Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili

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bowl of vegetarian chili

Winter has always been an ideal time for making a big pot of chili. Full of spices and served hot, it's the perfect anecdote to a chilly day. It's also the ultimate dish for a large group, whether you're having a big family dinner or a Super Bowl party.

I used to think chili had to have meat in it to be interesting. I figured the slow roasted beef in my recipe provided the stew's deep and substantial flavors. So I was surprised to find that a vegetarian chili I recently made had its own robust complexity that was just as satisfying. And, unlike meat chili, the vegetarian variety only took an hour to prepare and cost less than $10 to make for a family of four.

Now I do love my meat chili, but because it uses beef chuck, it takes hours to braise, so making it is a bit of an event. Three-bean chili, on the other hand, takes little more time than preparing a standard weekday dinner if you use canned beans. And, if you want something really special you can start your preparations the night before and boil up a batch of dried beans.

Preparing vegetarian chili is a bit like planting a flower garden. You want it colorful and lush without being overbearing. Using a variety of chilies, from fresh to canned, dried and powdered, is the key to achieving something that is smoky and deep with just the right amount of heat. And while some recipes I've seen out there call for a hodgepodge of vegetables, I try to avoid making my chili look like a version of vegetables on parade. Instead I like to partner my beans and the various chilies with other ingredients that will accent their flavors, like beer, coffee, corn and Mexican chocolate. Simmered together everything coalesces into a rich and hearty whole.


So whether you're making a weeknight family dinner, or in need of a dish that will satisfy a crowd, it's a good time to enjoy a pot of chili.

Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili

Makes: Enough for 5-6 people (can easily be doubled)


1 Tbsp vegetable or corn oil
3 cans or 6 cups homemade cooked beans (pinto, kidney, black or some of each)
1 large onion chopped
2 Anaheim peppers chopped
1 small or a ½ large jalapeno pepper
1 carrot diced
2 medium or one large bell pepper (I use red or orange but green is also fine)
½ can tomato paste
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup medium-body beer (I like Negro Modelo)
½ cup brewed coffee
2 Tbsp chili powder (mild or Chipotle)
1 Tbsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried and ground coriander seed
2 Tbsp dried Mexican or regular oregano (crushed between your hands)
1 tsp salt
1-2 chilis from a can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (depending on how spicy you want your chili)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernals
2 Tbsp masa harina or finely ground corn meal (optional)
2 tsp grated Mexican chocolate or cocoa powder (optional)

Note: you can just freeze the chipotle chilies you don't use

Possible Toppings
Sour cream
Diced white or spring onions
Grated cheese
Crumbled corn chips
Corn nuts


1. Heat a large heavy pot (I like to use a cast-iron Dutch oven) on medium high heat. When the pot is heated, add in 1 Tbsp oil and then add in your chopped onion, jalapeno, carrot, and Anaheim peppers. Sauté for 5-7 minutes or until onions are translucent.

2. Mix in the tomato paste along with the chili powder, cumin, ground coriander, salt and oregano. Let cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes.

3. Add in the beer, diced tomatoes and chopped bell pepper. Stir and then mix in the beans, coffee and chipotle chili in adobo sauce.

4. Bring the chili to a soft boil and then cover and set the burner to simmer. Cook for at least 45 minutes to one hour, stirring every so often to make sure the chili doesn't burn on the bottom of the pot.

5. Once all the flavors have melded, stir in the chocolate, corn and masa harina.

6. If the chili seems too soupy, or if it's a little too spicy, add another tablespoon of masa harina. Mix in thoroughly.

7. Simmer for another 10 minutes and then serve with your favorite toppings and cornbread.