Chili Vegetarian

Jeff & Linda's Kitchen of Diversity

Vegetarian Chili


We have often been disappointed with vegetarian chilies as they usually do not have the depth of flavor or complexity to compete with meat versions.  In fact, they usually seemed little more than the tomato-bean soups that pass as 'chili' in the Upper Midwest.   Jeff knew there must be a way to make a vegetarian version that could stand up.  Starting from a winning recipe from the Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff that called for four pounds of meat (and no beans), the following vegetarian version took years to perfect.  Success was eventually achieved by adding in a number of Mediterranean ingredients such as basil, thyme, balsamic vinegar, and a rich olive oil into the mix.  In the end it unintentionally became a distant southwestern cousin of ratatouille.  But, the end result does really taste like a ‘bowl of red’; in fact, this version won a chili cookoff in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, even though it was competing with regular meat chili.   Note that this recipe makes 2 gallons; we usually put up half or more for later enjoyment. 

2 lbs dry black beans

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large eggplant, cut into ¾” dice

4 carrots, cut into ¼” dice

4 celery stalks, chopped

4 cups onion, chopped

3 leeks, cleaned, cut into 3” sections and shredded

6 cloves garlic, chopped

2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped

1 habenaro chili, seeded and finely chopped

3 medium zucchini, chopped

4 cups of tomato, seeded and chopped

2 cups tomato sauce

12 oz. tomato paste

 ½ cup chili powder

3 bay leaves, crumbled

2 tablespoons vegetarian soup base

2 tablespoons dry basil

1 tablespoon cumin, ground

1 tablespoon Mexican oregano

1 tablespoon Caribbean hot sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry rosemary leaves, crumbled

1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon cayenne

2 tablespoons honey

¼ cup lemon juice

2 cups beer (a Nut Brown Ale works wonderfully)


Wash and pick over beans, removing any dirt clods, stones, or other foreign material.  Cover with water and let soak overnight.  Drain, cover again with water, and heat to boiling.  Simmer for at least an hour or until tender.  Drain and set aside.

Over high heat and in a heavy soup pot, bring olive oil up in temperature until almost smoking.  Add in the eggplant.  Sauté until it begins to soften and release the olive oil that it initially absorbed.  Now add in the carrots and celery and sauté for another 3 minutes.  Then add in the onion, leeks, and garlic and sauté for another 4 minutes.  Next add in the bell pepper, habanero and zucchini and sauté until all the vegetables are tender – another 5-10 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium and add in tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste.  Then add in the remaining spices.  Last, add in the honey, lemon juice, beer, and reserved black beans.  As this mixture will be quite thick, add in water (no more than 4 cups) to dilute to the desired consistency. 

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld. This chili will taste even better the second day. 

We usually can the chili.  If you plan to do this, you can skip the 2 hour simmer and simply fill jars with the diluted sauté.  Remember that this is a low acid food and will require pressure canning for at least 90 minutes at 10-15 pounds of pressure depending upon elevation.  Check with your local extension office to determine the correct pressure and cooking time for your area.    


Needless to say this recipe makes full use of your late summer garden.  We recommend Panzaredda Nera beans, Florida Market eggplant, Muscade carrot, Tendercrisp celery, Jaune Paille des Vertus onion, Giant Musselburgh leak, Siberian garlic, Emerald Giant bell pepper, Lemon-Yellow habanero, Cocozella di'Napoli zucchini, and Costoluto Genovese tomato.  You can grow many of the spices and herbs, including Emily basil, cumin, rosemary, French thyme, and cayenne pepper.  If you can, please track down Mexican oregano at your local Hispanic market.  It has a different flavor profile from typical Italian/Greek oregano, and works better with Tex-Mex dishes.  And last, do try and locate an authentic Caribbean hot sauce made with Scotch Bonnet peppers, such as Matouk's

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