauce, and open up a few more cans.
Add tomato paste and spices to the pot of vegetables and cook for about a minute.
Add the bulgur, chipotles, and crushed tomatoes.
Add the beans.
Add water and bring to a simmer.
Simmer for about 45 minutes.
Top with scallions, grated cheese, and sour cream if you wish.
Have you stocked up on quart containers?? Soup season is around the corner. These are my favorite containers for storing, freezing, and gifting soups, stocks, stews, etc.Print
The Best Vegetarian Chili
- Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Yield: 5 to 6 quarts
Make it ahead: As with soup, chili tastes even better on day two, so don’t be afraid to make it ahead of time.
Beans: I love pinto beans for chili. I’ve included instructions for cooking the beans in the Instant Pot below. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can simply simmer the beans stovetop in plenty of water until they are cooked — this could take 45 minutes to an hour depending on how fresh your beans are. If you want to soak them overnight, here is my preferred method.
Chili powder: Chili powders vary dramatically in spiciness from brand to brand. I like using 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder and 2 tablespoons traditional chili powder (both McCormick’s brand) — this mix gives the chili a nice kick. If you are sensitive to heat, I would tone this back. If you don’t feel like searching for chipotle chili powder, use 3 tablespoons (or less) of traditional chili powder.
Bulgur or quinoa: This is my favorite bulgur: Duru extra-coarse bulgur. It has the nicest texture — it’s worth seeking out not only for chili but also for tabbouleh. If you can’t find it, quinoa works beautifully in its place.
Chipotles in adobo: If you are sensitive to heat, use one small chipotle to start. You can add more at the end, if you want the chili to be spicier. Also: if you know you are very sensitive to heat, simply omit.
For the chili:
- 1 pound dried pinto beans, see notes above, or three 15-oz cans pinto beans
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 onions, diced to yield about 4 cups
- kosher salt to taste
- 2 to 4 large bell peppers
- 1.25 lbs. crimini mushrooms
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder + 2 tablespoons traditional chili powder, see notes above
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 cup bulgur or quinoa, see notes above
- 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 to 2 chipotles in adobo, minced, + 1 tablespoon of the adobo sauce
- 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
- grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
- sliced scallions
- sour cream
- If you are using dried beans and have an Instant Pot, place them in the inner pot. Cover with 6 cups water. Set the IP to high pressure, 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, quick release the valve, remove the inner pot, and set aside. (If you don’t have an IP, see notes above.) If you are using canned beans, drain and rinse the beans. Set aside.
- In a large pot (7 quarts at least), heat the oil over high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cover the pot, immediately turn heat to low, and let cook for about 5 minutes. While the onions cook, stem and seed the peppers. Dice the peppers (you should have 4 to 5 cups), then add to the pot with the onions. Season with a pinch of salt. Stir. Return the lid. Meanwhile, roughly chop the mushrooms (you should have about 8 cups), then add to the pot with the onions and peppers. Season with a pinch of salt, stir, then cover the pot. Mince the garlic, then add to the pot with the vegetables. Stir to combine. Leave the cover off the pot from here on out.
- Raise the heat to medium. Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the spices and cook for 1 minute. Add the bulgur or quinoa, crushed tomatoes, minced chipotles plus tablespoon of adobo sauce. Drain the beans — it’s OK if some of the liquid remains — and add to the pot. Add 4 to 6 cups of water (if your pot is getting very full, start with 4 cups; then add the remaining 2 as needed while it simmers). Add the vinegar.
- Bring to a simmer over low heat and let it cook slowly, stirring often to scrape the bottom of the pot for 45 minutes to an hour or until the liquid has reduced slightly, the bulgur or quinoa is cooked, and everything tastes good and smoky and spicy. Taste. Add salt and or more vinegar if necessary. I often add a teaspoon (or two) of kosher salt, and I often add another tablespoon or two of vinegar, too. Just keep tasting and adjust as needed to taste.
