Vegetarian Chili to Beat All Vegetarian Chilis

This recipe from Cook’s Illustrated is amazing. It’s a hearty, delicious, rich chili with all the texture of a meat chili (thanks to the bulgur) and all the flavor of the best chili you’ve ever had (thanks to the ancho and new mexican roasted chilis). Make this on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy it with football, or take it to work for lunches and pretend it’s Sunday and you’re watching football.

Vegetarian Chili
Vegetarian Chili

Step 1: Quick Soak the Beans We did a mixture of dried pinto beans and dried heirloom beans from Alm Hill (we don’t know what they were, but they were magical). Bring four quarts water, 3 T salt and 2 1/2 cups dried beans to a boil in a large dutch oven. Once it reaches a boil, cover, remove from heat, and let sit for an hour. Drain the beans and rinse them well.

Just-Soaked Beans
Just-Soaked Beans

Step 2: Toast the Chiles Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300. Take 2 dried ancho and 2 dried New Mexican chiles. Put them on a baking sheet and toast them until they’re fragrant and puffy – about 8 minutes. Take them out, let them cool for 5 minutes, and then de-stem and de-seed them. Then, in a pestle or a little food processor, pulse together the dried chiles, half ounce dried shiitake mushrooms and 4 tsp dried oregano.

Shitake, Oregano Mix
Shitake, Oregano Mix
Ancho and New Mexico Dried Chilis
Ancho and New Mexico Dried Chilis

Step 3: Food Process Toast 1/2 cup walnuts. Then process them in a food processor until they’re finely ground – about 30 seconds. Transfer them to a bowl. In the same food processor, process 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (drained, with juice reserved), 3 T tomato paste, 1 jalapeño (stemmed and seeded), 6 cloves garlic and 3 T soy sauce.

Step 4: The Onions Finely chop 2 pounds of onions (yes, 2 POUNDS of onions). Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil over medium high heat in the dutch oven and add the onions, stirring until the onions start to brown – 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium, add the chile mixture and 1 T cumin, stirring until fragrant – 1 minute.

Stir in the Flavors
Stir in the Flavors

Step 5: The Beans Add the rinsed beans and 7 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and put it in a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Step 6: Final Cooking Pull the pot from the oven, stir in 2/3 cup medium-grind bulgur, the ground walnuts, tomato mixture, and reserved tomato juice. Cover the pot and return it to the oven. Cook until the beans are fully tender – about 2 hours. Pull the pot from the oven, stir it well and then let it stand for 20 minutes. Serve with all your favorite chili toppings.

Vegetarian Chili
Vegetarian Chili


  • Salt
  • 1 pound (2 1/2 cups) dried beans
  • 2 dried ancho chiles
  • 2 dried new Mexican chiles
  • 1/2 ounce dried Shiitake mushrooms (coarsely chopped)
  • 4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (toasted)
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (drained, juice reserved)
  • 3 T tomato paste
  • 1 jalapeno chile (stemmed and coarsely chopped and seeded)
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds onions (finely chopped)
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 7 cups water
  • 2/3 cup medium grind bulgur
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (topping)

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Seattle Foodshed

Gardening, foraging, exploring and cooking. Time for a delicious adventure.

20 thoughts on “Vegetarian Chili to Beat All Vegetarian Chilis”

  1. This looks quite different to most vegetarian chilli recipes, and all the better for it. A reassuring number of steps to lead to a satisfying depth of flavour, I’m sure. Especially like the ‘meaty’ nuts and shiitake

    1. Yes, we learned something new on this one. Roasted walnuts are umami boosters, as are shiitakes. Add the two together, along with tomato paste and the great ancho chilis, and you’ve got a seriously nuanced flavor. It takes a bit of time to make, but don’t be daunted! It’s worth it!

  2. This does indeed sound like a good vegetarian chili – must try it soon. My own vegetarian chili, posted 14 January 2011, is entirely different but also very good and much simpler, made with ingredients you’re more likely to have on hand any time. It has such depth of flavor that I’ve had hardcore carnivores clamoring for more!

    PS And here I thought *we* were the only household on the planet without cable! Glad to find another!

  3. Just made the chili and it turned out wonderfully. I used kidney beans, .5 ounce of dried mushroom and regular cumin. There are alot of steps (and bowls) but I could definitely make it more quickly next time. Prepare space in your freezer because this makes a massive amount!

  4. This is such a delicious recipe. I’ve been searching to find a satisfying veggie chili recipe and this is BY FAR the best one yet. Can’t wait to make it again!

  5. I just made this and it is really an amazing chili recipe. I used dried porcini instead of shiitakes. I added a tsp of smoked papricka. Meat lovers will never know it is vegetarian. I did cheat and used canned beans made it go quite fast and used less water around 5 cups. It will now be my go to recipe for chili. Made a huge amount will need to freeze some for quick dinners.
    Thanks for this recipe!

  6. Found this one watching Americas Test Kitchen, it’s one of the best chilis. Ive made it maybe 10 times now, and the depth of flavor impresses even non-vegetarians.

    I sub chili powder for the fresh chilis out of convenience, they say something like a quarter cup? Cant remember, but its still delicious. Increase jalapeno content for more heat. It never lasts long enough to freeze, and 360 cal/1.5 cup serving! win

  7. I’ve always preferred “no-beans” chile – tough to do with “no-meat” style! I’ve made this a few happy times. The second time I reduced the beans and upped the bulgar and added smaller grain; a little quinoa, a little barley and even some lentils. Well, the spices are the thing and it was great. One caution, the grains use up all the liquid faster. But I ended up with chile that went much further, just added a little water to the portions I prepared later. Fantastic.

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