Spicy Vegetarian Chili

Vegetarian chili with eggplant, plum tomatoes, onion, garlic, zucchini, bell peppers, jalapenos, white beans, kidney beans, and cilantro.

The level of spiciness in this vegetarian chili will depend on how much chili powder, and how many jalapeños you put in the chili. If you like things on the mild side, start with the smaller amounts of both, and add to taste.

  • Yield: Serves 8-10.

Ingredients

  • 1 1-pound eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 2 large red bell peppers, cored, seeded, diced
  • 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded, finely minced (Taste and check the heat of the jalapeños. If very hot only use one, if mildly hot, use two. Wash hands with soap and water after handling. Do not rub eyes.)
  • 1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, including liquid (or 2 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1-2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh chopped oregano or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked white beans (1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked kidney beans (1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (can sub parsley if you have an aversion to cilantro)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Scatter eggplant cubes in a shallow roasting pan and slather with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes, stirring once during the cooking. Remove from the oven and set aside.

2 In a large (5-6 quart) thick-bottomed Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute more. Add the red bell peppers, zucchini, and jalapeño chili peppers. Cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

3 Add the tomatoes to the pot along with any liquid that may have been in the can (if using canned). Add oregano, cumin, and fennel seeds. Add chili powder to desired heat. Stir in the eggplant cubes (carefully as to not break them up), and simmer for 20 minutes over low heat.

4 Add the white beans and kidney beans, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, and chopped cilantro. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve with sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, and chopped green onions.

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Comments

  1. Gary in Massena

    Hmmm… This recipe should get a number of people in Texas up in arms who will argue that it is not chili. Chili with no beef? Chili with tomatoes? Chili with beans? Blasphemy!

    As a chili lover I’ll be glad to try this ‘Spicy Vegetable Stew’! And it would probably be a great as a side to a well grilled steak.

    ;-)

  2. cary

    I bet that chunked and grilled or roasted portobella mushrooms would be a good substitution for, or addition to, the eggplant. They pick up flavors so nicely and have a meaty, contrasting texture to the beans…

  3. Alan - Proud Texan

    I must agree with Gary in Massena, as delicious as this recipe sounds, I must cry foul with it being branded “chili”. While I appreciate that not everyone enjoys meat (leaves more for the rest of us as far as I’m concerned), beef is an integral ingredient in a true chili. Also, every “chili-head” knows that tomatoes and beans are a strict no-no. The Chili Appreciation Society International, Inc (CASI) which oversees the annual Terlingua cookoff (the crown jewel of chili cookoffs) expressly forbids beans of any kind and disqualifies any entry containing beans.

    Please don’t take my comments negatively. I think this “stew” sounds great and you can bet I’ll be making it as our weather is starting to turn cool. I just take issue with the chili label. I’ll go easy this time since you’re not from Texas. If you were, you would have realized your mistake right away. :-)

    I think our 36th President, Lyndon Johnson, put it best:

    “Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing. One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of red. There is simply nothing better.”

  4. Elise

    Well Alan, you Texans can call this dish whatever you want, though I would have thought the lack of meat, not the presence of beans, would have been the deal-breaker. This granola-head in Northern California will continue to call this dish chili, beans or not. ;-)

  5. Tammy

    All you Texans should avoid Cincinnati like the plague, then, because what they call chili is a meat sauce spiced with everything from cinnamon to chocolate ((!)depending on the source) and served on a bed of spaghetti(!) and topped with cheese (if it’s a “three-way”) or cheese, onions, and beans (if it’s a “five-way”).

    Point being, “chili” is a name applied to all kinds of crazy stuff all over this wonderful land of ours. Ah, the beauty of regional specialties and variations…

    p.s. This looks delish, and looks like a great candidate for freezing. Thanks, Elise!

  6. Gary in Massena

    I remember when I discovered ‘true’ chili a couple of years ago. I was looking for a chili made without tomatoes as my wife had developed a tomato allergy. I asked some friends on a BBQ mailing list I am a member of and was pointed to this quote -

    “It can only truly be Texas red if it walks the thin line just this side of indigestibility: Damning the mouth that eats it and defying the stomach to digest it, the ingredients are hardly willing to lie in the same pot together.”

    —- John Thorne, Simple Cooking (http://chile.netrelief.com/)

    Of course I am not that much of a food snob. My chili does contain beans (as well as pretty much any other fresh produce that I decide would work in the mix. My only key is garlic and heat.

