Last Updated on June 17, 2022
Cold winter nights call for warming, filling dinners like this delicious vegetarian chili. Save money and do your health and the planet a favor by making your next chili meatless. This vegetarian chili’s rich flavors make it hearty and satisfying even without meat.
Why make vegetarian chili?
There are plenty of good reasons to eat less meat.
1) Eating less meat is better for your health.
2) There’s some pretty nasty stuff in factory-made meat.
If Fast Food Nation didn’t get you off conventionally-raised meat years ago, new research about some of the icky things that make it into mass-produced meat may. Don’t want antibiotics, pink slime, and feces in your chili bowl? Stay away from conventional beef! (Though better, note that “sustainably” raised beef does not completely escape some of the bacterial contamination that happens in the slaughterhouse.)
3) Eating less meat is better for the planet.
Meat consumption also accounts for significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, from both the crops fed to livestock and the methane the animals produce. As world population continues to climb and we deal with the effects of an unstable climate, our agricultural systems will need to change dramatically.
In his fascinating National Geographic piece on feeding the nine billion people expected to inhabit the earth by midcentury, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences Dr. Jonathan Foley argues that reducing our consumption of meat is a critical step in designing a sustainable food system. If you’re looking for ways to tread more lightly on the planet, look no further than your next dinner.
Vegetarian chili recipe to the rescue!
If you eat meat at most meals, try adding some vegetable-focused recipes to your repertoire. Below is our family’s simple vegan chili recipe. You can find several more easy plant-based recipe ideas in my free guide to eating healthy on a budget.
Beans are one of the more wonderfully economical vegan protein sources. I’ve collected more than 50 healthy and delicious bean recipes if you’re curious about other ways to incorporate these versatile foods into your repertoire.
Jazz up your vegetarian chili by using several different kinds of beans. Some stores carry quite a number, including lots of beautiful speckled beans, like scarlet runner or “heritage” bean mixes. Some people like adding carrots or pumpkin. Try some variations and see what pleases your palate.
If you want something to add a little more texture, you can try adding in some cooked quinoa or red lentils. Though there are several refrigerated and frozen meat-replacement options, be wary of their ingredients and salt content. If you’re concerned about eating “real food,” you may want to skip all the meat replacements.
Money- and planet-saving tips for vegetarian chili:
1) Buy what you can from the bulk bins — and bring your own containers. Dry organic beans cost far less than their canned equivalent, and you save not only the ecological impact of those heavy cans, but you avoid the BPA or BPA replacements now lining nearly all cans. (Read about why to avoid canned food here.)
Fresh organic chili powder from the bulk spice section can cost up to 75% less than buying yourself a new jar. (And since chili powder’s kick doesn’t last very long, it’s smart to buy just what you need for the most flavorful chili.)
2) Choose organic when possible. If you’re trying to eat healthy, why would you subject your system to all kinds of poorly-understood chemical residues? Tomatoes and peppers rank higher up in the Environmental Working Group’s list of produce with pesticide residue, so focus on those if you have to choose.
Many farmers selling at farmers’ markets don’t use pesticides, though they choose not to pursue organic certification because of nuisance and expense. You may find that local organically-grown produce costs less than the conventionally-grown options in the supermarket.
3) Plan ahead to maximize the quality of your ingredients. Buy some extra onions before the farmers’ market closes down for the season. Get a bargain on locally-grown pesticide free peppers in late summer, and freeze some for winter chili. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can freeze or can tomatoes at the height of the season and skip buying canned tomatoes.
Vegetarian Chili Recipe
- 48 oz tomato sauce (I prefer half to have no salt. Avoid cans lined with BPA, or better yet choose glass if you can.)
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 3 large peppers, chopped
- 4 large cloves garlic, chopped fine or pressed
- 4 cups beans of choice (1 lb beans cooked from dry, or 3 cans)
- 1 package frozen corn
- 2 tbsp chili powder (add more to taste)
- Sauté onions, garlic and peppers in a little oil till soft.
- Add all ingredients to a large pot or crockpot and allow to cook over low heat for at least 2 hours (more is better), stirring occasionally.
- Serve over rice if desired.
Fresh chili powder will add far more flavor than what you've had in your spice cabinet for a year (or more). You can buy a small amount from the spice section of most natural foods stores for best flavor -- and also cost savings.
Have you made vegetarian chili before? What are your favorite meatless meals? Share your ideas in the comments!
Pin to save this vegetarian chili recipe for later!
Easy vegetarian chili photo credits: Liliana Fuchs
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.