Today’s ultimate vegan chili is a perfect vegan main course recipe for when you want to have something warm and comforting for dinner but don’t have a lot of time to make it. Made with easy to find pantry ingredients and loaded with plant-based protein and fiber, it’s surprisingly easy to make in about 35 minutes.
Like the wise folks have said before me, if we don’t need to put in lots of time or effort to make a hearty, flavorful vegetarian-friendly dinner, then why would we?
Chili was one of the first American dishes that fascinated me when I found myself in the US for the first time many years ago. I loved that it was so flavorful and filling, yet quite easy on the wallet. The flavors of garlic, cumin, and chili powder spoke to my soul. Add some onions and shredded cheese on top, and I was in heaven!
After I went vegan in 2013, I set out to find the perfect meatless chili recipe that would be just as rich and flavorful.
I’ve made over a dozen plant-based chili recipes since then. Just like any vegan recipes, some of those were more involved than others, but I wasn’t afraid of spending more time in the kitchen as I was exploring the possibilities of vegan cooking.
But in the recent years (especially after I became a mom) my cooking preferences have switched from more involved recipes to just wanting to get the dinner out on the table as quickly as possible.
When it came to cooking chili, I wanted to cut out all the “fluff” like optional ingredients and extra steps, and just get it all down to basics.
This is how today’s vegan chili recipe was born. As you’ll see below, most of the ingredients are easy to find in any grocery store, and the cooking steps are as basic as they get.
You can also take things to the next level if you like: add crumbled vegan sausage (great for getting that nice “meaty” texture), and/or blend a cup of chili in the blender and mix it with the rest to thicken it up. Both steps are optional.
Since this recipe is so easy, I’ve included it in one of the weeks of my 3-week vegan dinner meal plan – I’ve put it together for busy vegan families who want to eat delicious vegan food every night without spending a ton of time in the kitchen. Find out what it’s all about over here.
Don’t know if the 3-week meal plan would work for you? I’ve got a free 1-week sample vegan meal plan built the same exact way – check it out and download your copy over here.
Ingredients of The Ultimate Vegan Chili
Here’s what I’m using in my easy vegan chili recipe (see the exact amounts in the printable recipe card below):
Onion, carrots, celery stalks, red and green bell peppers, minced garlic. These vegetables are sautéed together to release a delicious, savory aroma and add complexity to the flavor of my ultimate vegan chili.
Canned pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans. The beans add loads of plant-based protein and fiber that help us stay full longer. (Plus, I just don’t believe in chili with no beans 🙂 )
Canned fire-roasted diced tomatoes. Using fire-roasted tomatoes is an easy way to add a hint of smokiness to savory dishes. If you’re after that cooked-over-the-campfire-under-the-stars hint of flavor in your chili, try fire-roasted tomatoes instead of regular diced.
Crumbled or finely chopped vegan sausage. This is optional, but I highly recommend it to add the unmistakable “meaty” texture to this vegan chili. I’ve tried using grains like quinoa or barley (see my three bean barley chili) and TVP (see my sweet potato TVP chili). However, I found that vegan sausage works much better – plus, it’s so much easier to use. Field Roast Italian or Spicy Chipotle are my favorite sausages to use here.
Water or veggie broth. If you’d like to ensure the rich, hold-on-to-your-hat flavor in your vegan chili, you can’t go wrong with Better Than Bouillon No Beef or Vegetable stock base (make sure not to add extra salt though). Otherwise, feel free to use homemade veggie broth or water, and adjust seasonings and spices to your liking.
Spices. There are a lot of spice combinations that can be uses in chili, but I always come back to chili powder, ground cumin, dried oregano, smoked paprika, and chipotle powder. My preferred amounts of each are listed in the recipe card below.
How to Improve Flavor and Texture of Vegan Chili
Vegan chili by default is much leaner than meat-based chili. That’s great if you’re trying to eat healthier, but if cutting fat is not your priority, then you might sometimes find the flavor a bit disappointing.
So how do we make sure our meatless chili is appealing not just to our health and animal welfare, but to our taste buds too?
Here are a few tips:
1. Use fresh, high-quality spices. If your spice containers have been gathering dust in the back of your spice cabinet for a few years, it’s quite possible that the spices in them have gone stale. In that case, you might want to revisit
the flavor town the spice rack at your grocery store.
Want to ensure the replacement spices you’re getting are fresh? I highly recommend buying spices in bulk. The turnover of foods in the bulk section of your grocery store is usually higher, so you’re less likely to get a spice jar that’s older than your firstborn child.