    Best G in M

  7. Linda

    Hi Elise,

    You have to pardon Texas. It was once a nation by itself. We the United States of America finally gave in 1846 to let Texas in. Chili was invented in Baja, CALIFORNIA or in MEXICO in the 1840s to replace pemmican, a tasty dish made of 50 percent dried pulverized meat, 50 percent fat; and maybe some berries thrown in.
    I think your Chili is eye pleasing for sure. Sometimes adding meat to a great looking dish is overkill.
    I do add beef and beans, kidney and black beans to my chili. I discovered black beans from my days living in California. I still miss California’s farmers markets!

    Linda

  8. sunny

    Made this last night. I thought it was fabulous. My husband thought it was a bit too hot. I did not. I made yellow rice and served the chili over it. I did freeze the leftovers. I hope it reheats and tastes just as good.
    I love the idea of roasting the eggplant. Thanks.

  9. Bonnie Herrmann

    About handling peppers –

    Sometimes soap and water does not take the hot off your fingers. When you are ready to wash your hands after handling peppers, put a little vinegar in a large mug or small bowl and swish your fingers in the vinegar for 20-30 seconds, then rinse with water.

    I tried this on a whim after roasting and peeling a bunch of Hatch, NM green chiles and it worked great.

  10. heartfull

    I made the chili for a Halloween party I had last night and it was a hit. Everyone raved about it, though as I blogged, the meaty side dishes were all gone at the end of the night :).

    Mine didn’t look as pretty as Elise’s. Everything looked more “stewed”. Fancy photography? California produce? Ah well – it still tasted good.

    I washed my hands immediately after cutting the peppers and they still felt like they had been burned. It was pretty painful for about an hour afterwards and they smarted even as I was going to bed, 8 hours later. I’ll try the vinegar suggestion next time.

    Note from Elise: The best way to handle jalapeno chiles is to wear protective latex (or non-latex) disposable gloves while handling them. We keep a couple of boxes on hand. They actually really come in handy for many things and they are very inexpensive.

  11. Susan Medina

    I nearly jumped out of my skin when I came across this recipe. Finally I had something to do with the white beans kidney beans and two small egglpants and a bag full of red sweet peppers Those dried beans had been sitting in my kitchen for at least a half a year. Every once in a while I would look at them and say to myself that I should really DO something with them. I was already considering sending them off to the garbage heap because I feared they were getting old, even tho’ they looked first rate condition. After reading the recipe I ran into the kitchen and threw the beans into water, each type in different containers. I let them soak changing the water now and again. I did that for about one and a half days. I rinsed them yet again and put them up to boil separately with plenty of salt. Then I lowered the heat and patiently tasted the beans every once in a while until they were tender but NOT MUSH. I let them sit in the water and drained them and cooled them and then put them in the refrigerator. By the way, when they were cooling some of the white beans were eaten by my family. I was happy for that because I had too many anyway. (I just used all that was left in the containers for the beans).

    The recipe instructions that you gave were superior, and with a little intelligence this recipe can be sucessfully adapted to any taste.

    I did make quite a few changes.
    I used canola oil instead of olive.
    Instead of zucchini I used a big fennel bulb and a small/medium kohlrabi. Instead of fennel seeds I used caraway. I used 4 big red peppers
    and also used a very small head of celery that was beginning to look a little limp. I cut off most off the leaves but left some. I was afraid it might get to bitter. Oh yes I drained a can of really good quality sliced mushrooms and added them after I had cooked the red peppers. I added the beans earlier to compromise for the fact that they weren’t quite soft as canned beans would be.
    I didn’t add sugar and I didn’t put in any celantro.

    Oh. I didn’t put in any chili or jalepeno peppers but I will add them later hopefully before it is all gone. I’m sure it will make it much tastier.

    It all came out ABSOLUTELY delicious. It is very hard not to try “tasting” it!

    The amount I made could feed an army, so I really hope it freezes well. :o) Thanks for adding this delicious and very healthy dish.

  12. Susan Medina

    Wait a minute!’
    I must correct something I wrote. I did use a very good olive oil on the eggplant in the oven, but used canola oil for the onions,garlic,fennel,kohlrabi,red peppers, mushrooms etc.

    In the mean time I have frozen in three small containers all that was left. When the university contingent comes home I will defrost and try adding the chili and hot pepper. The vegetables were so pretty and not at all a big mushy mess that I tried so hard and sucessfully avoided creating. I hope I can defrost and keep it just as pretty.

