Vegan Chili
November 13, 2008 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I want to make a vegan chili stew. Help me make it nutritious and delicious and I may let you have some. Extended culinary noodling inside.

I like to make stews and chilis and pasta sauces and weird vegan soup things. I've decided that tonight, with the assistance of beer, I am going to make the greatest chili known to all humankind. Here's what I'm going to do:

1) Soak some tvp (textured vegetable protein) in vegetable stock, garlic and pepper

2) While this happens, lightly molest some red onions in olive oil

3) Add tasty soaked tvp to pot where the onions and olive oil are

4) Add crushed tomatoes, kidney beans, grated carrot, chili flakes, a variety of herbs and spices and possibly red wine

5) Permit to stew for a while, then add corn kernels, mushrooms, and spinach

6) Permit to stew for longer, then serve with rice.

Now, my questions are thus:

1) What am I doing wrong?

2) What can I do better?

3) What else can I add?

4) Is frozen corn or canned corn more nutritious?

Basically I want your tips on making the greatest vegan chili ever, packed full of good healthy stuff, good and hot but not too painful. Help me put together a shopping list, Metafilter! The concept of "chili" is, so far as I can tell, a particularly American one, so advice from that corner of the planet would be greatly appreciated.
posted by turgid dahlia to Food & Drink (43 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
The wonder of chili is that you basically can't fuck it up, and idiosyncrasy is a virtue. My roommates and I once made "adventure chili", wherein anyone was allowed to put anything they wanted into the pot. Ours had Dr. Pepper and chocolate in it, and it was awesome.

Everything is permitted. Grated carrot, red wine and spinach all sound like strange chili ingredients to me, but that only makes me more enthusiastic for their presence.

As long as it's spicy, and it has tomatoes and (lots of) beans, it's probably chili. Go wild.
posted by tsmo at 4:47 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Your chili is too weird for me. Too California. Not Texas enough. So, if you feel compelled to change your ways, as you should, here's how to make a nice, Texas-style vegan chili.

Sweat a minced onion and a Texas shit-ton of garlic in some olive oil. Jalapenos too, if you want them. Add a couple teaspoons of ground cumin and a tablespoon (plus some) of chili powder. If you must use store-bought chili powder, okay. Just don't tell me about it, because it's been a long day and I'm tired of typing and I just don't have the energy to lecture you. Best approach is to buy several different kinds of dried chilies, toast them over a gas flame (or in a dry skillet), and them grind them up in a blender.

Stir the spices and onions well, let the spices toast for a minute or two.

Dump in a couple cans of good tomatoes, plus their juice. Chop them tomatoes up real good if they're not already. Add enough water to your decreased volume of chili (but you're going to reduce it some, so know that).

Simmer for, oh, an hour? Then, add your protein.

I'm not a fan of TVP, so I just use beans. A couple kinds. I also really like hominy, because it has that corn flavor, but a beany texture. You could also toss in some browned faux-ground beef. Just make sure it's browned first. That stuff gets gross if you boil it without the browning.

Oh yeah, salt. Several paragraphs up, you should have salted. But you probably knew that.

For bonus points, serve the chili over fritos, top with shredded cheese (I know, no longer vegan) and chopped onions. Now you have Frito Pie.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:48 PM on November 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

I would not put carrot, mushrooms, or spinach in chili. If you must add veggies, try bell peppers, zucchini, maybe eggplant. Skip the TVP and go with several kinds of beans (black, pinto, etc). Use a medium-bodied beer, not wine. The most important factor is the chili powder (or your own dried chiles, ground) -- don't mess around with lots of other herbs and spices. Serve with cheese, chopped onions, and cornbread, not rice.
posted by libraryhead at 4:51 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

i'm afraid i'm going to have to put my foot down here & state that wine does not go in chili - beer goes in chili (many argue for ales & such - i prefer darker brews, such as a stout)

re: chili flake - is there no other option? fresh chili peppers make a world of difference - if you are going with dried, try to score some chipotles - those things are heaven on earth

also, what is good & very yum is the adding of some unsweetened cocoa - not too much - tablespoon per biggish pot

don't forget black pepper! also, coriander

posted by jammy at 4:57 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have posted my recipe in response to similar questions in the past. If you leave the cheese off as a topping it is vegan:

