09 January 2013

The Best Vegan Chili Ever

When I was a little kid (4 years old or so) I had a traumatic experience with chili. Let's just say that humans, like most animals, develop pretty strong long-term associations when food is associated with illness. Thus, it was a long (long!) time before I decided that I wanted to eat chili. In fact, I think it was only about 5-6 years ago when some cooking chili smelled good to me. At that point, I decided to try to make some, but since I'd gone more than 20 years without eating it, I had no idea what was supposed to go into it or what it was supposed to taste like.

That's when I realized that chili is one of the most subjective dishes around. There are seemingly endless variations on what to include (although, according to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, real chili doesn't include beans). So I decided to make something that was delicious. I failed. After trying a few recipes by others, I finally stumbled on one that was good! Although it wasn't quite what I wanted, I knew it just needed a bit of tinkering to be exactly what I wanted it to be. In my opinion, there are two keys to this recipe. The first is that you saute the spices early on in the recipe; that deepens and rounds out their flavors. The second is the inclusion of bulgur wheat. The texture of the bulgur is very reminiscent of finely ground meat, so it gives the whole dish a very satisfying mouth feel. Keep in mind that this is a THICK chili, so I've got a note below about how to thin it out.

The Best Vegan Chili Ever
2 med. onions, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed/minced
2 T. chili powder
1 T. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1, 28 oz. can tomato sauce
1 1/2 c. water
1 1/2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
Dash balsamic vinegar
1, 15 oz. can kidney beans
1, 15 oz. can black beans
1, 8 oz. can corn
1/2 c. bulgur wheat

1. In a large stock pot, saute onions, carrots, and spices in a bit of oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add the peppers and garlic, saute for another couple of minutes.
3. Add the sauce, water, cocoa, and vinegar, bring to a boil and boil for a couple of minutes.
4. Add the beans, corn, and bulgur, reduce heat.
5. Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes or until bulgur is soft, stirring occasionally.

Helpful Hints
  • Bulgur should be available in most well-stocked grocery stores, but you will certainly find it at a store like Whole Foods. You might even be able to find it in bulk there, which would be great if you aren't sure that you'll like the recipe or what you'd do with the leftover bulgur.  
  • To make this gluten-free, replace quinoa for the bulgur wheat. Cook it in the exact same way. 
  • To make this a thinner (not THIN, just THINNER!) chili, add the following amounts to what is listed above: 1 T. chili powder, 1/2 T. cumin, a bit more cayenne, and 1 1/2 c. water. This is my preferred way of making this chili. 
  • You can certainly use frozen corn and/or beans you cook yourself, rather than cans. This time, I used canned corn and kidney beans, but used 2 cups of black beans that I'd cooked in the crock pot earlier this week.
  • This is NOT a spicy (i.e., hot) chili. Feel free to kick the heat up with more cayenne and/or chili powder.
  • I made cornbread muffins to eat with the chili tonight. Making them into muffins makes it easier to freeze them and use them for instant breakfasts. 
  • Many chili recipes use only cocoa powder or balsamic (or neither); I put in both and liked it. 
  • This chili freezes amazingly!
The post "The Best Vegan Chili Ever" originally appeared on Maggie's LesVegan Kitchen.


  1. This sounds amazing! I often only get around to making chili when I am craving that chewy "meat" texture which often leads to me using TVP. I like the idea of using bulgur instead. Have you ever tried it with different grains (or quinoa)?

    1. R, it IS amazing! I did TVP in a couple of versions of this chili, but the recipe I based it on used bulgur and I like it much better. I've not tried it with any other grains, though my guess is that they would work. Quinoa might actually be great, as it's about the same size as the bulgur I use. If you try it, let me know how it works. Also, hello and hugs to both of you!

  2. I am excited to give this a try. Feel free to send a sample with Shana when she comes over on a Tuesday. Bear says hello:)

    1. Awesome, Casey! Let me know what you think of it if you try it! We haven't had this since this blog post, but since it's such a good winter food I'm sure we'll have it again. When we do, I'll totally send some along with Shana!

      Also, HI BEAR!!!! So many giant puppy scratches for you!