This post may include affiliate links; for details, see our disclosure policy.

This 3 bean chili is easy and healthy, leaves meat lovers begging for the recipe, and wins awards at chili cook-offs!

Easy Vegetarian Chili Recipe - you won't miss the meat!

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!
Healthy Veggie Chili

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Nacho cheese: A dollop of our vegan nacho cheese also adds huge flavor!
  3. Shredded cheese: Mexican blend or get fancy with shredded Gouda or Havarti.
  4. Pumpkin seeds: Add a little crunch with roasted salted pepitas!
  5. Saltines, crushed tortilla chips, or tortilla strips: Some people swear by saltines in chili: are you one of them? We like baked tortilla strips.
  6. Sliced green onion or chives: The sharpness of onion sends this chili over the top.
  7. Minced red onion: Give red onion a little rinse in water first to remove some of the strong bite.
  8. Hot sauce: Hot sauce adds tang and heat! Our favorite for topping chili is Cholula.
  9. Avocado slices: Add those good fats with a hit of everyone’s favorite fruit.
  10. Pickled veggies: These Pickled Radishes or Pickled Jalapeños add tangy complexity.
Easy Vegetarian Chili

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.

Best vegan cornbread

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:

Meatless chili

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).

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
Easy Vegetarian Chili - you won't miss the meat with this crowd pleasing recipe!

Easy 3 Bean Chili

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • 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)


  1. Chop the onions. Mince the garlic.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

Leave a Comment

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. 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!

  2. 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!


  3. 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!

    1. 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!

  4. Delicious recipe. It was my first go at vegan chili, so I can’t compare anything, but I thought it turned out well. I omitted the honey / sugar. Instead of 2 32oz cans of diced tomatoes, I cut up five c. of roma tomatoes, then added 15oz of tomato sauce. I also used 15oz of canned corn because that’s what I had on hand. I only used one large jalapeno, and my batch wasn’t spicy at all. I’d recommend a different pepper if you want a kick (or simply more jalapenos). I used half of a large red onion, but could’ve used the whole thing– I was cooking quite modestly to make sure I didn’t ruin it. I personally omitted the cheese and sour cream, but used plenty of cilantro. Thanks for the recipe!

  5. This is the best vegetarian chili recipe! I added some green pepper and carrot for and replaced one can of diced tomatoes with a can of whole peeled tomatoes (roughly chopped), but the bulgur really makes the dish. I found your site by searching for vegetarian chili recipes and I’ve already bookmarked a dozen other of your recipes to try!

  6. Hi! thank you for the recipe! i was just wondering if you knew around how many calories was in this chili. Thank you! I’m excited to try it.

  7. I thought this recipe was really good. I loved the addition of bulgur. However, I thought the oregano was over powering. I was also missing the cumin. Might add that next time. I also made it in the slow cooker since we just moved and I have no idea where my big stock pot is. I cooked it on high for 2 hours and low for 3 hours.

  8. Had a chili cookoff at my Masonic Lodge last Sat. Saw this recipe online thought it looked good and gave it a shot. Well I won first place with about 20 entries. A lot of people loved it and quite a few wanted the recipe.

  9. My husband and I enjoyed your recipe tonight. It’s a keeper! I have to admit, I didn’t think it needed a 1/2 cup of chili powder so I estimated what I thought seemed right. It was the right tweak for us. Will make this one again!

    1. Yes this does freeze well! Since it’s a chili, the textures and flavors all melding together is even better! Go for it and let us know what you think!

  10. Delicious! I have a family of 6 with three carnivores, 2 vegetarians and a vegan. So needless to say when I find a recipe for a meal that makes everyone happy, I am happy! We all loved this — even the carnivores did not need to add any meat! The only thing I did different is I nade brown rice on the side rather than mixing bulgur in (I just didn’t have any on hand and needed he letover rice for lunches). I think this would be good on just about any grain. Thank you for sharing!!

  11. We love this recipe – thank-you! This was my first try at vegetarian chili & it was delicious! My meat-eater man loved it too so it is an amazing help in our moving towards becoming vegetarians. For my second batch, I added pan-fried extra firm tofu chunks. The chili freezes well but not so with the tofu. Also, I don’t add any sweetener and it’s just fine.
    One word of caution – on the second batch, I made the mistake of substituting crushed tomatoes for the diced tomatoes. As soon as I opened the can, I could see the crushed tomatoes were more like a sauce with way less liquid so I had to add water for the bulgar to absorb. Nice work and I look forward to trying more of your recipes.

