Vegan Chili Recipe (Vegetarian)
When it comes to creating and sharing vegan recipes I used to always think about it from a meat-eaters standpoint. Would a meat-eater be able to tell that this was a vegan recipe? I guess it is mostly because I am married to a man who wouldn’t consider it a meal if there was no meat on his plate…enter my vegan chili recipe.
Though I am happy to say that after 8 years of marriage and eating all my vegan recipes, he is now easily pleased with dishes that are made mostly made with vegetables as much as the meaty ones. If you were to ever meet him and ask him about his favorite vegan dish, I bet he would start raving about this cauliflower risotto.
However, even though my husband has been happily cooperating, my process of creating vegan recipes and thinking of them as a comparable alternative to their animal-protein based ones hasn’t changed until recently.
A few weeks ago I met a couple who has been observing a vegan diet for over 20 years. Prior to the switch, they were both regular consumers of animal products and grew up in families that they referred to as, “Big Meat Eaters.”
I was excited to chat with them, not only because it was my first time meeting someone who has been a vegan for such a long time, but also because it was great to hear a perspective different than my own.
After talking several hours on the subject, one thing became clear: They were not trying to compensate for the lack of meat when they were cooking for themselves. Rather, they were after rich flavors with filling and healthy ingredients.
With this newfound thinking, I started thinking about this Vegan Chili Recipe. If you think about it, what dish is a better example of building flavors one onto another than a big pot of chili?
During the course of 3 weeks, I tried several meatless chili recipes and decided that the version I am sharing here is the best one. To understand why, I want to talk more about the anatomy of this vegan bean chili recipe made from scratch.
The Anatomy of Vegan Chili Recipe – Vegan Chili Ingredients
I know what you are thinking, what anatomy is she talking about?
Well, I am talking about the structure of how the flavors and textures are built to end up with what I personally think of the best vegan chili recipe ever.
Though before I continue, I want to give credit where it is due. Throughout my search for the best vegan chili, I tried several recipes from several websites and cookbooks and finally landed in this version that is heavily adapted from the cookbook, Vegan for Everybody (affiliate link) by America’s Test Kitchen.
I did make quite a bit of changes to the original recipe, mostly to the cooking technique to make it faster, but in general, I based this recipe on the ingredients that they used.
The Umami Flavors
Whether you are a vegan or a meat-eater, when it comes to chili, I think we can all agree that the depth of flavor that umami-rich ingredients provide is indispensable.
In my version of healthy vegan chili recipe, I used umami-rich ingredients like tomato paste, soy sauce, diced tomatoes, and dried shiitake mushrooms. Using these ingredients helped me replicate the texture of ground beef by creating (for the lack of a better word) my own vegan ground beef mixture.
This was my first time using dried mushrooms in my cooking. At first, I thought it would be difficult to find them, but later when I went to the supermarket, I was told that people use them often. It was quite surprising to find out that they actually had a section with several kinds of dried mushrooms.
Here, I also want to note that the mushroom taste in the overall recipe is very minimal. This was ideal for us as my husband hates mushrooms and I knew that he wouldn’t eat a big bowl of mushroom chili with no meat.
Texture and Flavor:
In terms of texture and flavor profiles, this simple vegan chili recipe is not much different than your usual meat chili.
For deep flavor, in addition to the umami-rich ingredients I mentioned above, I used onions, celery, and garlic to start the recipe off.
For additional creaminess and additional earthy flavors, I used Cannelini and black beans (pinto beans or red kidney beans would also work). Though you can mix and match with any beans you have on hand. I used canned beans (one of each kind) as I wanted to be able to make this dish under one hour.
For added texture, I used medium-coarse bulgur wheat. Having grown up in Turkey, bulgur was a staple in our house (you can read more about it here in Mom’s Bulgur Pilaf post). If you have never cooked bulgur, please know that it is not much different than cooking quinoa or rice.
While I know that some of you might think of Vegan Chili with Bulgur to be an unusual combo, I assure you that the added texture of bulgur wheat brings this veggie chili recipe together.
Nowadays, you can easily find it in health food stores (like Whole Foods). They usually have a bulk food section where you can easily get just the amount you want. If you can’t find it in your market, then this brand of bulgur (affiliate link) is the one I recommend.
