This healthy vegetarian chili recipe is not only good for you, but it's also absolutely delicious. Everyone asks for the recipe every single time I make it.
First, vegetarian chili is super easy to make and feeds an army. I love to make this on a Sunday afternoon for dinner, then save the leftovers for a least two more meals during the week. This recipe easily makes 8-10 servings and can be stretched with a few extra veggies or can of beans to make more.
Second, vegetarian chili is really flexible and a great way to use up any beans, stock, or tomatoes that you may already have on hand.
This Vegetarian Chili Recipe is Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Grain-Free, Vegetarian & Vegan, High-in-Fiber, Easy-to-Make, Healthy & Delicious.
It's also flexible, so mix up the veggies or even add a few more in if you'd like.
This vegetarian chili recipe is similar to my Healthy Game-Day Chili Recipe but without the meat. Since this recipe doesn't have any meat, we need to adjust the spices and bump up the flavor with a secret ingredient.
Healthy Vegetarian Chili Recipe Notes
Chop the onion, carrots, and bell pepper to about the same size as the beans for a really nice texture in this chili. You can also add a chopped medium zucchini, extra carrots or bell pepper, or any veggies you like during the veggie sauteing process. This recipe is super flexible and can accommodate up to one extra cup of chopped veggies. Add an extra ½ cup of filtered water or stock (more or less as needed) if you add more veggies. I used a yellow bell pepper here because I like the color, but red, yellow or orange would all work great. I avoid green pepper in this recipe as it seems too bitter to me, but if you prefer that flavor go ahead and add one in.
3 Types of Beans
I use 3 cans of beans total in this recipe, and you can use any combo of beans that you like. I love the variation of two cans black beans, one can kidney beans and one can pinto beans to mix up the flavor and texture, but if you want to use all black beans or any combo of beans go for it. Look for beans in a BPA-free can, or even in one of the newer boxes. Drain and rinse the beans to remove excess sodium before adding to the pot. Tip, add a 4th can to stretch your chili even further.
Chili Powder + Spices
You can't have chili without a good chili powder. There are tons of different types of chili powder on the market. Use a mild or medium chili powder that you like. Choose spice mixes that don't have fillers and anti-caking agents as they're not necessary and not healthy. I buy my chili powder at The Savory Spice Shop online because it's fresh and doesn't contain fillers. Chili powder from your local natural grocery store or Whole Foods would also be a good option. Just read the ingredients and choose something healthy.
Here's a tip that will make all of your soups and chilis taste better: saute the spices on low with the veggies to bring out even more flavor. This step helps develop a richer flavor in your chili. Spices and garlic burn easily, so be sure to always turn the heat to low for this step, then turn it back up to finish the dish.
Remember that spices lose flavor as they expire, so if you've had a bottle of chili powder for a few years toss it and buy something fresh for a better tasting chili. If you don't use it often, buy only what you need in the bulk spice section of your grocery store.
Vegetarian Chili Recipe Secret Ingredient: Cinnamon!
I know, it may sound a little strange at first, but cinnamon adds a bit of complexity to this otherwise simple vegetarian chili recipe. I will say, go easy on the cinnamon. It should be just a slight background flavor in the chili, so I indicated a scant ¼ teaspoon here. Scant means just under or a little less. You can also do a level ¼ teaspoon, I just wanted it to be clear that a heaping ¼ teaspoon is probably too much. If you over-do the cinnamon, it's just too overpowering. But that small amount really adds a wonderful flavor to this savory meal.
Crushed or Diced Tomatoes
If possible, look for San Marzano canned tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes come from Italy and may be a little more expensive but they're worth it. They are naturally a little sweeter and less acidic than other tomatoes. If you can't find them, just use the best tomatoes you can find. Like all other ingredients, read the ingredients label and choose tomatoes without added preservatives or sugar. Most tomatoes will add a little citric acid to preserve freshness which is totally fine. You can use either two 15-ounce cans of diced or crushed tomatoes in this dish, or one 15-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes plus one 15-ounce can of tomatoes sauce. Use what you have on hand.
Veggie Broth, Chicken Stock or Bone Broth
Here's where you can decide if your chili is vegan or not. Use veggie stock or filtered water to make this chili completely vegan. Chicken stock is an option to add more flavor to the dish and I recommend it if you're not completely vegan. Bone broth is a type of long-simmered chicken (or other bone) broth that is high in collagen protein. It costs more but adds a ton of flavor and protein to your chili if you want to use it. You can also make it at home using my Homemade Bone Broth Recipe.
Vegetarian Chili Toppings
The vegetarian chili recipe toppings might be the best part!
My favorites are, diced avocado, cilantro, and a few crushed organic tortilla chips. I like the whole-grain organic tortilla chips. Since most corn is genetically modified and sprayed with pesticides, buy organic tortilla chips if you can. I also love to use Siggi's Icelandic-Style plain yogurt as a healthier substitute for sour cream (it's like an even thicker Greek Yogurt) but leave that off if you prefer to keep this dish vegan. A fresh squeeze of lime also makes for a great addition to your chili.