  12. Really flavorful chili! I used quinoa as you recommended for substitution but also added
    Trader Joe’s Beef-less ground beef. I didn’t have the chipotle powder so I felt better using spiced chili pepper but used less than the 1/3 cup. Thanks for this intensely flavored but not too hot chili! I think the green chilies help give you the heat that disappears. So the heat is there that you crave but you don’t feel injured! Using the yogurt , cheddar cheese, green onions , and especially cilantro to top it makes it a flavor fest! Fresh cornbread with butter is a great accompaniment. I’m enjoying it enough to bring it to our annual meeting for my spiritual group. Well done! Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Your additions sound great! We’ll have to try it that way. So, so glad you enjoyed it and thanks for making it!

  13. This recipe looks great! I’d like to make it as one of the entrees for a party of 20 people (3 of whom are vegetarian, but everyone will like it). Does it keep well if prepared a day in advance? And will doubling it work well, too? Thanks!

    1. Hi! Yes, this works great prepared in advanced and doubles well. It does absorb some liquid as it sits, so when you reheat you can add a bit of water or broth and then adjust seasonings as desired. Hope you love it!

  14. I made this chili tonight and it is delicious. Next time I would make the following modifications: less oregano, add cumin, and add some chopped peppers.

  15. BEST chili!! I made this recipe a few months back for lent, and my family loved it so much we’ve had it a few more times after lent, even without the meat. Someone suggested trying to sub beef in for the bulgar now that we can eat meat again, and i’m planning to do next week. Great recipe, thank you!!

  16. This chili looks amazing, but no one in my family will eat diced tomatoes (if they can recognize it as a tomato, they won’t touch it…). Do you think I could substitute one 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes for the two 28 ounce cans of diced tomatoes? Could the diced tomatoes just be omitted from the recipe? Or any other suggestions?? Thank you so much!!

    1. You should be able to just substitute the crushed tomatoes for the diced. If it gets too thick, just add a bit of water or broth!

  17. This was amazing!! Made it last night. Loved the addition of bulgur. My meat-eating boyfriend kept raving how good it was (and he’s always an honest food critic). Thank you for this recipe!!

  18. Hi

    Love the recipe. Doing a huge house welcome party in February for around 70 guests. Can you suggest the quantities I will need. Assume not just a straight 10 times everything?

  19. Damn, this looks good! My “secret” to vegetarian chili is all about pulsing some half-cooked chickpeas in a blender until they resemble ground beef, then finishing the cooking in the chili. It gives it an awesome heartiness and mouthfeel.

  20. I always appreciate a good vegetarian chili! And it just so happens that I have bulgur stored up during the lockdown.
    But avocados as everyone’s favorite fruit? What happened to apples, peaches, strawberries, pineapple?

  21. 5/5 stars for this recipe
    WOW – the bulghar is such a great addition – as it tastes meaty and the texture is definitely meaty.
    The words HEALTHY, VEGETARIAN etc are not words I can use in my house – I am not kidding !!!- so this recipe would fool even the most CARNIVOROUS eater. I did not use all the beans – as there may well have been a huge “gas explosion” and I would not use the corn – just one can of kidney beans – absolutely Wonderful Fantastic and HEALThY.
    Absolutely LOVED this recipe – thank you so much.

  22. Hi,
    I have been looking for a recipe to make a tastier vegetarian chili, and the bulgar wheat sounds like a great idea. Does the coarseness of the grind matter, as bulgar wheat comes in a few different grinds?

    1. Hi! It doesn’t really matter since you cook it until the bulgur is done. However, we’d recommend a medium grind if you have options!

  23. I’ve made this chili multiple times since moving to a pescatarian diet two years ago, and it’s delicious! I don’t miss meat at all, but there’s something about the texture of the bulgar wheat in this chili that makes it perfect. Getting ready to make two pots of it today … one regular, and one with quinoa for my gluten free sister. We’ll both have plenty to restock our freezers!

  24. Wonderful recipe for everyone, meat lovers or vegetarian. I love the bulgar addition as well as the chipotle flavors ( I used the canned chipotle rather than dried and did my bean mix from dry in the Instant Pot.) Third time making it and I’m sure it will be asked for a lot around here! Thanks for a great recipe🙏❤️

  25. This is a very hearty and satisfying chili, enjoyable for anyone, and it freezes/reheats well. This time, I added half of a red pepper (chopped) with the onions, so I only put in 3/4 cup of the bulgur wheat. I added two TBS of nutritional yeast and 1 tsp of cumin. I swished the added water around in the empty cans before adding for more flavor. As always, delicious!

  26. I made this tonight and it was delicious. I did sub with quinoa since I had no bulgur wheat, this will be my go-to vegetarian chili!

See More Comments