Best Meatless Chili Recipe

By: Cassy Joy Garcia

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Vegetarian or not, this is my favorite chili on planet earth. I serve it up with an accompanying batch of vegan cornbread for a satisfying, hearty, and comforting dinner.

veggie chili next to a batch of vegan cornbread

Easy Vegetarian Chili

This recipe is another really delicious one right out of the vegetarian chapter of my third book, Cook Once Dinner Fix — it’s part two of a black bean series (part one: Enchilada-Stuffed Zucchini Boats) but can be made independent of the zucchini boats, if desired, and this recipe will show you how to do that! This second dinner in that series is actually one of my favorites in the whole book: a smoky vegetarian chili that I like to serve with vegan cornbread alongside. This chili is a comforting, satisfying option when you want a meatless meal that won’t leave you missing the meat. I top mine with plenty of avocado and a large slice of the fluffy one-bowl corn bread.

Find instructions on how to make the Enchilada Zucchini Boats + Vegetarian Chili together HERE.

Vegetarian Chili Ingredients

Here’s the full list of ingredients (for both the cornbread and the chili):

For the Vegetarian Chili

  • Black Beans – if you’re making this recipe with dried black beans, you’ll need ¾ cup of dried beans. If you’re making this recipe with canned black beans (totally acceptable, I promise!), you’ll need 2 (15-ounce) cans.
  • Onion – to help amp up the flavor of the black beans (dried or canned), you’ll need ½ of a small quartered yellow onion. You'll need another ½ of an onion, finely chopped, for later too.
  • Garlic – again, a huge flavor booster here — you’ll want to throw 1 smashed and peeled garlic clove in with the beans also. An additional 4 minced garlic cloves get added to the pot later on to add some really delicious flavor.
  • Bay Leaf – to further season the beans, drop a bay leaf in the pot.
  • Sea Salt – a ½ teaspoon of sea salt gets tossed into the pot of beans too.
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil – you’ll need 2 tablespoons of EVOO to saute your onion and garlic in.
  • Red Lentils – a ½ cup of dried red lentils give this vegetarian dish some substance and a good dose of protein and fiber.
  • Crushed Tomatoes – a tomato base makes up the bulk of the liquid  here. You’ll need 1 (28-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes.
  • Mild Chili Powder – while a ¼ cup of chili powder may seem excessive, I promise it isn’t! This is what really gives the chili it’s, well, chili flavor. Be sure that you’re grabbing a mild chili powder blend like THIS one vs. a spicy chili powder (like chipotle or ancho chili powder).
  • Ground Cumin – 3 tablespoons of ground cumin adds some depth to this flavorful dish.
  • Sea Salt + Pepper – the classic seasoning combo of salt and pepper make an appearance in this dish! You’ll need 1 teaspoon of salt and a ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper.
  • Avocado – chop 1 avocado into 1-inch cubes to garnish your chili bowls.
  • Cilantro – a ¼ cup of chopped fresh cilantro will finish each bowl of chili off beautifully!

For the Vegan Cornbread

  • Coconut Oil – a ½ cup of melted coconut oil (plus more for greasing your pan) is the oil  you’ll use for your vegan cornbread.
  • Cornmeal – 1 ½ cups of cornmeal makes this cornbread …cornbread!
  • Flour – in addition to the cornmeal, you’ll also need 1 cup of all-purpose flour. If you’re gluten-free, feel free to use a cup for cup gluten-free all-purpose flour, like THIS one.
  • Sugar – a ¼ cup of sugar sweetens the cornbread just a touch.
  • Baking Powder – 1 tablespoon of baking powder helps to rise the cornbread and make it nice and fluffy.
  • Ground Flaxseed – because this is a vegan cornbread (so no eggs are involved), 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed holds the cornbread together nicely.
  • Sea Salt – 1 teaspoon of sea salt seasons the cornbread perfectly and helps to counter the slight sweetness from the sugar.
  • Coconut Milk – 1 ½ cups of coconut milk (or any other unsweetened nondairy milk that you love) provides the rest of the liquid needed for the cornbread batter.

Ingredient Modifications

Though this recipe is absolutely delicious as-is, feel free to make some swaps if needed! Here are a few that have been tested and work great:

  • Make it gluten-free: as mentioned above, if you need to make your meal gluten-free, just swap the all-purpose flour for a gluten-free all-purpose flour like THIS one.
  • Make it grain-free: if you need to make your meal grain-free, you’ll (unfortunately) need to skip the cornbread altogether. Instead, make a yummy side salad to serve with your chili.
  • Use canned black beans: canned black beans make this recipe a whole lot easier. If you're going this route, you'll add 2 (15-ounce) cans of beans to the chili at the same time that you add the lentils, and you can also omit the ½ onion, 1 clove of garlic, bay leaf, and sea salt that go in the pot with the dried beans.

Supplies You Need to Make This Recipe

Here are the supplies you’ll need to make this recipe:

What can you put into vegetarian chili to make it taste better?

To be quite honest, this chili is VERY flavorful as written (trust me, Texans don’t mess around with bland chili). If you’re looking to jazz your bowl up even more (and you’re not dairy-free), add some shredded cheese and sour cream to your bowl! If you want to add a kick of spice, try slicing a fresh jalapeno and garnishing with that also.

How to make the best vegetarian chili?

