This 3 bean chili is easy and healthy, leaves meat lovers begging for the recipe, and wins awards at chili cook-offs!
Looking for the best meatless chili? That search stops here. This 3 bean chili recipe is irresistible to vegetarians and meat eaters alike! We serve this one for Super Bowl parties, pitch ins, fall dinners, and gloomy gray days. And hey, it’s even won awards! Said reader Liz, “Had a chili cookoff. Saw this recipe online and gave it a shot. I won first place! Everyone loved it and wanted the recipe.” Well it’s your lucky day, because now you can have it too.
How to make 3 bean chili…that tastes good without meat
No chili is world’s best without a few secrets, right? The main challenge for a no meat chili is how to make the flavor and texture stand up to a standard meat-based chili. Here at A Couple Cooks, we’ve done quite a bit of experimenting with chili. Here’s what brings big flavor to this recipe:
- Bulgur wheat: This whole grain adds a chewy texture and helps thicken a chili like meat would. It’s not gluten-free, so if you prefer a gluten-free grain you can substitute quinoa (instructions in the recipe below).
- Canned green chilis: To up the tangy complexity, green chilis add a warmth and body. Use mild green chilis to add flavor without excessive heat.
- A load of chili powder: ⅓ cup of chili powder is no joke! It gives the chili spiced, nuanced undertone. Some chili powder brands can be spicy, so make sure to use a brand you know if you’re sensitive to spice.
- Chipotle powder (optional): If you like spicy food, add a little chipotle powder: it adds complexity and heat!
Best chili toppings
This 3 bean chili is one thing: but chili toppings are quite another! We usually opt to go big with cheese and sour cream here. Of course, choose your favorites! This is another key to making a great chili, because toppings add additional layers and nuance to the flavors. Here are some of our favorite chili toppings:
- Sour cream: Our number 1 chili topping because of the creamy richness that it brings. For dairy free, try Vegan Sour Cream or Cashew Cream.
- Nacho cheese: A dollop of our vegan nacho cheese also adds huge flavor!
- Shredded cheese: Mexican blend or get fancy with shredded Gouda or Havarti.
- Pumpkin seeds: Add a little crunch with roasted salted pepitas!
- Saltines, crushed tortilla chips, or tortilla strips: Some people swear by saltines in chili: are you one of them? We like baked tortilla strips.
- Sliced green onion or chives: The sharpness of onion sends this chili over the top.
- Minced red onion: Give red onion a little rinse in water first to remove some of the strong bite.
- Hot sauce: Hot sauce adds tang and heat! Our favorite for topping chili is Cholula.
- Avocado slices: Add those good fats with a hit of everyone’s favorite fruit.
- Pickled veggies: These Pickled Radishes or Pickled Jalapeños add tangy complexity.
How to make it vegan
This easy 3 bean chili has a secret…it’s also vegan! The only thing that’s not plant based about this chili is the toppings. To make it into a vegan chili recipe, use vegan sour cream, green onions and lots of crunchy pepitas. And of course: a dollop of hot sauce! Or try our Ultimate Vegan Chili: it’s a huge crowd pleaser as well!
How to make it gluten-free
Contrary to most chili recipes, this one is not gluten-free. Why? It contains bulgur wheat. It’s a product of, as the name implies: durum wheat. But there’s an easy fix! Cook up a pot of quinoa while you’re prepping the chili, then add 2 cups cooked quinoa to the chili while simmering. We’ve added notes in the recipe below to indicate exactly how to do it.
Sides to go with 3 bean chili
Of course, you’ve got to have an equally cozy side to go a homemade 3 bean chili recipe! Here are a few sides we recommend:
- Homemade Cornbread or Easy Vegan Cornbread The hands down favorite, this cornbread is tender, moist, and tastes the Jiffy box but 100 times tastier. (One version has dairy, one does not, and both are fantastic.)
- Buttermilk Biscuits with Hot Honey These biscuits are perfectly flaky: top them with spicy hot honey to put them over the top.
- Kale Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons Bring in the cornbread ethos with croutons instead.
- 10 Best Sides to Go with Chili We’ve got more great ideas where those came from! Head over for more.
More chili recipes
Because we’re chili obsessed….we’ve got more chili recipes for you! Each one of these is a total crowd pleaser.
- Quick Chili Recipe This speed demon quick chili recipe is just the thing: in under 25 minutes you’ve got an easy dinner!
- 3-Bean Healthy Chili Full of good-for-you ingredients and big flavor, featuring a trio of beans, quinoa, and lots of hearty spices.
- Instant Pot Vegetarian Chili Incredible pressure cooker chili with two beans, lentils, and a robust flavor. (It’s vegan too.)