- Serve, passing cheese, scallions, and sour cream on the side.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Category: Chili
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: American, Vegetarian
Keywords: chili, vegetarian, vegan, easy, spicy, smoky, pinto, Instant Pot, beans, bulgur
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
44 Comments on “The BEST Vegetarian Chili”
This looks wonderful! I often just add more liquid and cook my beans directly in the chili. Obviously takes longer to cook the chili that way but the longer it cools the better it takes right? 🙂 we often add a cup of frozen corn at the end too.
Can’t wait to try this!
Smart! Love this idea. I also keep meaning to try throwing everything in the IP at once … next time. And yes totally: longer = better 🙂 🙂 🙂
Thank you for your wonderful blog and great recipes. I just made this chili this weekend and cooked the beans in the pot with the rest of the ingredients, no precooking or soaking. I have a 6 quart first generation Instant Pot, and it turned out great. The inside pot was full to the max line using the ingredients as you list them, except I decreased the chili spices by 1/2 as we like things a bit milder. I used only the 6 cups of water that go in the main body of the recipe, no additional water for cooking the beans. I let the pot natural release to add to the cooking time. The beans were cooked perfectly and it was so easy. Thank you for the great recipe!!
Yay! Teresa, thanks so much for taking the time to experiment with the whole thing in the IP AND for responding … thank you!! Question: did you use the sauté function for the onions/mushrooms/peppers? Or just chuck everything in at once? So happy to hear this! And so excited to try this.
Yes, please! This looks amazing. We’ll try it this weekend.
I hope you’ll post more vegetarian and vegan ideas, especially with the holidays coming up. Thank you.
I will try, Marsha!
Ali, I look forward to trying this! I made Joanne Chang’s vegetarian chili once and can’t say I loved it – which surprised me! (It was probably my doing). I love a good veg chili. I’m loving this fall weather(ish)!
Bummer! Did you see she has a new book out? Or soon to be out? I’m eager to get it. xoxo
I made this today and am thrilled with it. I’m a sissy when it comes to really hot-spicy foos, so I just used chili powder and the pepper in adobo sauce. I have already shared the link to the recipe with several friends and family members. Thank you for yet another winner of a recipe!
So happy to hear this, Kathie B! And you’re not a sissy … I think most people probably like the same amount of heat as you 🙂 Thanks for writing and sharing!
We are not big spice eaters, so I cut the chili powders in half and did not use the adobe chipotle either. Still plenty hot for me. I also used rice because we did not have bulgar and the rice was precooked so I added that at the end. Thus I also did not use the water. The meal was terrific and I will do this again many times! Thank you so very much!!!
Stephanie! Is this really you?? So great to see you here 🙂 🙂 🙂 I’m so happy to hear all of this. All of your changes sound perfect. I love the idea of adding cooked rice at the end … easy and good! Hope you are well xoxo
This recipe is so tasty!! I’m trying to eat less meat so it was perfect to make for the week. I used the bean broth from the IP until I got to the six cups and maybe that helped add to how much flavor is in this dish? Mine ended up pretty spicy using all the measurements in the recipe so I might tone back on the chipotle powder and chipotle next time since this must be shared with others. No one has complained of the spice though!
So happy to hear this, May! And nice work using the IP bean broth. I am dying to throw everything in the IP at once and see how it turns out … will report back if I do. And I totally hear you on the spices … you never know how sensitive people are going to be, and it’s nice to share with others. Thanks for writing!
OMG.. I LOVE it that you referenced “The Frog Commissary” cookbook. One of my dearest friends turned me onto that back in the 90s, after she made a pot of that particular chili recipe! Mine copy is splattered and well loved. I would be curious to know which other recipes are your go-tos from that cookbook?
P.S. I’m making your small version of the Chocolate Cake tonight for my honey’s birthday!
So happy to hear this, Heidi! I love those old books, and truthfully I haven’t looked at in ages except to reference that chili recipe. I’ll have to go back and look. I used to make the broccoli-cheddar soup all the time, but I haven’t made it in ages. I need to revisit. What are your favorites??
Halved this recipe for dinner a few nights ago. So delicious!! Definitely my new go-to veggie chili recipe.
