If you're looking for the ultimate vegan chili recipe, you're in the right place! Adapted from an America's Test Kitchen chili recipe, this award-winning vegan chili is thick, meaty, satisfying, and deeply flavorful. In our house it even has a nickname, "actual chili perfection." Yeah, I know, everyone thinks their chili is the best. But seriously, this isn't your average vegan chili! Give it a try, share it with friends, and don't be surprised when everyone asks for the recipe!
Why You'll Love It
Vegan chili recipes come in a variety of different styles, but this is easily our favorite. The classic flavors and comforting, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs texture are hard to beat!
Often, vegan chili ends up being nothing more than a thin, tomato-y, vegetable stew. But not this one! The recipe I'm sharing today is lightly adapted from an America's Test Kitchen recipe I came across years ago.
Over the years I've tweaked the recipe each time I make it, with a few additions, subtractions, and process changes here and there in an attempt to streamline the process. Theirs was fairly complex and took several hours to make. And honestly, I don't know many people who have time for that!
Also, these days you have to pay to access America's Test Kitchen recipes. So let me help you out with this free, tried-and-true, and much easier chili recipe!
You'll love the perfect balance of umami, acidity, spice, and fat (from ground walnuts). This chili is worth enjoying year-round, not just during cooler months.
I've even won a couple of local chili cook offs with this recipe. I hope it becomes your family's favorite, too!
The ingredients that make this chili SO good are:
- chili powder - I used to use whole, dried Ancho and New Mexican chiles, but these days I prefer to save time and money by using regular chili powder - a full 4 tablespoons, or ¼ cup!
- dried shiitake mushrooms - in 2018 when I first shared this recipe, dried mushrooms and mushroom powder hadn't yet become so popular. So the recipe called for whole, dried shiitakes, which you can usually find in 1 oz. packages near the produce section. But now that shiitake mushroom powder is more common, I recommend saving yourself the hassle of blending the dried shrooms. Store mushroom powder in the fridge, and it will keep for many, many months. It's a great way to add umami to sauces, gravy, soups, and stews.
- ground walnuts - half a cup of walnuts are processed into a coarse crumb consistency and stirred directly into the chili for thickening, richness, and umami.
- bulgur - you can usually find this in the bulk bins at the grocery store. Dry bulgur gives the chili its thick and meaty texture. Substitute TVP (textured vegetable protein) or quinoa for gluten-free chili.
- onion and jalapeno - I like yellow onions here, but other varieties are fine, too. For a spicier chili, include all of the jalapeno seeds.
- smoked salt - this is optional but does add a little something extra to the flavor! Feel free to use regular flaked salt or sea salt if needed.
See the recipe card below for amounts and full instructions.
How to Make Vegan Chili
- Briefly toast the walnuts in the soup pot for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until the nuts are the texture of coarse crumbs. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
- Add the jalapenos, garlic, soy sauce, and ½ cup of the crushed tomatoes to the food processor and blend until thick and creamy. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, and mushroom powder, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Add the pureed mixture from the food processor and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the water and bouillon, tomatoes, beans, and smoked salt. Bring to a boil, then stir in the bulgur and ground walnuts. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
You'll find this recipe to be very versatile and welcoming of your substitutions.
- Want it extra spicy? Add a third jalapeño, and include all of the seeds.
- Want it thicker or thinner? Adjust the water/broth and/or add more bulgur or TVP.
- Want to add cocoa, beer, or other flavor enhancers commonly found in chili? Go for it!
- Need a gluten-free vegan chili? Use certified GF tamari instead of soy sauce and TVP or quinoa instead of bulgur.
What to Serve With Vegan Chili
- plain vegan yogurt, sour cream, or creamy lime dressing
- cilantro and green onion
- shredded vegan cheese
- homemade vegan queso fresco
On the side:
- Chipotle corn salsa
- tortilla chips and guacamole
- southern-style vegan cornbread
- oil-free cornbread
- jalapeno cornbread muffins
But honestly, I never add toppings to this chili. Like I said, it's so perfect as-is, it doesn't need anything!
Some chili recipes use starchy grains or refried beans. This recipe uses both bulgur and ground walnuts to create an impressively thick and meaty vegan chili.
Crumbled tofu or tempeh and lentils are all great options for replacing beans in chili. You can also experiment with plant-based ground "beef" products like Beyond Meat and Impossible. See my Beyond Meat Chili and lentil chili recipes for inspiration!
Yes, chili freezes very well. Let it cool completely, then transfer to a freezer-safe storage container and freeze for up to 2 months.
In all my years of being vegan and testing recipes, this truly is STILL the best damn vegan chili I've ever eaten, and I hope you love it, too!
If you try the recipe I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment and star rating below to share your feedback and let others know how it turned out!
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The Best Vegan Chili Recipe
- ½ cup walnut halves
- 2 large jalapeños, stems removed - remove seeds for mild chili, or include them for extra heat
- 5 or 6 medium cloves garlic, peeled
- ¼ cup soy sauce - or tamari for GF
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes, divided - preferably fire-roasted
- 2 Tablespoons oil - omit for oil-free and use water or broth to sauté onion
- 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 4 Tablespoons chili powder - see Note 1 for homemade
- 2 ½ Tablespoons shiitake mushroom powder - see Note 2
- 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
- 6 cups water, divided - or use 4 cups veg broth + 2 cups water and omit bouillon below
- 2 teaspoons Better than Bouillon "No Beef" Base, optional
- 3 (15 oz) cans beans of choice, rinsed and drained - I like 2 cans black beans and 1 pinto
- 1 teaspoon Maldon smoked sea salt, optional - or other salt to taste
- ⅔ cup bulgur, dry - or TVP or quinoa (½ cup) for GF
- Preheat a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Toast the walnuts for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a large food processor and pulse until the texture of coarse crumbs. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Add the jalapeños, garlic, soy sauce, and ½ cup of the tomatoes to the food processor. Blend until pureed, about 30 seconds. Set aside.
- Use a towel to wipe out the soup pot and remove any walnut fragments. Add the oil and place over medium heat. Once hot, saute the onions, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes or until translucent. Season with ½ teaspoon fine sea salt.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, stir in the chili powder, mushroom powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add the pureed mixture from the food processor, and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- If using bouillon, dissolve in ½ cup water. Add this plus the remaining 5 ½ cups water, tomatoes, beans, and smoked salt to the pot. Bring to a boil.
- Stir in the bulgur and ground walnuts. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let stand 5 minutes, then serve.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.