Best Vegetarian Chili

This best vegetarian chili is easy and healthy, leaves meat lovers begging for the recipe, and wins awards at chili cook-offs. How’s that for impressive?

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

If you’ve been looking for the best meatless chili, that search stops here. Yes, this vegetarian chili recipe is irresistible to vegetarians and meat eaters alike. And it doesn’t just taste like bean soup. We’ve been looking for a recipe like this for years. Now, we serve it for Super Bowl parties, pitch ins, and gloomy gray days. And hey, it’s even won awards! Said reader Liz, “Had a chili cookoff. Saw this recipe online thought it looked good and gave it a shot. I won first place with about 20 entries! A lot of people loved it and quite a few wanted the recipe.”

Well it’s your lucky day, because now you can have it too.

Related: Top Healthy Dinner Ideas | 12 Easy Dutch Oven Recipes

How to make vegetarian chili…that tastes good without meat

Of course, no vegetarian chili is world’s best without a few secrets. 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 are a few of our secrets:

  • Bulgur wheat: This veggie chili features bulgur wheat, a whole grain that 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 are 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 heat.
  • A load of chili powder: 1/3 cup of chili powder is no joke. It gives the chili spiced, nuanced undertone.
  • Chipotle powder (optional): If you like heat, add a little chipotle powder: it adds complexity and heat!
Healthy Veggie Chili

Best chili toppings

A vegetarian chili is one thing: but topping it is quite another! We’ve called this a vegetarian chili because we like to add the standard toppings that do add dairy. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Sour cream: Even above cheese, sour cream is our number 1 chili topping because of the creamy richness that it brings. If you prefer dairy free try 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: Our new favorite idea is to add a little crunch with roasted salted pepitas!
  • Saltines or crushed tortilla chips: Some people swear by saltines in chili: are you one of them? We prefer to go with crushed chips.
  • Sliced green onion or chives: The sharp onion sends vegetarian chili over the top.
  • Minced red onion: We like to give red onion a little rinse in water first to remove some of the strong bite.
  • Hot sauce: We like hot sauce more for its tang than its heat! Our favorite for topping chili is Cholula.
  • Avocado slices: Add those good fats with a hit of everyone’s favorite fruit.
Easy Vegetarian Chili

How to make it vegan

This easy vegetarian 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, just omit any dairy chili toppings in favor of Vegan Nacho Cheese, green onions and lots of crunchy pepitas. And of course: a dollop of hot sauce!

Related: What is a Vegan vs. Vegetarian Diet?

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 chili

Of course, you’ve got to have an equally cozy side to go a homemade vegetarian chili recipe! Here are a few sides we recommend:

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:

Meatless chili

This vegetarian chili recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant based, dairy free, naturally sweet, and refined sugar free. For a vegan and dairy-free chili recipe, top with Vegan Nacho Cheese. For gluten free, use quinoa (see special instructions below).

Print
Easy Vegetarian Chili - you won't miss the meat with this crowd pleasing recipe!

Best Vegetarian Chili


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (102 votes, average: 4.46 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 8 1x

Description

This best vegetarian chili is easy and healthy, leaves meat lovers begging for the recipe, and wins awards at chili cook-offs. How’s that for impressive?


Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 15-ounce cans beans or 4 1/2 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
  • 1/3 cup chili powder (standard, not spicy)
  • 3 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • Hot sauce, sour cream, cheese, cilantro, or chives for garnish (for vegan, garnish with vegan nacho cheese)

Instructions

  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.

Notes

*For gluten free, you can also substitute quinoa: however, use 3/4 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 1/3 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

Easy Vegetarian Chili - you won't miss the meat with this crowd pleasing vegan chili recipe!
Subscribe for free weekly recipes & more!

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.

38 Comments

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    January 30, 2012 at 9:34 am

    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!

  • Reply
    genevieve
    January 30, 2012 at 11:48 am

    This looks absolutely amazing! And I love the fact that you can make it gluten free if you want/need to. Yum!

  • Reply
    Sylvie (A Pot of Tea)
    January 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    What a great idea to add bulgur for some extra texture. I’ll definitely give that a go.

  • Reply
    Heidi @ Food Doodles
    January 30, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    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 :)

  • Reply
    Denise
    January 30, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Now this looks like the ultimate bowl of comfort food. Love the addition of bulgur, need to try that soon!

  • Reply
    Christi's Chirps
    January 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    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!

    Cheers,
    Christi

  • Reply
    Russell at Chasing Delicious
    January 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum
    January 30, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Alex
      January 30, 2012 at 10:19 pm

      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!

  • Reply
    Mara @ Elemental Custard
    February 5, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Ashlae
    February 8, 2012 at 10:03 am

    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 :)

  • Reply
    Samantha
    February 19, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Erika
    February 27, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I made this yesterday and simply love it! Thanks for such a wonderful recipe!

    • Reply
      Alex
      February 27, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for letting us know :)

  • Reply
    Liz
    February 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Even on leftovers night (round 2 of this chili), my husband had to comment (again) how good this was for being meat-free. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Sonja
      February 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm

      Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it (AND the leftovers)!

  • Reply
    Alecia
    December 24, 2012 at 11:52 am

    This was wonderful…thank you for the easy and delicious veggie chili…not bean soup!!

  • Reply
    Katherine
    October 21, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 21, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for letting us know :)

    • Reply
      Sonja
      October 21, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      So glad you enjoyed it, Katherine! You additions sound delicious. Let us know if you try any other recipes out!

  • Reply
    Gray
    May 14, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Lindsay
    February 15, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Stacy McClain
    April 18, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    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.
    Thanks.

    • Reply
      Alex
      April 19, 2016 at 7:53 am

      Ha! That’s amazing :) Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    Cheryl
    April 11, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Teresa Gatto
    August 18, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Does this freeze well?

    • Reply
      Sonja
      August 20, 2018 at 8:10 pm

      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!

  • Reply
    Joan
    November 13, 2018 at 8:24 am

    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!!

  • Reply
    Linda Treige
    November 22, 2018 at 6:43 am

    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.

  • Reply
    Dorinda
    December 29, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Sonja
      January 4, 2019 at 12:57 pm

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

  • Reply
    Valerie
    January 26, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Sonja
      January 26, 2019 at 1:27 pm

      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!

  • Reply
    SRS
    June 26, 2019 at 1:37 am

    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.

  • Reply
    Holly
    August 13, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    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!!

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      August 13, 2019 at 2:29 pm

      So glad you love it!! Thanks for letting us know :)

  • Reply
    Cheyenne
    September 5, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    Has anyone tried this in the Crock-Pot?

  • Leave a Reply

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