The Best Vegetarian Chili

Is it just me, or do chili and naptime go hand in hand?

Vertical image of a wooden bowl filled with a chunky bean soup topped with herbs and cheese next to a spoon on top of a napkin, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

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.

Vertical image of a wooden bowl filled with a chunky red soup topped with shredded cheese and herbs with a wooden spoon on top of a yellow towel next to herbs and a bowl of shredded cheese.

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.

Vertical close-up image of the top of a wooden bowl filled with a chunky bean soup with a shredded white cheese and cilantro garnish, with a wooden spoon resting on the side.

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.

Vertical image of a hearty red soup in a white bowl with a grated cheese and sour cream garnish next to smaller bowls.

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.

Vertical image top-down image of a spoonful of chili above a wooden bowl next to peppers, cilantro, and a towel.

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.

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Horizontal image a wooden bowl filled with a chunky red soup topped with shredded cheese and herbs with a wooden spoon on top of a white and red towel next to herbs, peppers, and a bowl of shredded cheese.

The Best Vegetarian Chili

  • Author: Fanny Slater
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings (about 1 cup per serving) 1x


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


  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Just before serving, season to taste with additional salt and stir in 2 tablespoons of the cilantro.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream or yogurt and lime juice. 
  7. 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.

Horizontal image of assorted chopped vegetables and seasonings on a wooden cutting board next to a chef's knife.

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.

Horizontal image of cooking together zucchini, peppers, and onions in a pan.

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.

Horizontal image of assorted beans and spices on top of a tomato mixture in a 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.

Horizontal image of chopped cilantro, sliced lime, shredded cheese, and a bowl of sour cream on a wooden surface.

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 thick and tasty alternative to sour cream.

Horizontal image of vegetable chili in a pot.

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.

Horizontal image a wooden bowl filled with a chunky red soup topped with shredded cheese and herbs with a wooden spoon on top of a white and red towel next to herbs, peppers, and a bowl of shredded cheese.

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:

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.”

38 thoughts on “The Best Vegetarian Chili”

  1. I’ve never tried vegetarian chili before, but I’m glad you got to feature a dish where the age-old substitute to animal protein is prominently used: beans. Kidney beans and black beans are great substitutes for ground meat, especially if you seasoned them earlier with something like soy sauce, but that isn’t needed here.

  2. Beautiful pictures. This looks delicious. Usually I buy this kind of food pre-made in a can, and it tastes pretty good. I especially like the turkey variety, but I could try it without meat to see how it tastes. I wouldn’t mind trying to make this from scratch, seems easy enough. I like almost any dish that has black beans in it. I don’t have many of these ingredients on hand though, have to wait until I replenish my pantry.

    • Hi Cuuki, this veggie chili is super easy and quick to make. And fills the kitchen with wonderful aromas while it’s cooking – it’s well worth the effort.

  3. Interesting recipe, although why not use mushrooms instead? Their earthy taste makes them a really good substitute for meat in most cases, and I think it’d give the dish some texture against the beans. Another thing is the coconut oil… Why not just use regular oil? I can’t imagine a coconut flavor in a chili of all places.

    • I was wondering about the coconut oil too – surely vegetable oil would suffice to sautee the onions in? Or does the oil impart any particular flavor to the onions?

    • Hi queenbellevue, this dish is so adaptable you can add any number of ingredients, mushrooms included. I prefer coconut oil for it’s great resistance to oxidization at high temperatures, necessary for sauteing. And it blends wonderfully with the smokey chipotle peppers.

  4. I am really curious to try this and see if it has an authentic chili flavor. I really like chili but I don’t like it when it only tastes like chili powder. I feel like too much over powers the entire dish so I like that this has the addition of lime and the chipotles in adobo. The beer also has me very curious. I don’t cook with a lot of beer so I am intrigued. This will make a perfect NO MEAT MONDAY meal in our house. : )

    • I’d be interested to see what you think after trying it daniconk. The cipotles in adobo give it a velvety, smoky flavor while the lime and yogurt add some cooler, refreshing tones.

      And yes, it’s great for Meatless Monday’s!

  5. This is a great idea for a meat-free meal, for veggies and carnivores alike. Things like pulses make great meat substitutes and are a lot cheaper than ground beef. Another bonus is the reduction in calories and saturated fats this recipe offers.

    The only thing is, I wouldn’t bother with is the coconut oil. It’s not something I keep in the cupboards anyhow and seeing as only a tablespoon is needed to sautee the onions in, I’ll just be using plain old vegetable oil.

    • This recipes is very flexible missbishi, so if you don’t have coconut oil on hand use a healthy alternative like canola oil. I’m sure it will still taste great.

  6. I really enjoy seeing vegetarian recipes that are simple. The vegetarian chilli is a great classic and I like to serve it with rice or even some wholewheat noodles. I think using canned beans is much better when you are making a small quantity and takes less time and has less waste. I’ve never knowingly had any beer in mine before, but that’s why maybe I get drowsy after a chilli?

