Even though you’ll find some tasty chili recipes on my blog, the truth is that you really don’t need a recipe to make a delicious pot of chili. If you’re trying to rely less on recipes, chili is a great dish to try striking out on your own with. It’s so forgiving! In this post, you’ll find my formula and best tips for how to make vegan chili by throwing together whatever odds and ends are around.
The Key to Good Chili: Good Chili Powder
It may seem obvious, but mediocre chili is usually the result of mediocre or old chili powder. Chili powder that’s been sitting in your pantry for 6 months just won’t be as flavorful and punchy as fresh, high quality chili powder. I like to make sure I’ve always got the good stuff stocked. My favorite brand is this one from McCormick Gourmet, or this one from Simply Organic. It’s also fun to make your own!
My Formula for How to Make Vegan Chili:
Beans + Tomatoey Things + Veggies + Cumin + Garlic + Chili Powder + Yummy Garnish
Beans / Protein (Roughly 2-3 Cups)
- Black beans cooked, canned, or dry
- Kidney beans cooked, canned, or dry
- White beans cooked, canned, or dry
- Lentils cooked, canned, or dry
- Crumbled tempeh
- Ground or shredded mock-meat I like beyond beef (add in toward the end of cooking)
Chili Veggies (Use Any!)
- Bell peppers
- Tomatoes any kind
- Butternut squash or other squash
- Pumpkin cubed or canned, if using canned pumpkin stir it in at the end
- Corn fresh, frozen, or cut off the cob, add at the end of cooking
Tomatoey Condiments (1-2 Cups Total)
- Cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes including juice
- Jar or partial jars of marinara or tomato sauce
- Diced fresh tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
- Tomatoey things in jars salsas, chutneys, spreads
- Tomato paste
- Adjust to taste these are a starting place
- 1.5 Tbsp chili powder*
- 4 garlic cloves or 1-2 Tbsp garlic powder or granules*
- 2 tsp cumin*
- 1 tsp good quality sea salt
- 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice if using pumpkin or squash
- 1 chipotle pepper canned in adobo sauce (minced) or a pinch of chipotle powder or paste
- Pinch of smoked paprika
- Veggie broth or water to thin
- Cheese cream cheese, or sour cream (I use non-dairy brands)
- Fresh cilantro chopped
- Red or white onions minced
- Green onions sliced
- Sprinkle of pumpkin seeds
- Jalapeño seeds removed and minced
- Hot sauce
- Corn chips to scoop!
- Rice or quinoa to serve
Chili in an Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker
- You’ll need about half the liquid when using a pressure cooker, because moisture is not able to evaporate as with stovetop cooking. There isn’t a lot of liquid in this chili anyway, but I’d just add maybe 1/2 cup of water to the veggies and beans so that the pot comes to pressure, and then pressure cook on high for 7-8 minutes, just to smoosh and meld the ingredients and flavors. Thin with broth or water after cooking, and season to taste. More spices are often needed with pressure cooking than with stovetop cooking.
- If the beans aren’t fully cooked, no problem, put the lid back on and set the cook time for 2-3 minutes. Repeat if needed. If there’s too much liquid after cooking, turn on the Sauté function and simmer, uncovered, for a few minutes to reduce the liquid.
Chili in a Crockpot
- If I know I’ll be out and about later than usual and ravenous when I come home, I love starting a crockpot of chili when I leave the house in the morning. Add all ingredients to a crockpot, leave some room, err on the side of too much liquid vs. not enough, and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Yum!
Using Dried Beans
- I usually use cooked beans in chili (because I’m usually impatient when I decide to make chili) but I do always make a big pot of beans for salads and other meals toward the beginning of the week, and those beans often get thrown into chili. You can use dried beans in chili, but I never do. They will need to cook for a very long time (almost all day) and so most of the veggies will disintegrate (I prefer a chunkier chili). The beans will absorb a ton of water, so you’ll need to babysit it all day to continue adding water, or use a big crockpot that can hold a large volume of water. The amount of water needed will vary a lot, depending on the beans.
- To use dried beans, pre-soak your beans for 6-8 hours, or use the Instant Pot “Quick Soak” method:
- Put the beans in the pot and add water to about 1 inch above the level of the beans. Close the pot lid to Sealing. Set it to Manual (high pressure) for 5 minutes. Use Natural Release (about 12 minutes). There! Your beans just “soaked!” Rinse, drain, and proceed as if you were using pre-soaked beans.
How to Cook Dried Beans
- First, look over the beans and discard any dark or shriveled beans. Add them to a heavy bottomed pot (I used an enamel cast iron).
- Next, add the bay leaves, carrot, celery, salt, oil, and enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Skim off any white foamy residue. Cover leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook on a medium simmer for about an hour. Make sure you check the level of the water often, and add some boiling water if they get too dry.
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