Though I have to mention, when shopping for bulgur don’t confuse it with cracked wheat, which has a much longer cook time and will not work in this recipe.
Spices & Heat:
In terms of spices, I relied on ground cumin and chili powder. They are both classic ingredients in chili. I also think that they are a great shortcut to toasting your own anchos and New Mexican chiles in the oven, let them cool, and then grinding them in a spice grinder. Though if you have time feel free to make your own chili powder.
To add some heat, I used jalapeños. If you are serving your no-meat chili to kids, you might want to take the seeds off or use bell peppers instead. But if you are a lover of spicy hot flavors of jalapeños, feel free to add them in with the seeds.
Vegan Chili Toppings for Color and Additional Flavors:
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to chili my favorite part is the toppings. This is where I feel most creative. They not only add a nice freshness but also a pop of color to an otherwise bland looking bowl of brown soup.
In my version of vegan vegetable chili here, I opted for chopped red onion, sliced avocados, fresh corn, chopped cilantro, and thinly sliced radishes.
With that being said, I recently (after I photographed this recipe) had chili at a friend’s house and she served it with Kalamata olives and pumpkin seeds. I know it sounds weird to top off chili with those two ingredients, but I cannot recommend trying it enough. The saltiness that comes from olives mixed in with crunchy pumpkin seeds was an unlikely, but superb addition to the chili.
How To Make Vegan Chili from scratch
The process of making this easy vegan chili bean recipe has 3 folds.
First, you process walnuts and shiitake mushrooms in a food processor until finely ground. Set them aside. We will use them later.
Second, you sauté the onion, celery, and jalapeños until they are translucent. Then add in the spices, tomato paste, and garlic and cook for a minute or so.
Third, add in the diced tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, vegetable stock, soy sauce, bulgur, and the processed walnut-shiitake mushroom mixture. Put the lid on, bring the mixture to a boil, and then let it simmer until it thickens to your liking, 25-30 minutes.
Finally, ladle it into bowls and top each bowl with your toppings.
From start to finish (including preparation of ingredients), the whole process takes between 45-60 minutes.
How To Thicken Vegetarian Chili
I am sure you already guessed it, but the thickening agents in this chili are bulgur and time. As in any other thick chili recipe, the longer it simmers on the stovetop the thicker it will become.
When I am making chili, I sometimes use cornmeal, but if you follow the recipe below I don’t think that you will need to add in any other thickening agent.
Other Healthy Chili Recipes You Might Like
Other Mexican Inspired Recipes You Might Also Like:
- Mexican Stuffed Peppers Recipe
- Corn Tortilla Recipe
- Mexican Quinoa Recipe
- Mexican Corn Salad
- Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad Recipe
Other Vegan Soups Recipes You Might Like
For The Walnut Mixture:
- ½ cup walnuts
- ½ ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
For The Vegan Chili:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions chopped (about 2 cups)
- 3 stalks of celery chopped
- 2 jalapeños seeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- ¼ cup chili powder
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 28- oz can diced tomatoes with juices
- 1 can 15 oz. low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can 15 oz. Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 6 cups of vegetable stock or water
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- ¾ cup medium coarse bulgur
- ½ cup cilantro roughly chopped - plus more as garnish
- 1 ripe avocado cut into small pieces
- 1 radish sliced thinly (watermelon radish if you can find)
- ¼ cup whole kernel corn
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- Place walnuts and dried shiitake mushrooms in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground, 30-45 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- To make the Vegan Chili: Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom pan (like a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Add in onion, celery, and jalapenos. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions begin to brown, 7-9 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium and stir in cumin, chili powder, tomato paste, and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, for about 1 minute.
- Add in diced tomatoes, black beans, Cannellini beans, vegetable stock, soy sauce, bulgur, and the processed walnut-shiitake mushroom mixture.
- Put the lid on, bring the mixture to a boil, and then let it simmer until it thickens to your liking, 25-30 minutes. The longer it simmer the thicker it will become.
- Stir in the cilantro right before serving.
- Ladle into bowls and top it off with the garnishes.
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This recipe has been adapted (with changes to the original recipe) from the cookbook, Vegan For Everyone from The Ultimate Vegan Chili Recipe.
This recipe was originally shared in January 2019. It has been updated with the additional helpful information in July 2020. No changes made to the original recipe.