A bowl of spicy, smoky stovetop vegetarian chili with cheese and scallions stirred in.

Last Greek Easter while standing around the lamb turning on a spit, a few of my cousins confessed:

  1. They had become mostly vegetarians.
  2. They had been making my meaty weeknight chili recipe without the meat.

These admissions, I should note, didn’t stop anyone from fighting over the crispy lamb skin, but they did inspire me to create a vegetarian chili recipe.

Upon returning home, I set to work with a few goals in mind, namely ease and flavor: I wanted it to feel as effortless (or nearly so) as the weeknight chili recipe mentioned above, but just as satisfying with good heat, smoke, and heft.

This recipe is the product of my experiments, a hearty mix of both beans and bulgur, a heap of vegetables, spices, and umami-rich pantry staples. It has nice spice and smoke, thanks to chipotles in adobo sauce, cumin, and chili powder. It yields a good amount — about 6 quarts — and it freezes well. I find it deeply comforting, and I hope you will, too.

Here are the details:

Vegetarian Chili: Key Ingredients

  • Pinto Beans: As you may know, I can be a little particular about cooking beans from scratch. With chili, however, I don’t fuss so much — the beans need not be cooked perfectly. Here, dried un-soaked pinto beans go right into my Instant Pot with six cups of water for 40 minutes at high pressure followed by a quick release. The beans emerge cooked, but firm, and they soften up perfectly as they simmer with the other chili ingredients. Canned, rinsed pinto beans will, of course, work here as well.
  • Bulgur: Inspired by a favorite old vegetarian chili recipe in The Frog Commissary Cookbook, I’ve added bulgur here, which, in addition to the beans, provides texture and substance. It doesn’t taste “meaty” but it adds a meatiness. Duru extra-coarse bulgur is my favorite brand. It makes excellent tabbouleh.
  • Chili powder and cumin: Chili powder and cumin, two classic chili spices, provide heat and smoke respectively. I like to use a mix of chipotle chili powder and traditional chili powder. Chipotle chili powder is very spicy, but its got great flavor.
  • Chipotles in adobo. Chipotles in adobo sauce are are dried, smoked jalapeños. I love their intense smoky, fiery flavor. As with the chipotle chili powder, you can tailor the amount to include depending on your heat tolerance.
  • Vegetables: Here I’ve used nearly 4 quarts of chopped vegetables, a mix of onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. You can use whatever vegetables you like, just go big — a heap is key!
  • Tomato paste: Just as it does with soups and sauces, tomato paste adds depth of flavor (umami!) to chili.
  • Vinegar: A hefty splash of vinegar in soups, stews, and the like is never a bad idea, and chili is no exception. Colavita white balsamic is what I use for nearly everything, but any white vinegar you have on hand will work.

Here’s the play-by-play: Gather your ingredients:
Ingredients for vegetarian chili on the countertop.

This is the bulgur I love: Duru extra-coarse bulgur.
A bag of Duru bulgur.

Cook your beans (or open a few cans): In the Instant Pot: 40 minutes, high pressure, quick release.
Dried pinto beans in the Instant Pot covered with water.

An Instant Pot on a counter turned on.

Cooked pinto beans in the Instant Pot.

While the beans cook, chop the onions.
A liquid measure filled with chopped onions.

Then sauté them in olive oil.
A large pot filled with onions sautéing in olive oil.

While they cook, chop the peppers, then add them to the pot.
A liquid measure filled with chopped red bell peppers.

While they cook, chop the mushrooms.
A heap of chopped mushrooms in a measuring cup.

Then add them to the pot with the onions and peppers.
A large pot of vegetables cooking for vegetarian chili.

Meanwhile, mince up some garlic, and add it to the pot.
A bowl of minced garlic.

Meanwhile, chop up some chipotles in adobo sauce, and open up a few more cans.
A large board topped with chopped chipotles in adobo sauce.

Add tomato paste and spices to the pot of vegetables and cook for about a minute.
A large pot with vegetables cooking with chili powder and tomato paste.

Add the bulgur, chipotles, and crushed tomatoes.
A large pot of vegetables and bulgur cooking stovetop.

Add the beans.
Two pots on the stove: one with vegetarian chili; the other with cooked Instant pot pinto beans.

Add water and bring to a simmer.
A large pot of vegetarian chili simmering stovetop.

Simmer for about 45 minutes.
A large pot of stovetop vegetarian chili just cooked.

Top with scallions, grated cheese, and sour cream if you wish.
A bowl of stovetop vegetarian chili topped with cheese and scallions.

Have you stocked up on quart containers?? Soup season is around the corner. These are my favorite containers for storing, freezing, and gifting soups, stocks, stews, etc.
Vegetarian chili in quart containers.

[tasty-recipe id=”65348″]