  7. This is a very rich chili that I have never seen before. I think it is pretty bold to use two different types of beans. There is so much extra flavor with the beer and cheese. Plus, I have used and seen recipes using chili powder and cayenne pepper, but never the actual peppers themselves. What a hearty recipe. I like that you use the healthy coconut oil too.

    • Hi aphil, this chili is very flavorful, and they all seem to blend together in a lovely fusion. Like many of us, I’m trying to be more conscientious about the quality of fats I consume, hence the coconut oil…

  8. Would you say that you would normally use more or less heat in a meatless chili? I’ve found when I try to go hotter without the meat it resonates a lot louder than when there is meat present. Maybe it’s the fat that makes the heat softer?

    • I think you’re right Joan. I know that when adding hot peppers to an oil based vinaigrette, some recipes call for removing the peppers after 24 hours as the oil activates the capiscum in the peppers. So, it would make sense that in a meat based chili, the fat would absorb and disperse some of the heat.

  9. Chilli and beans have never been my ‘cup of tea’ so to speak but looking at that presentation, my guard has dropped by the pound, it looks yummy and i bet it is 😉 … side effects mean breaking wind/burping…the list is endless 🙁 perhaps i could make with less chilli, get me a glassful of yoghurt and see how it goes 😉

    • I’ve read that if you introduce beans into your diet a little at a time, the side effects are lessened substantially…

  10. I cant say I’m new to beans since they’re a part of my normal diet especially with rice but this does sound delicious. I often have spicy homemade salsa with oregano bread and this feels like the better version of it but is it alright if I make it without beer or does it need an alternative? I doubt my parents would be happy with me using beer.

    • No beer works fine rosellin. You can use a non-alcoholic version or add a cup of apple cider or apple juice instead, and the flavors will work fine.

  11. I’m a vegetarian, and I love my chili bean-heavy. I’m always looking to improve on my existing recipes. One interesting thing about this recipe is the beer. I’ve never used beer in my chili before. I can imagine how it would improve the flavour.

    I’m not such a coconut fan, so I’ll be subbing that out with a canola or sunflower seed oil. Great recipe, thanks!

  12. A side of salad and bread sounds delicious with this. I don’t usually make sides unless it’s cinnamon rolls. We were going to make chili this week, but now I want to go for the vegetarian kind to make it healthier.

  13. This recipe has some really interesting ingredients in. I’ve never heard of adding beer into a chili, is that for flavor or to change the consistency of the dish? Also wondering if you can substitute the coconut oil for regular? Although coconut oil is in so many recipes at the moment I might as well buy some in bulk! In the photo the chili has a lot more liquid than any one that I’ve ever made so I’m intrigued to give this ago. Even though I’m not a vegetarian I’m looking for more ways to sneak vegetables into me so I’ll give this a try! Thanks!

    • Absolutely hanbar101, substitute the coconut oil for your favorite – and the beer adds a nice flavor. It is a good way to get in some extra veggies, hope you enjoy it!

  14. Well now I have to say that this definitely caught my attention! It’s an extremely cold morning and I’m about to start making my menu and store list for next week. Chili is perfect for this kind of weather so I’ll be adding these ingredients to my list. It won’t be getting warm for months yet! 🙂

    The only thing I’m not certain about is the Greek yogurt. For some reason I have a terrible time with it when it comes to digesting (only Greek yogurt, nothing else!) but I’m thinking it may be okay on top of chili like this.

    I’ll probably substitute the white kidney beans but this sounds very good! Thank you for helping with my menu today. 😉

  15. Very glad to be of help Kate! And if you can’t do the Greek yogurt, sour cream works. It’s just to cool off the spice a wee bit…

  16. I see a lot of perfect alternatives for meat in this dish. Plus, you can never go wrong with adding different peppers for a variety of heat and flavors.

    • It’s a good recipe that doesn’t seem to be ‘lacking’ without any meat RumbarBrook, and works very well with some extra heat!

  17. I loved your dish. The pictures of the food were mouth watering. I wonder how they would taste if I would throw in some Indian thudka in there. Hope you don’t mind. We spice it up a little bit and add a bit of turmeric and some masala to it. We also add a few drops of Tamarind Juice and some Coconut to balance the spice. How do you think this will hold up with the original. Thanks for the recipe.

  18. A base of tadka and the other additions mentioned would work very well sharatharadhya. It’s a natural for some spicy heat! Hope you enjoy it.

  19. I really like the sound of those ingredients, but it does look more like soup than a chilli. I would definitely enjoy it flavour wise, but my preference would be for a little less juice. I might even add some Quorn mince to give it some extra bulk and soak up some of that liquid.

  20. Well I do love chili, and the truth is is that I should probably find some healthier ways to make it, so this works very nicely there. The main thing I took away from my brief vegetarian experience was that black beans are a great substitute for meat, so I am certainly glad to see them here, as well as kidney beans which are my favorite in soups and chili. Add a little sour cream and cheese and I am good to go, so thank you for sharing this.


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