Is it just me, or do chili and naptime go hand in hand?
There’s just something so soothing about a bottomless bean-filled bowlful that makes me want to curl up under a plush blanket and fade into dreamland, to the tune of light rain sprinkling a skylight.
But my very favorite thing about this particular chili recipe is that it doesn’t send me straight into the land of catnaps. In fact, it leaves me feeling light and ready to take on the world.
Or, at least ready for another helping.
It’s likely the fatty ground beef and mountain of tortilla chips I incorporate into my meat chili that stop me from wanting to run a marathon directly after mealtime, but not with this dish. Thanks to an abundance of fresh vegetables, devouring it results in an alternate ending to the classic food coma story.
And if you think making vegetarian chili just means leaving out the meat, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as you and your spoon explore your way through this rich, robust, protein-packed entree.
First, the veggies perfume every mouthful of this meatless wonder with intense flavor and texture. Not to brag about one chili pepper in particular, as technically there are several varieties included in this recipe, but it’s all about the poblanos for me.
Unfamiliar with this slender, green beauty? Let me introduce you.
I’m sure your first question pertains to the poblano’s heat level, and I’m happy to put you at ease. Although they carry some potency, they’re considered to be a mild variety that boasts less fire than a jalapeno.
They make excellent candidates for roasting and stuffing, and their earthiness pairs so well with cumin that the oblong veg is a shoo-in for excellent chili. But we can’t just build the base of this meal around one ingredient alone.
Zucchini come next, and with their sweet and mild flavor, they are full of fiber and nutrients, and bring a little crunch.
Beans are an obvious friend to this fiesta as well, and I like to use two different varieties.
Kidney beans are large, hearty, and (in my opinion) a strong substitute in the space where one might traditionally toss in ground meat. Black beans give some colorful contrast and offer a familiar, creamy flavor and texture that I’m kind of obsessed with right now.
Beer makes everything better, and if you’re riding the sober wave like me, you know there are plenty of zero-proof options on the market. If beer isn’t your bag, spill in a little veggie broth, coffee, or cola instead.
At any gathering, it’s important to have one guest who shakes up the vibe and keeps things interesting. In this case, that’s the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
The naughty little nuggets are simply jalapenos that have been smoked, dried, and rehydrated in a sweet and tangy tomato puree. They bring a fiery kick, but aren’t overpowering when used in small doses.
Garlic and onions transport savory notes to the table, citrusy cumin adds warmth, and grassy cilantro provides freshness. A standard chili powder blend already includes garlic and dried oregano, but I like for those spices to be especially pronounced in homemade chili, so I throw in a touch more.
Hey, it’s my party and I’ll double up on the seasoning if I want to!
Put ‘em all together, and you get one heck of a delicious vegetarian meal.Print
Turn the tables on traditional chili with this veggie-centric recipe featuring poblano peppers, hearty beans, zucchini, and fresh cilantro.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium poblano pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup lager beer (or vegetable broth)
- 1 14-ounce can kidney (or pinto) beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 14-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo, rough chopped
- 1 tablespoon chili powder blend
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro, divided
- 1 cup plain unsweetened sour cream or Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- In a large heavy saucepan or a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, zucchini, and poblano peppers and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and the mixture is very fragrant, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper. Cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and beer, scraping up any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Stir in the kidney beans, black beans, chipotle pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, and then reduce the heat to medium-low.
- Cover the pot and continue cooking, stirring occasionally and reducing the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer until the chili has thickened slightly, about 1 hour.
- Just before serving, season to taste with additional salt and stir in 2 tablespoons of the cilantro.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream or yogurt and lime juice.
- Divide the chili among bowls and evenly garnish with the cheddar cheese, citrus crema, and remaining cilantro.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
- Category: Chili
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Vegetarian
Keywords: vegetarian, chili, bean, meatless
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep and Saute the Veggies
Dice the onion, chop the zucchini and poblano pepper, and mince the garlic.
Roughly chop the chipotle pepper in adobo. You can save the rest of what’s in the can for use in another recipe. Just transfer it to a container with a lid, and keep it in the fridge or freezer.
Want to make some adjustments? If you can’t find poblanos, you can substitute Anaheim chilis or jalapenos without the seeds and ribs.
Both of these are spicier, but if you’re looking to decrease the heat, you can also use bell pepper instead, in any color you like. For more heat, double the quantity of chipotle peppers in the recipe, which are smoked jalapenos.
In a large, heavy saucepot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, zucchini, and pepper.
Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and the mixture is very fragrant, for about 5 minutes.
Step 2 – Build and Season the Chili
Stir in the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper. Cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and beer, scraping up any flavorful browned bits that are sticking to the bottom of the pot.
The beer will foam a bit, but that will dissipate after a minute or so. For non-alcoholic beer suggestions, check out my roundup that includes tasty booze-free brews you can drink and cook with.
Stir in the kidney beans, black beans, chipotle pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then reduce the heat to medium-low.
Step 3 – Simmer and Prep the Garnishes
Cover the pot and continue cooking, stirring occasionally and reducing the heat if you need to in order to maintain a gentle simmer, until the chili has thickened slightly. This will take about 1 hour.
The chili’s flavors will meld in about 30 minutes and the veggies will still have a tender crunch. This is my personal preference, but I like to simmer the chili for anywhere from one to two hours to allow the flavors to really come together, and the veggies to soften.
If it simmers for too long, the tomatoes (which contribute the majority of the liquid in this dish) can reduce too much. You might need to add more of those, or an alternate liquid like vegetable broth, to keep the chili’s consistency to your liking.
Chop the cilantro, juice the lime, and shred the cheese (if you didn’t buy pre-shredded) to get your garnishes ready.
Step 4 – Stir in the Cilantro, Taste, and Serve
Just before serving, season the chili to taste with additional salt, and stir in 2 tablespoons of the cilantro.
In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and lime juice to make a citrus crema. Greek yogurt makes a tasty alternative to sour cream.
Divide the chili among bowls and evenly garnish each with shredded cheddar cheese, lime yogurt, and the remaining cilantro.
You can also top it with your favorite hot sauce for an additional kick, and finely chopped raw onions for added crunch.
Go Ahead and Garnish
I like sharp white cheddar on everything, but if you’re looking for something more on the ooey-gooey end of the cheese spectrum, feel free to grab classic Monterey jack.
Chili begs to be dolloped with a creamy component, and lime juice brightens up the Greek yogurt or sour cream garnish in this recipe, so every bite lands on your tongue with a bright zip of flavor. Oniony chives on top also hit the spot, if you have some on hand.
Try napping after having all of that excitement in your mouth!
Will you take your pot off the heat early to maintain the veggies’ crunch, or let it simmer away so the flavors really get to know each other? Share your favorite chili-making techniques in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Craving even more comforting bowlfuls that give veggies center stage? Cozy up to these recipes next:
- Slow Cooker Vegetarian White Bean Chili with Butternut Squash
- Roasted Four-Pepper Chili
- Black Bean Soup
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Lorna Kring on March 17, 2015. Last updated on December 10, 2021.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”