  13. Anu

    Any recommendations on a brand of chili powder? I’ve used McCormick’s in the past, but I’m not sure if there might be a better brand out there.

    This recipe looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it! Thanks!

  14. alice

    I just came across your recipe doing a google search. I’ve just finished making it and………IT’S DELICIOUS. I usually make a ground beef chili every Saturday, but I much prefer this veggie one. And not only is it tasty but so full of goodness.

    Thank you!!!

  15. Dave-O

    I just made this over the weekend and it turned out great. I had to admit that I needed to add some meat, but in the spirit of the recipe I opted for turkey, and it was amazing.

    Thanks

  16. Sam

    Note from Elise: The best way to handle jalapeno chiles is to wear protective latex (or non-latex) disposable gloves while handling them.

    Or if you’re less organized than that, but bought the peppers in a plastic bag, simply turn the bag inside out over your hand and hold the chillis with that.

    Great idea! ~Elise

  17. Lynn Howard

    My husband had been telling me about a vegetarian chili his first wife made many years ago, however, she did not remember how it was made. I found this recipe before and thought I would try it. Did not have any of the ingredients and seasonings so had to go out and purchase them all. It is very good and as long as you add the seasonings, it does taste like chili. You can’t even tell the eggplant is in there. Of course, if a little bit of something is good, more is even better so I use more seasonings. I even went out and got the fennel. My fellow workers found out I had made the chili over the weekend and one of them shook her fist at me and said I had better bring her a bowl. It does make a lot since there is only 2 of us so we can share some. It is probably one of the healtheast meal you can make.

  18. Marcia

    Very good chili and better the second day. Used pinto beans since it’s chili. Worked. Served with Mexican cornbread. And I disagree with my fellow Texans’ complaint about calling this chili. It is not chili con carne but it has chilies and it is spicy in a way that the word chili conveys. The name works and so does the recipe.

  19. Melanie

    Hey Elise,

    Thanks so much for posting this recipe! My husband is not a big fan of eggplant, so I used acorn squash instead. I used cayenne pepper instead of the chili pepper and it turned out really great! The squash is rich and sweet and the beer makes it tasty. We’re going to finish off the rest with tortillas tomorrow! I’ll keep this one handy in the spring-time. Thanks again.

  20. Robin

    To Anu:

    I had bought some store brand Chili powder (might of been McCormicks) and it was awful. It was too paprika-ey tasting.

    My favorite currently is Tone’s from Sams Club.
    For some reason it has the right flavor I am looking for.

    Also I think I liked Badia ‘s chili powder too..

  21. Patrick

    I do love a good vegetarian chili! I always use diced pumpkin and corn kernels, also 2nd the use of pinto rather than white beans.

    Highly recommend everyone to give this a go without any meat!!!

  22. Charles

    Bachelor Question: Should I peel the eggplant before cutting into cubes? From your photo it seems that the eggplant may be unpeeled. In another dish I tried with baked eggplant, the peeling was left on, and it was tough to chew. Thanks!

    You can if you want. We left it on. ~Elise

  23. Peter Matarrese

    I haven’t made chili in a long time (too long, so I’m going to have to try this one out). In my ground beef chili, I have my own little twist that catches most people off guard: sour green apples, in large cubes. I’m telling you, they add body to the chili, absorb the savory flavors on the outside, but are nice and sweet when you bite into the center. Dunno how I came upon the idea (I’m sure it’s been done before), but I’ve been doing it ever since.

  24. KissTheChef

    Yummy. The only thing that I did differently was to roast all the veggies in a hot oven til browned, but not cooked through. Then, used fire roasted tomatoes and fire roasted chilies (and chipotle) to give it a smokey “meaty” flavoring. By getting color on the veggies first, it backed up their natural flavors.

    Love it…

  25. S.

    Love this! I make a vegetarian chili too, but this packs in a lot more vegetables. It looks delicious and I’m bookmarking this for our next chili night :)
    I’m imagining it with a nice dollop of sour cream and handful of cilantro…mmmmm…
    thanks for the great recipe!

  26. David

    I get the whole Texas thing too. Bowls of red or green are what “Chili” is about. Again not a food snob and I like mine with beans dang it, and cheese too – plus some raw onion on top with maybe a dollop of sour cream and perhaps even some diced tomato.

    Tammy, you mentioned the Texans better not visit Cincinnati for chili. Honestly it falls into the same boat. They both are without beans and often tomato. Both are just souped up meat sauces, often with crazy heat and assorted spices. Even in Texas chili you can add chocolate, or whatever spice you want. Just no tomato products and no beans. Green chili has different rules, especially in regard to the meat.