- Ultimate Vegan Chili The BEST. It’s bursting with flavor and is totally plant based.
- Best Sweet Potato Chili All star recipe! A delicious healthy dinner where you won’t miss the meat.
- Quinoa Chili A savory, hearty quinoa chili with black beans and packed with plant based protein.
- Mango Black Bean Chili A unique spin featuring mangos and lime.
A fun way to serve chili? On baked potatoes! Try our Chili Baked Potatoes.
This 3 bean chili recipe is…
Vegetarian, vegan, plant based, dairy free, naturally sweet, and refined sugar free. For a vegan, choose vegan toppings. For gluten free, use quinoa (see special instructions below).Print
Easy 3 Bean Chili
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 8 1x
This 3 bean chili is easy and healthy, leaves meat lovers begging for the recipe, and wins awards at chili cook-offs. How’s that for impressive?
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 15-ounce cans beans or 4 ½ cups cooked dried beans (black, pinto, and kidney), drained
- 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
- 2 4-ounce cans roasted green chilies
- 1 cup bulgur wheat (for gluten free, see below*)
- 1 cup frozen corn
- ⅓ cup chili powder (standard, not spicy)
- 3 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
- ⅛ teaspoon chipotle powder
- Hot sauce, sour cream, cheese, cilantro, or chives for garnish (for vegan, garnish with cashew cream or vegan sour cream)
- Chop the onions. Mince the garlic.
- In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and saute, stirring, for about 1 minute.
- Add the remaining ingredients: beans, tomatoes with their juices, green chilies, bulgur wheat, frozen corn, chili powder, oregano, garlic powder, kosher salt, black pepper, maple syrup or honey, and chipotle powder. Mix to combine. If necessary, add a bit of water to make sure everything is covered (we added about 1 cup).
- Bring to a boil, then simmer until the bulgur is soft, about 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and add additional seasonings as desired. Add hot sauce to taste; and serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, and cilantro or chives. For a vegan chili, garnish with our Vegan Nacho Cheese.
*For gluten free, you can also substitute quinoa: however, use ¾ cup quinoa and use the instructions listed in Step 1 of our Quinoa Vegan Chili to cook the quinoa separately. Then add 2 cups of cooked quinoa to the final step when simmering (save any leftover quinoa for future use).
The chipotle powder is a bit of a hard to find, but it adds great complexity and flavor; we recommend using it if at all possible. Ancho chile powder also can add a nice bit of smokiness.
If ⅓ cup chili powder seems like a typo, it’s not! While it’s a large quantity, it did bring the flavor we were looking for to the dish. The resulting chili is not overly spicy (though it would be if you use spicy chili powder, jalapeños, or more chipotle powder than specified below); we like our chili with moderate spice and then adding spiciness at the table with hot sauce.
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: Vegetarian Chili, Chili, Healthy Chili, Vegetarian, Vegan, Chili Recipes, Healthy Recipes
Last updated: May 2020
I love bulgur wheat and a good and hearty vegetarian chili. The meat based chili’s can sometimes taste like a big bowl of meat so I like that this one is meat free. You also got to have a little spiciness in your chili so the chipolte powder is a must!
This looks absolutely amazing! And I love the fact that you can make it gluten free if you want/need to. Yum!
What a great idea to add bulgur for some extra texture. I’ll definitely give that a go.
I’m a huge fan of chili and this looks awesome! I love the bulgur. I’ve never tried adding that to my chili, but I can see how it would be perfect! Must try next time :)
Now this looks like the ultimate bowl of comfort food. Love the addition of bulgur, need to try that soon!
Sounds absolutely fantastic! I haven’t cooked with bulgur wheat before! Sounds great! I also love your addition of honey!
This will be simmering in my kitchen this Sunday! Thanks for the delicious recipe!
Yum! This recipe looks scrumptious. I love chili because its one of the few dishes you can throw a lot of ingredients into and it will still turn out.
Love the pic with the jersey on! I saw it on FG and thought, that’s cute, I wonder what person is posing with the chili… and then I saw it was yours. :) Which one of you was the model?? The chili looks great, BTW!
Haha! Thanks :) That is Sonja as the model – she has much more lovely hands than I! The chili is great, big time food photographer, you should try it!
I made this and it is sooo good! Thanks for resurrecting my love of a vegetarian chili.
I have been dying for a good vegetarian chilli recipe. This looks exactly how I want mine to turn out – like a hearty, meaty chilli!
This looks like such a delicious, hearty chili. And I’m happy I’m not the only one who adds copious amounts of chili powder to my chili :)
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