Oh Bea, yay! So happy to hear this. Thanks for writing!
Amazingly easy with awesome flavor. So happy I found you on Pinterest.
We are in the midst of winter here in New Zealand and this would be so good to eat after a day on the slopes if nade beforehand. I have never made chili before and will be searching out the adobo sauce. Hope I can find it. Was it red quinoa you used? Also, I learned so much from the comments. Thank you.
Hi Christel! If you can’t find the adobo sauce, just leave it out! The spices will provide plenty of smokiness. Yes, I used red quinoa, but any kind will do. Hope you love it! Stay warm 🙂 🙂 🙂
Made this chili to take for a long weekend away. It’s wonderful! Hope I don’t eat it all before I leave. I used your brining method for the beans and then used the liquid for the chili. I used Bob’s Red Mill bulgur as I couldn’t find the Duru brand. The spice is fantastic. Texture is great. I don’t miss meat at all.
Thank you Alexandra for sharing.
So happy to hear this, Connie! Great to hear Bob’s Red mill bulgur worked out well.
There are only two of us, so made a scaled down version of this last night – it was so good. The spicing is just right (I did take up your suggestion for making it with less heat) and the addition of some bulghour is a great idea, it adds a different texture. Really extra specially good – thank you Alexandra!
So happy to hear this, Helen! I love this one this time of year. Hope you’re staying cozy 🙂
Hey Ali, do you think we could sub farro for bulgar or quinoa?
Yes, absolutely! Sorry for the delay here… hope you went for it!
If I were to do this using the slow cooker method on my instant pot, do you have a recommendation for how long I should cook this for? Or is that a bad idea all together? For nights that I have later meetings I’m tempted to get the cooking started in the morning and then have it ready by night time. Thanks!
Hi Lindsay! I think you could definitely use the slow cooker. I would try something like 6 to 8 hours? I think it’s the kind of thing that may take some trial and error to get right. I would maybe use the sauté function first, if time permits; then switch to the slow cooker.
Thank you Ali!!
I love the addition of quinoa. Try adding a can of pumpkin. A friend sent me a recipe for pumpkin chili last fall and I will never make chili again without this ingredient. Besides the added nutritional value, pumpkin adds a creamy texture and almost unami-like flavor. I also like to add molè for a smokey flavor.
Oh I can’t wait to try this, Bee! Thanks so much for writing and sharing. That sounds perfect for fall!
Everyone at our house loved this! I didn’t have bulgar, so I subbed with barley. It was great!
When I made it again, I reduced the adobos and added smoked paprika to minimize heat and make it more kid-friendly.
Thanks for this recipe. We definitely did not miss the meat!
So nice to hear this, Liz! Great to hear barley worked. I often use quinoa now when I don’t have that bulgar on hand. Smart to reduce the adobos and add the the smoked paprika to get that smoky flavor without the heat — my kids can’t handle heat either. Thanks so much for writing!
Hi! Would it make a big difference if I use regular balsamic instead of white? Thank you!
Nope! Go for it!
Hi – I am thinking of making this for a small super bowl party but one of my vegetarian friends doesn’t like mushrooms (I know, hard to believe). Do you have any recommendations for an addition instead of mushrooms? Or just leave them out?
Hi Karen! I would just leave them out and sub in some more veggies: more peppers or maybe even frozen corn if that appeals to you 🙂
Can this be made in a slow cooker?
I don’t see why not!
Loved this chili! I especially thought the addition of bulghur was genius! It made the chili so much heartier! Thank you for all your recipes! I’m really enjoying them.
Great to hear, Ali 🙂 🙂 🙂 Thanks so much for writing.
Loved this recipe and made it- lots to freeze. Used Quinoa. 3 cans no salt beans i get at walmart. black, kidney and pinto. 4 cups water. 2 extra tbs vinegar. Your recipes work! Tastes awesome.
Great to hear Teresa!! I think I need to adjust the recipe to use more vinegar from the start … I’m always adding at least 2 extra tablespoons. Thanks so much for writing!