Scullys' Slow-Cook Veggie Chili
posted by terrapin at 5:07 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I heartily second everything mudpuppie says, although my own chili would not qualify as Texas-style, either. Sometimes, in addition to or instead of beans, I use red lentils because I like the texture and they cook very fast. What herbs and spices were you planning on throwing in? I'm very curious. I use dried chilies, cumin, and coriander powder.
I'm sure whatever you do, it will turn out fine, but I think it will be nicer if you don't add so many different ingredients and just give it a lot of time.
posted by mustard seeds at 5:10 PM on November 13, 2008

Libraryhead beat me to it, all of it. The mushrooms and spinach in particular turn it into something I would not think of as chili. You've got too many ingredients.
posted by kmennie at 5:12 PM on November 13, 2008

I put TVP & carrots & mushrooms (and pretty much whatever else I have around) in chili, but not spinach. If you want some greens, try kale steamed a bit then sauteed in olive oil with a dash of liquid smoke & chili sauce yumyumyum.

If you don't want to toot too much after eating your delicious vegan chili, cook the beans for a while on their own so their skins soften and they let out some of their sugars. Then rinse them before adding them to the chili. Once they mix with salt & acidic foods (like tomatoes) their skins will stop softening.
posted by headnsouth at 5:20 PM on November 13, 2008

Argh, curse the thoughts that only arise exactly when you're hitting the post button: If you really want to have the sweetness and crunch of veggies, I humbly suggest (humbly because I hate it when people answer with something you didn't ask for) serving calabacitas on the side. I see a lot of fussy recipes on the internet, but I think my friend's grandma's simple way is the best: just fry up some garlic in olive oil, add some corn kernels (I think she used fresh, but I use frozen) and diced squash (any thin skinned variety is fine. I have used zuchinni and yellow squash), when everything is soft and nice smelling, add some salt pepper and it's ready to serve. If you have the fortune to have (Hatch) green chile, then, by all means, use it, but it's good without it, too.
posted by mustard seeds at 5:25 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Consider the shredded carrot as a garnish rather than an ingredient -- some sweetness on the toungue is delightful with the spiciness of the chilis. Use real chilis (and some chipotle) early in the process to get a smoky heat that soaks into the beans and TVP. Add some commercial (not the cheap stuff) hot sauce toward the end for a quick spiciness which adds to what the chilis set up.

I like to use soy-sausage instead of TVP or tofu. The real work went into getting the sausage-herbs-and-spices just right, and they add a layer of flavor without having to figure that out in great detail.

It's good to toast / quickly heat some spices in the oil before you add the liquids, but not so long that they burn. Cumin, coriander, black pepper, fennel seed, and mustard seed aromatize like this.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:31 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and rather than stewing the mushrooms, I've had a little bit better result from finely dicing them and frying them just after the onions.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:32 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

The best vegan chili I've had has a variety of beans (not just kidney beans), lentils, pearl barley for texture (instead of TVP), chopped fresh sweet peppers, carrots, celery, and onions, and tablespoon units of dried chili flakes, mild paprika, cumin, coriander, basil, and thyme, with a couple large cans' worth of tomatoes.
posted by onoclea at 5:51 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Heaping tbsp of peanut butter. (Hey, a peanut is a legume too.) Not enough for it to taste weirdly peanutty, but adds richness and depth and mouthfeel.
posted by desuetude at 6:04 PM on November 13, 2008

A splash of liquid smoke & some cocoa powder add a nice depth of flavor.
posted by belladonna at 6:18 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Making your own chili powder is key. Key. I use this recipe, and add chipotle to the mix as well.