  27. Amy

    I tried this recipe a few weeks ago. My family loved it! I’m glad you pulled it out of the archives. It is awesome! I love your website. I cook recipes from here regularly. Thank you.

  28. David

    As you were warning about the need to wash your hands after dicing the jalapenos I thought I’d pass along my personal story on the subject.

    Years ago I was working in a Mexican restaurant, and I learned 2 important lessons about working with peppers….
    I was making salsa and dicing a bunch of jalapenos (we usually made around 20 to 50 gallons of salsa at a time, so it was quite a few jalapenos). Anyway, while doing this I felt a need to visit the restroom, so I finished my dicing and made my way out of the kitchen and into the nearest restroom.
    I stood in front of the urinal and unzipped, I then experienced burning pain in a very tender area and my eyes flooded with tears. Then I made my second mistake – without thinking I wiped the tears out of my eyes…… AAAAARRRRRRGHHHHH!!
    Now I was in a public urinal, blinded, bouncing off the walls in pain, with my pants unzipped and myself hanging out for the world to see.
    Luckily I was able to feel my way down the wall till I found a sink and wash up before a customer walked in on me.
    After this I started washing both before and after.

    Aye aye aye. Thank you for the cautionary tale. ~Elise

  29. beckiwithani

    Wonderful! Thank you for sharing this recipe. It’s a big hit with the whole family, and there’s enough to freeze for later on.

  30. Andrea

    We made this yesterday, but used lime instead of lemon because that is what we had on hand. This was really good on a cool Fall day. I thought the fennel would be overpowering, but it added a nice aromatic touch, along with the oregano. It was very pretty too with the different colored vegetables.

  31. Jen

    It was terrific tonight – and my meat eater son and husband added their own at the end, while my daughter and I enjoyed the veggie chili in its own right. Loved the spices.

  32. Katie

    This is absolutely gorgeous. My mom always taught us to eat as many colors are possible in one meal—this chili has a fabulous rainbow :) I have a bunch of frozen squash from our CSA box—do you think that I could use it here? Or would it turn to mush?

    If you are talking about frozen summer squash, I think it would work just fine. If you are talking about frozen winter squash, just cut in thin pieces and roast them in the oven first with the eggplant. You might have to fiddle with the cooking times. Winter squash takes longer to cook than the other ingredients. ~Elise

  33. AVS

    I made this last night and it was wonderful. I feel like the lemon juice and fennel seeds really added something special. I also made smittenkitchen’s cheddar jalapeno scones to go along with it. Perfect! Thanks.

  34. BSF

    Looks delicious! Do you think this would work in a slowcooker?

    This cooks up so quickly that I think if you used a slow cooker it would end up like mush. ~Elise

  35. Sara

    This chili is fantastic. It’s very fresh tasting with the lemon juice and cilantro. I didn’t have any eggplant so I just added some cubed butternut squash. Very good, and very healthy. This one is going in the “keeper” pile. Thanks Elise!

  36. Amber

    So delish! This recipie is great as-is but also super flexible. I can see throwing in whatever I happen to have around and changing the heat depending on who’s going to be enjoying this yummy meal. It makes a huge batch so it’s perfect for dinners with friends since not everyone I know eats meat.

    Thanks for reposting this!

  37. Monica

    I’m a cornbread-loving vegetarian and chili is one of my mainstays. I make various versions of this recipe, varying my veggies depending on what I have. Cocoa and cinnamon make good additions. And I highly recommend making your own chili powder with Mexican oregano. I really like Mark Bittman’s chili powder recipe. It’s the business!

  38. Kathy

    Hidden in the remnants of our summer vegetable garden was an impressive end-of-the-season pile of peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. My husband gleaned most of the ingredients for this recipe from the backyard, roasted the eggplant, then tossed everything but the beans into the crockpot for the day. This chili felt like the perfect way to say goodbye & thank you to our productive little garden for the season.

  39. Grace

    Another wonderful recipe and I am So grateful ! We made last night ( we are catholics and even though it is not mandatory any more we don’t eat meat on fridays) My brand new daughter- in -law loved it and I served it with homemade soda bread bread followed by my own sour cherry pie. Thank-you to Elise and family !

