Are you ready for the BEST lentil chili? It's thick, rich, meaty, so flavorful and won't keep you in the kitchen all day! Adapted from an America's Test Kitchen recipe I've been making for years, this one keeps the select ingredients and methods critical for making the best vegan chili, while streamlining the process and removing unnecessary steps. The result is a vegan chili you'll return to again and again. Gluten-free and oil-free options.
Tip: Once cooking begins in Step 4, things move quickly, so it helps to have all or most of the ingredients gathered and prepped.
Preheat a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Toast the walnuts until warm and fragrant, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Transfer walnuts to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until finely ground. Transfer the ground walnuts to a bowl.
Add the onion, jalapenos, and garlic to the food processor (see Notes section). Blend until mostly pureed.
Note: If omitting oil, reverse the order of this step; add the blended onion/jalapeno mixture to the pot first, then add the spices. Otherwise, for the best flavor, bloom the spices in oil as described below.Return the pot to the stove, and increase the burner to medium heat. Add the oil to the pot. Add the spices (3 T chili powder, 1 T cumin, 2 tsp oregano, 2 tsp smoked paprika, and 2 tsp mushroom powder). Stirring frequently, cook for about 1 minute. Add the pureed onion mixture to the pot, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the smoked salt, tomatoes, soy sauce, broth, and water. Bring to a boil. Add the lentils, bulgur, beans, and ground walnuts, and stir well. Return to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once the lentils are done, turn off the heat, and give the chili another good stir. Taste and add a pinch more salt or a drizzle of soy sauce, if desired. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes. The chili will continue to thicken as it rests.
Note on prep: there are two ways to go about preparing the onion, jalapeno and garlic. You can hand-chop them or let the food processor turn them into a puree. I've prepared this chili both ways, and initially published the recipe with instructions to hand-chop the vegetables.After another try I decided to change the instructions with a preference for using the food processor. Not only is it easier and faster than chopping by hand, it creates a more flavorful chili. But if you prefer chunkier chili with pieces of onion, jalapeno, and garlic, finely chop them and sauté in oil for about 5 minutes (step 3).Storage: the flavor of the chili continues to improve as it sits. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Chili can also be frozen for up to one month.