Agreeing with other things said upthread: beer, not wine; cumin; paprika (smoked); variety of beans (red, white, and black); adding hot sauce (sriracha); carrots, celery and onions; no chili flakes; no TVP;

I also like to crumble in some corn chips to thicken things up a bit (another tip from Alton). Finally, I've found that cooking chili in a pot on the stove is my least favorite way to do so. I prefer to use either a pressure cooker or a slow cooker if possible.
posted by benign at 6:50 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is quality stuff guys.

The reason for the overabundance of ingredients was principally because while I want it to be a thick, spicy "Mexican" stew (which is my ignorant Australian definition of chili), but I want it to have a lot of delicious vitamins and minerals and such in it. But these are great tips, it appears I have a lot of experimenting to do. Keep them coming!
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:52 PM on November 13, 2008

Also, a lot of this great-sounding stuff simply can't be found in Australian supermarkets/grocery stores. We have two types of chilli, total (little red hot ones and larger red watery ones), and no hot sauces to speak of. Jalapenos can be had sliced and in jars (meaning the only thing they taste like is vinegar), but I doubt I'd find a chipotle if my life depended on it. Making my own chilli powder sounds like a good idea, but again, a lot of those chillis will elicit nothing more than blank stares ("BE-ER?") on the part of the staff.

The spices and herbs I was going to use were cayenne pepper, chilli flakes, chilli powder, cumin, and I dunno, loads of salt and pepper and more garlic. I didn't think to give them a bit of a sizzle beforehand, so that's an interesting idea.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:08 PM on November 13, 2008

Obviously I'm not going to be able to get any of this stuff by tonight, but maybe for next time, if anybody can recommend anything for me to have "on hand" from USA Foods, I'd appreciate the tips.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:12 PM on November 13, 2008

Since you are in Oz check out a local Vietnamese grocery (that is if Brisbane has the same kind of Vietnamese communities that Sydney has). They'll have lots of chilies and hot sauces for you to experiment with.
posted by headnsouth at 7:17 PM on November 13, 2008

Oh, good point, headnsouth.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:24 PM on November 13, 2008

And, no to the red onion. In my experience, red onion loses much of its flavor once cooked, and will not be assertive enough in a robust chiliriffic environment. Saute plain old yellow or white onion, and salt it before you saute it. Throw garlic in at the end. I'd say yes to carrots, sauteed with the onion, but no to mushrooms or spinach.
posted by purenitrous at 7:42 PM on November 13, 2008

i just learned the most amazing thing about chili a couple weeks ago - i use to use brown sugar for a tiny bit of sweetness and to cut the acidity of the tomatoes...then (i think it was here) i heard of using cinnamon. it's incredible.

i prefer whole canned tomatoes - they don't have stuff that makes them keep their cell structure - also, so rarely do we vegetarians have a chance to get messy, so squeezing whole tomatoes until they pop is really satisfying.
posted by nadawi at 8:21 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't put fresh chili's in until the end, if you put them in too early they get grey and mushy, just put them in 10-15 minutes before serving. Add dried spiices early, especially ground cumin and cloves! Also if you can find them chipotles in adobo are good if a bit cliche and should go in early.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:31 PM on November 13, 2008

Obviously I'm not going to be able to get any of this stuff by tonight, but maybe for next time, if anybody can recommend anything for me to have "on hand" from USA Foods, I'd appreciate the tips.

That link to the hot & spicy section contains all of the things that you should NOT buy and should NOT add to your chili. Consider it a very good bad example.

You could actually do pretty well in the Paul Prudhomme section, though. I think all his spice blends are salt-free. While you'd still do better if you could track down a reasonable source for dried chilis (anchos, chiles de arbol, guajillo, pasillas), one of Prudhomme's spice blends -- or, better yet, two or three -- would probably be an okay substitute. If you can, though, check the ingredients and make sure he hasn't thrown other herbs in there. That could take your chili to a very bad place.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:38 PM on November 13, 2008

Wait. Dude. Dried chilis. Right here.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:40 PM on November 13, 2008

Bad mudpuppie. Chili = the dish. Chile = the pepper. Consider this part of your chili/chile schooling.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:42 PM on November 13, 2008

Early on, at the onion stage – cumin, coriander, and a couple of tablespoons of the darkest cocoa powder you can find. A dash of Lea & Perrins won't hurt either.
posted by mandal at 8:58 PM on November 13, 2008

A dash of Lea & Perrins won't hurt either.