  40. Anamika

    Hi Elise,

    I made your veg chilli at home for a mexican night with family. It was lovely. Dont have an oven – so grilled the veggies on my gas stove top. I particularly like the hot, warm and slight sweet taste of the dish.

    thx anamika

  41. Mike

    I highly recommend this chili recipe. It is an excellent alternative for those like my wife and daughter who, while not vegetarians, don’t like a lot of red meat. I loved it myself, but I am always up for a big pot of meaty chili like the Chili Con Carne on this blog.

  42. lucy

    I made this chili for a party and it was gone so fast I barely had a chance to take a bite. It was wonderful! I don’t care what those Texans say, as a vegetable fanatic, I think this chili is the best. I’m thinking of making it tonight but adding some black beans and maybe a little bit more spice.

  43. Rosemary

    I take issue with this. If Chilli intrinsically contained beef, and a dish could not be considered chilli if it did not contain beef, then why is there “chilli con carne” (literally, Chilli, *with* meat). Surely if you just remove the “con carne”, its Chilli?

    Furthermore, and correct me if I’m wrong here as a rank outsider (waaaaay outside; Ireland. Though I did learn how to cook Mexican food from a Mexican lady), but isn’t Mexican from Mexico? I just see a lot of Texans claiming it as their own. It aint Texican kids.

  44. Michelle

    I have made this recipe many times, and just LOVE it! Great healthy break from meat. Even the kids enjoy it. Thanks Elise!

  45. Michelle

    I love looking at vegetarian chili ideas and experimenting with my own “recipe”. The lemon zest is an interesting touch that gives it a nice zip. I also hadn’t tried using eggplant in a while- roasting it is a great idea. I find that adding a few dabs of liquid smoke give it nice depth (it will smell strongly of the flavor at first, but don’t worry as it mellows out quickly). I also prefer using canned chipotle chilies- you can avoid the hassle of chopping fresh jalapenos and add even more smoky flavoring. Sometimes I add just a touch of curry powder or turmeric to keep things interesting. Experimenting and using what is available makes veggie chili so much fun to make!

  46. Lee

    Elise need make no apologies for calling this delicious “meaty” dish chili! I made it last night and could not stop eating it! It is simply delicious! The lemon juice and cilantro at the end make the veggies bright and fresh and the chili powder, cumin and fennel bring smoky depth. This is comfort food at it’s best without the guilt. I toasted the spices in the dry pot before starting the oil for the onions and I added some spicy salsa and Siracha at the end because I failed to make it spicy enough. Next time, I will have extra jalapenos and chili powder available. I HIGHLY recommend this recipe.

  47. Lindsay

    I love this, and have made it twice this winter. I wanted more a soup so added a couple cans of water along with the tomatoes. I also omitted the eggplant (that was just pure laziness on my part!), and used black rather than white beans. Turns out terrific, with the perfect amount of spice.

  48. Xandra

    Dear Texans,

    Since the original name of chili is “chili con carne” (which translates to chili pepper with meat), if we call this “Chili con frijoles” (chili pepper with beans) will you shut the hell up about it? :P

    In beans we trust,
    Xandra

    (to Elise – this recipe looks fabulous, I believe I will be using it to conjure up some variations. Thanks! :D)

  49. Angela Gyetvan

    I love this recipe, and unlike most recipes I find online, it doesn’t have to be doctored to work – it’s perfect the way it is. I’ve been making this chili three or four times each winter for the past couple of years, and it never fails to make my dinner guests very, very happy. My single alteration: I roast the eggplant with chopped fresh rosemary, mostly because I like the smell. :)

  50. Pat

    This is sort of a chili-flavored ratatouille — with beans — and it’s delicious. I added crimini mushrooms cut into a small dice to give a more earthy flavor and meatier texture. I roasted the eggplant in a loose aluminum foil envelope so cleanup was quick (dusted the eggplant with thyme before roasting). Timing is perfect , as the eggplant is ready just when you’re ready to add it to the pot. Taste before adding the sugar– you may not need it. Dried and fresh oregano are so different they might as well be different herbs. To my taste this is definitely a dried oregano dish. As someone mentioned, it will look nothing like that staged photo, but it is bright and appetizing nonetheless. I think it would be good with butternut squash added, or with a good balsamic substituted for the lemon juice.

  51. Meesh Crum

    this was amazing! My “I hate beans and love all meats” husband had some right before I added the beans, our 15 month old daughter couldn’t get enough, and this vegetarian was in love! I cannot wait to make this again and even trick some of my “healthy food/food without meat is gross” family into loving this at the next big family meal. :) Thank you!