Another benefit of bulk spices? They’re usually sold by quality brands like Frontier – a company that ensures fair prices and quality of their products. If your grocery store doesn’t have Frontier spices in bulk, you can get them in individual bottles online.
2. Chop the vegetables properly. Make sure to chop your vegetables into even-sized pieces to avoid overcooking some pieces while undercooking others. This article from Cooks Illustrated gives a good explanation (heads up: the article has pictures of meat, so you may find it off-putting if you’re a hardcore vegan).
3. Keep an eye on the heat of your saucepan. If the pan isn’t properly heated by the time you add chopped veggies, they may “sweat” too much instead of getting caramelized (that’s what makes them the most flavorful), plus they’ll take longer to cook. If the pan gets too hot, the vegetables may get burned before they fully release their flavors.
4. Don’t shy away from fat. Any experienced cook will tell you that where there’s fat, there’s flavor. It’s appealing to make your vegan chili lean if you’re following a low-fat diet, but you may end up with chili that’s a bit lacking in the flavor department.
To get that fat in, use some quality high-heat oil for sautéing the vegetables (I use this avocado oil from Chosen Foods almost exclusively). Adding vegan sausage like I’m doing in today’s ultimate vegan chili recipe will bring in a bit more fat into the mix.
Another unconventional way to infuse meatless chili with fat is to add 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter. This may not be for everyone, especially those of us with peanut allergies, but some people swear by this.
Lastly, when your chili’s done cooking, you can top your bowl with vegan sour cream, shredded vegan cheese, or diced avocado to add some more fat.
5. Use veggie bouillon or broth. We might be tempted to just use water when making vegan chili, but veggie broth or bouillon will be more helpful if you want your chili to be extra flavorful.
6. To thicken your chili, blend a cup of it in a blender, then add it back into the saucepan just before the chili is done. Chili usually thickens for two reasons: if it has a high amount of fat (like meat-based varieties), or if it’s cooked for a long time.
As we discussed above, our vegan chili is naturally lean, plus we’re cooking it for less than half an hour. So we may need to help it a bit to get that nice, thick texture, and blending a cup of almost-cooked chili and mixing it back with the rest does just that.
The best part? The blended chili doesn’t have to be super smooth, so any kind of blender will work here (not just the fancy high-speed kinds).
How to Make the Ultimate Vegan Chili
My ultimate vegan chili is surprisingly easy to make.
First, we sauté chopped onions, celery, carrots, red and green bell peppers in a bit of oil (or veggie broth/water) until soft. Then, we mix in minced garlic until it releases its aroma.
Next, we add in canned beans (I’m using three types here – pinto, black, and kidney), crumbled-up Field Roast sausage (optional), canned fire-roasted diced tomatoes, veggie broth or water (with optional Better Than Bouillon stock base), and the spices.
We cover the saucepan, bring the chili to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer for 10-15 minutes (or longer if we have time, up to an hour).
An optional step to thicken the chili: we remove 1 cup of chili from the saucepan, and blend it in a blender until almost smooth.
The blended chili mixture then gets stirred into the rest of the chili. We bring the pot back to a simmer briefly just to reheat everything, 2-3 min.
Finally, we taste our vegan chili and adjust the seasoning. We take the saucepan off the heat, and let it cool 5-10 minutes before serving.
My Favorite Toppings for Vegan Chili
I love topping my bowl of the ultimate vegan chili with chopped red onions, diced avocado, shredded vegan cheese, and vegan sour cream. My favorite yogurt brand Forager has just released their new vegan sour cream that I can’t get enough of.
Other flavor-boosting toppings: cilantro, scallions, crunchy tortilla strips, salsa (to take your chili further into the Tex-Mex direction).
And of course, you can use this vegan chili to top hot dogs, serve in over rice or grits, etc.
How to Store Vegan Chili
To store my easy plant-based chili, make sure to let it cool completely before refrigerating or freezing. Store it in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze it in individual serving-size containers for up to 2 months.
I highly recommend these 3-cup glass containers by Pyrex for storing chili (and any other type of food) in the fridge or freezer. I like them because they are a perfect size for individual servings, plus you can use them directly in the microwave.
My second favorite way to store chili is in these reusable Ziploc-style bags (best for freezing but works for refrigerating too). Just make sure not to put them into the microwave. I’ve talked about these bags in my post about kitchen tools I use for vegan meal prep.
More comfort food recipes from the blog:
I love sharing easy vegan comfort food recipes on the blog. Check out these fan favorites:
Hearty Chickpea and Mushroom Soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)
Vegan Wild Rice, Mushroom and Sausage Soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)
If you make my ultimate vegan chili recipe, please let me know how it turned out! Give it a star rating above, and/or leave a comment below.
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