6 Chili Recipes to Win a Chili Cookoff

Our top chili recipes to win a chili cookoff are unique spins that are full of veggies and big flavor. They’re contest contenders for sure!

Easy Vegetarian Chili - you won't miss the meat with this crowd pleasing recipe! | Chili recipes to win a chili cookoff

Okay, so we know what you’re thinking: chili is about meat. But your chili cookoff this year, what about trying something a little different? Eating veggies is getting cool again. And chili without meat can be even more creative and delicious as as its meat-filled counterpart.

Here at A Couple Cooks, Alex and I are not even vegetarian: we’re flexitarian. This means we eat a mostly plant based diet, but splurge on meat on occasion. And for us, we’d rather pile on the veggies in chili and save our meat quota for a big juicy burger. So here are the top unique chili recipes we’ve created that hit all the notes of the fall while being meatless. They’ve got big flavor, but are fully plant based. They’re actually all vegan chili recipes too—unless you decide to load them with sour cream and cheese. (Which we do.)

What to serve with chili

Before we start: what to serve with these unique chili recipes? Our favorite is the classic standard: cornbread! We’ve got two great recipes, depending on your diet preferences: Best Homemade Cornbread or Easy Vegan Cornbread. Or, a fun spin is this Kale Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons, a green salad that uses cornbread for the croutons instead.

We’ve got lots more ideas where those came from. Try out all of our 10 best sides to go with chili!

And now…our top chili recipes!

This Classic Vegetarian Chili recipe is our take on a straight up chili recipe, without the meat. If a chili doesn’t have ground beef, Alex and I like to add a texture that mimics meat. Our Classic Vegetarian Chili uses bulgur wheat to some meaty texture.

For maximum flavor, we use green chiles (or jalapeños) for some spice, a crazy amount of chili powder, and a hint of chipotle powder to add omplexity. These tricks make this a vegetarian chili that’s hearty and not just “bean soup”.

Serve with: Easy Vegan Cornbread

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Healthy chili? Yes, this savory, hearty chili is full of good-for-you ingredients! It features a trio of protein-packed beans, quinoa, and loads of spices. If you'd like, add the optional flax seed for a boost of protein.

And of course, the toppings are where it's at in chili. We like to do a dollop of sour cream (or cashew cream for dairy-free) and hot sauce. Our favorite new healthy topping? Crunchy roasted salted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)!

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This mango chili recipe is something totally different: an unexpected spin on the standard! Chunks of fresh mango add a subtle sweetness, and there’s a hint of allspice for a bit of complexity. A squeeze of lime takes this vegetarian chili over the top.

One of our reader said: “This Mango Black Bean Chili got rave reviews! It’s freaking delicious, high in vitamins and protein, lower in carbs and sugar, and literally took me 30 minutes to make (plus simmering and cleanup). Getting all three kids AND the grownups to agree on a healthy and easy meal is basically a miracle!”

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This savory, hearty quinoa vegan chili is packed with protein and works for vegetarian, plant-based, and gluten-free eaters. Alex and I modeled this modeled after one of the unique chili recipes we had on a lunch date. We wanted to keep it simple and flavorful, and incorporate tons of savory veggies.

This vegan chili is light on the chili powder so the other flavors can shine; the secret ingredients are a bit of adobo sauce from a can of chipotle chili peppers in adobo (available at most groceries in the ethnic foods aisle), and a bit of white wine vinegar stirred in at the end for some brightness. If you love chili powder, the vegetarian chili above features a full 1/2 cup of chili powder, so try that one instead!

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This vegetarian sweet potato chili is super savory and you absolutely won’t miss the meat! Chunks of sweet potatoes add lots of nutrients, and you can use any types of beans you’d like: black beans, pinto beans, or chili beans. Our secret ingredients to add a savory flair: cocoa powder and balsamic vinegar. It a filling and satisfying vegetarian chili recipe that rounds out our list of chili recipes!

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Last up in our chili recipes: Instant Pot chili! Because why not make chili in a pressure cooker? This one is really the best Instant Pot vegetarian chili recipe. It’s full of beans, veggies, and lentils to up the plant-based protein.

A pressure cooker is a quick and easy way to make chili versus Crockpot chili, which takes hours and can turn out soggy. This Instant Pot chili is full of savory, hearty flavor. In fact…we might like it the best of all! Serve with homemade cornbread.

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Looking for other vegetarian soups?

This website is full of vegetarian soups and vegan soups! Here are a few other vegetarian soups we’d recommend:

Related: Gifts for Vegetarians

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

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