The process is quite simple. You’ll start with the cornbread, and while that’s in the oven, you’ll prepare your chili! Here are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Soak the black beans – if you’re using dried black beans, place them in a large pot and add enough water to cover. Set the pot aside to soak for at least 8 hours or up to overnight.
  2. Cook the black beans – once the beans are done soaking, drain and rinse them. Then, return them to the pot, add fresh water to cover, and drop in the onion, garlic, bay leaf, and salt. Bring the beans to a low boil over medium heat, then cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the beans are tender. Remove from the heat and discard the onion, garlic, and bay leaf.
  3. Prep – when the beans have about 45 minutes left, go ahead and preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8- or 9-inch cast-iron skillet (or round cake pan) with coconut oil (or line with parchment paper).
  4. Make the cornbread batter – in a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, ground flaxseed, and salt. Add the coconut milk and melted coconut oil to the bowl and mix until the batter is smooth.
  5. Bake – pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.
  6. Make the chili – while the cornbread is baking, make the chili. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, stir to combine, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, until fragrant and starting to brown.
  7. Add the lentils, black beans, tomatoes, and seasonings – to the pot of sauteed onion and garlic, add the red lentils, black beans, crushed tomatoes, chili powder, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Fill the empty tomato can with water and pour it into the pot (or just add 3 ½ cups of water), then stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the lentils have swollen and started to pop.
  8. Garnish, serve, and enjoy – garnish each bowl of chili with the cubed avocado, cilantro, and cornbread, and enjoy!

Can you make this vegetarian chili recipe spicy?

Sure! While this recipe is bold on flavor, it definitely isn’t super spicy (thanks to the *mild* chili powder). If you’re looking to kick the spice level up a notch, I recommend garnishing your bowl with fresh sliced jalapeno.

How do you thicken meatless chili?

The good news here is that this chili doesn’t actually need to be thickened at all. Because the lentils cook in the pot of chili, they’ll soak up a lot of the added water, thickening the chili really nicely.

How long does it take this easy vegetarian chili to cook?

The chili itself won’t take more than 25 minutes to cook, and the cornbread will take between 25 and 30 minutes in the oven (plus about 15 minutes of prep time).

How can you tell if vegetarian chili is done?

You’ll know that the chili is done when the lentils have swollen, softened, and started to pop. When you feel like it’s getting close, grab a spoon and take a small bite — if the lentils are still on the hard side, give the chili a little bit longer. If they’re nice and soft, you’re good to go!

Is no meat chili healthy to eat?

I think so! This one is loaded with protein and fiber, making it really nutritious. If you don’t tolerate legumes well, though, this isn’t the chili for you.

What goes with meatless chili?

CORNBREAD! Seriously, this is a dynamite duo. If you don’t want to make the cornbread (or need to have a grain-free meal), a simple side salad is a great choice. Also, if you don’t have the time or energy to make the cornbread, grab your favorite crackers to serve with your chili (that’s how I grew up eating it!).

vegan cornbread with one slice taken out of it

How to store Vegetarian Chili Recipes

Your vegetarian chili can be stored in the same way that any other chili recipe is stored — in an airtight container in the fridge. If you’d like to freeze your chili, that works too. Simply scoop it into an airtight container(s) and freeze. Then, when you’re ready to enjoy, let the chili thaw just enough to pop it out of the container, and reheat it in a pot on the stovetop until warmed through.

How long does the vegetarian chili last?

Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, your chili will last for about 5 days. Enjoy!

Print

Best Vegetarian Chili Recipe

This vegetarian chili (with an accompanying batch of vegan cornbread) is satisfying, hearty, and so, so comforting.

  • Author: Cassy Joy Garcia
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Inactive Time: 8 hours
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 8 hours 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 46 1x
  • Category: Vegetarian
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Scale

For the Vegan Cornbread

  • ½ cup coconut oil, melted, plus more for greasing
  • 1 ½ cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ½ cups coconut milk (or any other unsweetened non-dairy milk that you love)

For the Beans (Optional)

  • ¾ cup dried beans
  • ½ small yellow onion, quartered
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon of sea salt

For the Vegetarian Chili

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup of red lentils, dried
  • Cooked black beans (OR 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
  • ¼ cup mild chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 avocado, chopped into 1-inch cubes, for garnish
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Instructions

  1. If you’re using dried black beans, place them in a large pot and add enough water to cover. Set the pot aside to soak for at least 8 hours or up to overnight.
  2. Once the beans are done soaking, drain and rinse them. Then, return them to the pot, add fresh water to cover, and drop in the onion, garlic, bay leaf, and salt. Bring the beans to a low boil over medium heat, then cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the beans are tender. Remove from the heat and discard the onion, garlic, and bay leaf.
  3. When the beans have about 45 minutes left, preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8- or 9-inch cast-iron skillet (or round cake pan) with coconut oil (or line with parchment paper).
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, ground flaxseed, and salt. Add the coconut milk and melted coconut oil to the bowl and mix until the batter is smooth.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.
  6. While the cornbread is baking, make the chili. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, stir to combine, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, until fragrant and starting to brown.
  7. To the pot, add the red lentils, black beans, crushed tomatoes, chili powder, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Fill the empty tomato can with water and pour it into the pot (or just add 3 ½ cups of water), then stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the lentils have swollen and started to pop.
  8. Garnish each bowl of chili with the cubed avocado, cilantro, and cornbread, and enjoy!

Notes

Using canned black beans makes this recipe much quicker. If you're going this route, simply add the drained and rinsed beans into the chili at the same time as you add the lentils.

Keywords: vegetarian chili

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