This Veggie Chili is the best vegetarian chili you’ll ever make. It’s loaded with plant based protein, and has all the comfort of the traditional version, without the meat!
Vegetarian chili is made with canned beans and veggies, so it is affordable and ultra-filling thanks to all of the fiber it contains.
Serve it with cornbread, crackers, a green salad, or tortilla chips on the side to complete the meal!
Ingredients You’ll Need
What is vegetarian chili made of?
- Diced tomatoes
- Beans (usually kidney beans & black beans)
- Sweet potato or carrot
- Red bell pepper
I use canned beans in this recipe, to make it as fast & convenient as possible. If you prefer to cook dry beans from scratch, you can use my Instant Pot Black Beans tutorial for guidance.
You can use any variety of canned beans that you have on hand, but I prefer to use black beans, pinto beans, or kidney beans. (Or a mix of all 3!)
Prefer a spicier chili? Try adding in a diced jalapeño (with or without seeds) or a pinch of cayenne pepper to the mix. (No more than a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne, unless you want to breathe fire, though.)
How to Make the Best Veggie Chili
1. Saute the veggies. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, and saute the onion, celery, and bell pepper until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes.
When that’s done, add in the garlic, cumin, chili powder, oregano, and smoked paprika. Stir briefly, just until the spices smell fragrant, about 60 seconds.
2. Simmer. Add in the beans, sweet potatoes, diced tomatoes (and juices), salt, a bay leaf, and water. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cover the pot.
Let it simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Then remove the lid and let the chili simmer for about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Note: Most chili recipes call for simmering the chili uncovered the whole time to help it thicken, but I found that it takes 40-50 minutes for the sweet potatoes to become tender when you don’t cover the pot. (And I don’t have that kind of patience.)
Instead, I prefer to use less liquid to begin with, and cover the pot to get started, so the potatoes will become tender faster. If you have more patience than I do, you can use double the amount of water and simmer the chili uncovered for 45+ minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened.
3. Adjust. When the sweet potatoes are tender, remove the bay leaf and then use the back of a spatula, the back of a fork, or a potato masher, to gently mash some of the chili, to help thicken it. Alternatively, you can also use an immersion blender to briefly blend some of the chili, until it’s as thick as you’d like it to be.
Stir in some fresh cilantro, and adjust any seasoning to taste. I usually add in extra salt, and you can add a squeeze of lime juice or vinegar to help brighten the flavor, if you’d like to.
Note: If you find that your chili is too acidic or salty, you can also balance out that flavor by adding a splash of sweetener, like maple syrup or honey. (Use maple syrup if you want to keep this recipe vegan.)
Serve the chili warm right away with your favorite toppings, like sliced avocado, fresh cilantro, or green onions. If you like some dairy on top, you can also opt for a spoonful of sour cream or shredded cheddar cheese, which will melt against the hot chili. It’s so comforting!
Substitutions & Common Questions
Can I use vegetable broth instead of water? Yes! In that case, you might want to cut-back on the salt, since the broth will contribute to the sodium content. I personally use water in this recipe because you only need 1 cup, and there’s already plenty of flavor from the other ingredients you’ll add in. If your chili turns out bland, it means you didn’t add enough salt!
How can I thicken vegetarian chili?
- Simmer uncovered. Remove the lid towards the end of the cooking time, and stir until some of the liquid evaporates. This will naturally thicken the chili.
- Mash it. Use a potato masher to mash some of the soup, especially the sweet potatoes and beans, until it thickens up.
- Blend it. Use a measuring cup to remove 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the soup, including plenty of the liquid, and transfer it to a blender. Blend until smooth, then pour the pureed soup back into the pot. When you stir it in, the chili will be considerably thicker. Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender to blend some of the soup directly in the pot until it’s thicker.
What is the best secret ingredient for chili? There are several ingredients you can add to chili to make it extra-special.
Here are a few ideas:
- Adobo sauce. If you keep a small can of chipotles in adobo sauce in your pantry, use a tablespoon of that sauce in this recipe. It adds a smoky, spicy flavor to your chili. (Smoked paprika adds a similar smoky flavor, so I call for that in this recipe to keeps things more pantry-friendly.)
- Bay leaf. It’s hard to describe the flavor that a bay leaf adds to soups and stews, but it has a savory taste that pairs particularly well with anything tomato-based. Be sure to add it whole, so it’s easy to find and remove later. You wouldn’t want anyone to accidentally swallow a bay leaf, because they are too tough!
- Soy sauce. Replace some of the salt with a tablespoon of soy sauce (or use tamari, to keep this recipe gluten-free). It adds an umami flavor to the overall dish.
- Chocolate. Adding a touch of grated dark chocolate to this recipe will boost the flavor, or you can use unsweetened baking chocolate for more bitterness.
- Molasses. This ingredient will add another layer of flavor, and a subtle hint of sweetness to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.
Keep in mind, it’s best to start with adding just one of these ingredients at a time, so you can taste as you go and see how you like them. It’s fun to experiment and make this chili your own!
How long does veggie chili last? It will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months, if you’d like to portion it out and have a convenient meal on hand.
- 1 tablespon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion , chopped
- 2 celery ribs , chopped
- 1 red bell pepper , seeded and chopped
- 4 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 large sweet potato , peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt , plus more to taste
- 3 (15 oz) cans beans (kidney, black beans, or pinto beans)
- 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes , with juices (fire-roasted is preferred)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro , chopped
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, and add in the onion, celery, and bell pepper. Stir until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add in the garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and smoked paprika, and stir for 1 more minute, or just until fragrant.
- Add the sweet potato to the pot, along with 2 teaspoons of salt, the drained & rinsed beans (I use 2 cans black beans + 1 can kidney beans), the diced tomatoes with juices, the bay leaf, and 1 cup of water. Stir well, then raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil.
- When the liquid is boiling, lower the heat and cover the pot. Let the chili cook until the sweet potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the lid and let the chili continue to cook uncovered for 10 more minutes, or until the chili is as thick as you'd like it to be. Stir often, and mash some of the beans and sweet potato with the back of the spatula as you go, to help thicken the texture.
- When the chili is done cooking, remove the whole bay leaf, then add more salt to taste. I start with a 1/2 teaspoon at a time, and usually add an additional 1 full teaspoon by the end. (So, 1 tablespoon of salt in total.) If your chili tastes bland, make sure you aren't under-salting it! Stir in the fresh cilantro, and add any other additions that you like such as a squeeze of fresh lime juice, or a touch of maple syrup if you need to balance out the acidity.
- Serve warm with your favorite toppings, like sliced avocado, sour cream, or cheddar cheese. Leftover chili can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
If you try this vegan chili recipe, please leave a comment and star rating below letting me know how you like it. I really appreciate your feedback!
Reader Feedback: What’s your favorite cold weather meal? Let me know if you have any recipe requests!