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A bowl of spicy, smoky stovetop vegetarian chili with cheese and scallions stirred in.

The Best Vegetarian Chili



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

For serving:

  • grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • sliced scallions
  • sour cream


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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