Everyone's Favorite Vegetarian Chili Recipe
- Prep Time: 15 mins
- Cook Time: 45 mins
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 8 1x
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Chop, Simmer
- Cuisine: American
This classic vegetarian chili is a cool-weather staple in our house. It's also super flexible! Add extra chopped carrots or peppers (or veggies), or an extra can of beans if you'd like. Top with your favorite chili toppings and you have a perfect meal (with leftovers for days). If you love it, please leave a star rating in the comments below to help other readers in our community.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
- 1 yellow (or red or orange) bell pepper, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, grated or finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
- 2 ½ teaspoons mild or medium chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- scant ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional, and recommended-see note)
- 1 (15-ounce) can crushed or diced tomatoes with their juices, preferably San Marzano variety
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce (or, omit this and use 2 cans of crushed tomatoes instead of 1)
- 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups filtered water, veggie broth, or bone broth
- (optional) 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- (optional) 1 chopped jalapeño, for heat only
- 2 ½ teaspoons sea salt, more or less to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more or less to taste
Healthy Garnish Ideas: Lime wedges, cilantro, avocado, tortilla chips, sliced or pickled jalapeño, chopped green onion, chopped chives, Icelandic-style or Greek-style plain unsweetened yogurt
- Step 1: In a 6-quart Dutch oven or pot, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrot and bell pepper and sauté over medium until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Step 2: Reduce the heat to low and add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, bay leaf and cinnamon. Add a large pinch of sea salt and stir until the spices coat the veggies. Cook on medium-low for 2-3 minutes until very fragrant, being careful not to burn the garlic.
- Step 3: Turn the heat back up to medium. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce then stir to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add all of the beans, 2 cups filtered water or broth, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (if using), 2 ½ teaspoons of sea salt and a few spins of freshly ground black pepper. If desired, add the chopped jalapeño for heat.
- Step 4: Bring to a simmer. Simmer on low, covered, for 30-60 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 30-60 minutes if possible to thicken. The chili will thicken considerably as it sits. Optional: To speed up the thickening process or for an extra-thick chili, use an immersion blender to blend a small amount of the beans (2-3 pulses should do it), or, blend 1-2 cups of the chili (including liquid and beans) in a blender then add back to the pot. Turn the pot back on to warm if needed to serve. Or, let the pot cool to room temperature and store in the refrigerator overnight, and warm up the next day. This chili will keep in the refrigerator up the three days in a covered pot. Freeze up to three months in airtight containers.
- Step 5: Serve with your choice of garnishes per serving. I like a big squeeze of lime, about ¼ of an avocado, a small handful of crushed organic tortilla chips, fresh cilantro. I also like to use Siggi’s plain Icelandic-style yogurt as a sour cream substitute.
- This chili is flexible. Use 3-4 cans of beans of your choice, I gave you the ratios I prefer here.
- Chop the onion, carrots and bell pepper to about the same size as the beans for a really nice texture in this chili. You can also add a chopped medium zucchini, extra carrots or bell pepper, or any veggies you like during the veggie sauteing process. This recipe is super flexible and can accommodate up to two extra cups of chopped veggies. Add an extra ½ cup of filtered water or stock (more or less as needed) if you add more veggies.
- I used a yellow bell pepper here because I like the color, but red, yellow or orange would all work great. I avoid green pepper in this recipe as it seems too bitter to me, but if you prefer that flavor go ahead and add one in.
- If your tomato sauce tastes too acidic, add 2-3 teaspoons of honey (or sugar) to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes—it adds a negligible amount of sugar to the dish. Omit it if desired.
Keywords: Vegetarian Chili Recipe, 3 Bean Chili Recipe, Healthy Vegetarian Chili
Made this last night on a chilly grey English winter evening. Certainly warmed us up and leftovers for tonight too! Delicious!
Hi Dawn, thanks for sharing! Glad it worked out for you. I love having the leftovers, too. ~E
Wow! It's really the best vegetarian chili! Made this last night…SO delicious! Great flavor.
Joshua, so glad to hear it! We love this one, too. Thanks for stopping by to comment. ~E
I made this last night and it was fantastic! I told my 17 year old son that we were having veggie chili and he said "why aren't you putting meat in it??!" And then he ate 2 big bowls and said he wouldn't have even noticed it didn't have meat in it.
Krista, this is wonderful to hear! This recipe is always a crowd favorite and I find the people don't miss the meat either. Thanks for stopping by to comment! ~E
Susan M Eng
To be really healthy you shouldn't use canned foods. They all have BPA or if they are BPA free than another chemical they replaced it with. Soaking beans overnight and getting jarred tomatoes is a healthier option. I kind of cringe when I see recipes using canned foods!!
Hi Susan, Cans have come a long way in the last few years to be healthier. You can also find beans and tomatoes in boxes (as pictured above here in this post). As a nutritionist and health coach, I find it too restrictive to tell people they can't use canned beans or tomatoes as many of my readers are working parents or have busy schedules and limited time. Being healthy is about progress, not perfection, and a recipe like this is MUCH healthier than takeout or frozen meals. ~E