This vegan chili made with dried beans, fresh chili peppers, and fire-roasted tomatoes is my personal favorite. While I’ve made an insane number of different vegan chili recipes over the years, I keep coming back to this one. With its rich, complex flavor that combines sweet, hot, and fruity elements in balance, it’s the best vegan chili I’ve ever had: hearty, filling, and so satisfying.
I’m a European while my husband (Tanner) is a Canadian. There’re many subjects we have different opinions on, but the culture around food is the one that comes up most frequently.
- I only buy food I know I’ll eat in the next few days. Tanner buys things in bulk.
- I love fresh food so I only cook the amount I’ll be eating on the day of cooking. Tanner batch cooks and loves to have leftovers for the next few days.
- I consider pasta mixed together with vegetables a complete meal. For Tanner, it’s two sides thrown together with the main meal component (aka protein) missing.
- I don’t like throwing food away. Tanner thinks that it’s better to throw aways a few things rather than having to drive to the store several times a week.
- I prefer cooking meals entirely from scratch, using fresh vegetables, dry legumes, homemade stocks, even if it takes hours to prepare. Tanner prefers frozen meals he can have on the table in a few minutes. We can have our pantry stocked with wholesome ingredients, but as soon as the freezer is empty, he feels there’s nothing to eat.
- I prefer to taste the real flavor of foods. If I think my food tastes a little bland, I use herbs. Tanner loves spicy food that literally burns your mouth. He puts hot sauce into everything!
What’s all that gotta do with chili? Well, it’s just not all that popular where I come from, but it’s very popular in Tanner’s family. In fact, I had never tasted chili before I met Tanner. The first family event Tanner ever took me to was a chili cook-off where everybody prepared their own particular recipe and shared it with everyone. That’s where I learned that chili is a very personal thing and everybody has their favorite recipe.
This vegan chili isn’t trying to imitate a meaty chili. Instead, it celebrates vegetables and legumes. It’s not the quickest and easiest recipes either. Sure, you can make your chili with some commercial pre-mixed chili powder, a can of beans, and some pureed tomatoes thrown together in a slow cooker. But is the flavor going to blow your mind? Not likely.
Tips for Making Vegan Chili
Throwing some pre-mixed chili powder from the store into a slow cooker is fine for a quick weeknight meal. However, perfect chili needs the complexity and richness you can only get from toasting and pureeing fresh chili peppers or grinding dried chilies into a powder. There are many varieties of chili peppers, depending on the region they come from. I like to make my chili powder from a combination of sweet, hot, smoky, and fruity chili peppers. Yes, I always mix and match at least four different chili peppers. Making your own chili powder (or puree) is what makes any chili more art than science.
And then there are beans. While I understand that canned beans are much more convenient, I don’t mind taking the time to soak and cook dried beans from scratch for about any recipe. Dried beans have a more complex flavor, creamier texture, deeper color, and a better nutritional profile. If you’re intimidated by the whole cooking dried beans from scratch thing, don’t be! It’s much easier than you think. As far as bean variety goes, I like to use two different kinds of beans for textural diversity. Kidney beans and black turtle beans are my favorite, but any legumes work.
If you’re a Texan, you probably don’t use tomatoes (or beans) in your chili, but I do. You can’t beat the sweet taste of fresh homegrown tomatoes – whether you use them directly in your chili or in fresh salsa. If you do go for canned tomatoes, use whole rather than diced. Canned diced tomatoes contain calcium chloride (a firming agent), which prevents the diced tomatoes from softening and breaking down when you cook them. Canned whole tomatoes yield a more natural texture.
Every good chili starts with vegetables. Onions, garlic, fresh chili peppers, celery, red bell peppers … sauté all the vegetables before you add any liquid to draw out as much flavor as possible. The same goes for the seasonings. Don’t wait till the very end to add them because you’d be missing out on a lot of flavor. Sauté the spices and herbs together with the vegetables so the flavors mingle and develop a rich taste. When your spices are fragrant and toasted, add soy sauce to create the elusive fifth taste.
For chili exploding with richness and layers of flavor, you need to cook it low and slow. You don’t have to worry about the vegetables and beans softening and turning into a mush. The chili base – chili peppers and tomatoes – is acidic and vegetables and beans soften very slowly in acid. Going back and forth between covered and uncovered cooking will keep the chili from becoming too watery or too thick. If your chili starts turning too thick, you can always add some homemade vegetable broth. If your chili isn’t thick enough, lightly mash the beans and vegetables with a potato masher to release their natural starches.
Tools You’ll Need
1. Blender (Vitamix Pro 750) | 2. Pan (10-Inch, Lodge, Cast Iron) | 3. Cookware Set (Calphalon, Stainless Steel) | 4. Knife Set (6 Pieces, Utopia, Stainless Steel) | 5. Measuring Cup (1 Cup, Pyrex, Glass) | 6. Cutting Board (24″x 18″, Michigan Maple Block, Maple) | 7. Measuring Spoons (Set of 6, 1Easylife, Stainless Steel) | 8. Can Opener (Zyliss, Stainless Steel)
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- 3/4 cup dried black beans*
- 1/2 cup dried kidney beans*
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 japaleño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- chili powder (see recipe below)
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 tsp. soy sauce
- 1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes with juices, diced
- vegetable broth, to taste
- salt, to taste
- 3 New Mexico chiliies, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 2 Cascabel chilies, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 3 Ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 1 1/2 Tbsp, dried cumin seeds, whole
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
Prepare the beans: place both the black and the kidney beans into a pot of water and let them soak overnight or for at least 8 hours. Once the beans are done soaking, drain the water and rinse them thoroughly. Put the beans in fresh clean water and cover them with at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and remove any foam that forms. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook until tender. The time will vary depending on your own beans, but you are looking at approximately 45 minutes.
In a large pot, saute the sweet onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Cook until soft and translucent. Then add the jalapeño peppers and chili powder. The chili powder is on the spicier side so add it in stages. Saute until fragrant.
Add the celery and red bell pepper. Continue stirring until softened. Then add the tomatoes, cooked beans, and soy sauce. Let the chili simmer for 2-3 hours. If it becomes too thick, add some vegetable broth, If it's too thin, mash some beans and vegetables to help the chili thicken up.
Serve immediately, or for best flavor, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. Reheat, and serve with desired garnishes.
Store leftover chili covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. For longer term storage, freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. The easiest way to reheat the chili is to remove it from the freezer 24 hours before reheating and place it in the refrigerator to thaw slightly. Reheat on a stovetop, adding extra 1/4 cup vegetable broth to prevent it from scorching. Stir regularly as the chili heats up.
Clean the chili peppers: use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the stem away and then shake or scrape the seeds from the inside of each pepper. Then cut the peppers into smaller pieces before adding to the pan to toast.
Place all of the chiles and the cumin into a medium cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Toast, moving the pan around constantly, until you begin to smell the cumin, approximately 4-5 minutes. Set aside and cool completely.
Once cool, place the chiles and cumin into ta blender along with the oregano, and smoked paprika. Leave the lid in place until any dust settles so you do not get a cloud of ground chili peppers in your face.
*3/4 cup dry black beans is equivalent to 1 (15 oz/398 ml) can.
*1/2 cup dry kidney beans is equivalent to 1 (15 oz/398 ml) can.