Definitely not vegan --- worcestershire sauce has anchovies in it!
posted by headnsouth at 9:07 PM on November 13, 2008

I find smoked paprika is an excellent replacement for smoked cured pig in this kind of dish. I can buy it here in New Zealand, so I'd be amazed if you couldn't get it in Australia. Where people are recommending chipotle, it should provide a similar flavour.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:14 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

worcestershire sauce has anchovies in it!

Very true, generally. Happily I found a brand recently that was anchovy-free, yet still gave that wonderful "oily salt bullet" anchovy taste. Coincidentally, "Oily Salt Bullet" used to be my nickname when I was a swinger. Actually that never happened.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:21 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Turgid dahlia, dude, if your grocer only sells two types of chillis you should find a better grocer, or grow your own. They grow really well in Brisbane. And if you really live at UQ (as your profile shows) then I can say categorically that you are full of shit (er, sorry) re: not being able to get good ingredients - try Fruity Capers in Toowong Village or the fruiterer in Indro Westfield, both are excellent and will get specific stuff in for you if you ask them nicely. Or join one of the many organic, local food co-ops (Nature's Children? I think? In West End was a great one when I lived there).

Otherwise - use beef-style Massel Ultrastock (vegan, available at all supermarkets) and ditch the TVP. I second the corn chips for extra body if you want it - I tried ground nuts (cashews) once and it wasn't very succcesful. You can also add a spoonful of vegemite for extra umami flavour if you need it. Good chilli is quite subjective so you should experiment with different things until you find the best combination for you, but you should always saute your flavour veges (onion, carrot, capsicum) in oil first. And make sure you add enough salt.
posted by goo at 9:38 PM on November 13, 2008

And if all else fails, ask the lovely Californian couple who run Dos Amigos in Taringa where they get their ingredients.
posted by goo at 9:51 PM on November 13, 2008

If you can get your hands on a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, it will make for a tasty smokey spicy flavor. And I guess I'm weird because I actually like carrots in my veg chili. Sometimes spinach too.

I'm not vegan, but the chili I made last night was and it contained: onion, garlic, sage, cumin, coriander, allspice (a dash), oregano, bay leaves, chili powder, salt, pepper, 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped tofurkey sausage, 1 can black beans, 1 can white beans, 2 cans whole peeled tomatoes (roughly chopped up), and ~3 deseeded chipotles + some adobo sauce. It simmered on a low heat for a few hours into thick deliciousness.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:30 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I make roast vegetable chili: no TVP, mushrooms or corn. Roast some courgettes (zuchini), aubergines (eggplant), red/yellow peppers and halved cherry tomatoes. Sweat onions, garlic and a load of chopped celery. Add spices, grated carrot, roast veg, beans and canned tomatoes. When it's been bubbling away for a while, taste and adjust spices as necessary. Add a little bit of very very dark chocolate. For optimal flavour, store in the fridge overnight and eat reheated the next day.
posted by emilyw at 2:00 AM on November 14, 2008

I'll add to the chorus of ditching the TVP in favor of beans, although I've also seen bulgur wheat used to sorta match the texture of ground beef.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:03 AM on November 14, 2008

I'm light years away from anything that would qualify as a vegan but this thread has my mouth watering. I may try my hand at making a vegan chili next weekend when the weather's cold.

This may sound crazy and it's strictly off the top of my head but I'm wondering how some properly-prepared cauliflower would work as a substitute for ground meat. Perhaps if it was diced down into tiny flowerets the size of bits of ground meat... the spices would almost certainly overpower the cauliflower taste and if it was cooked right I can imagine it having a similar texture. Just a thought.
posted by kryptondog at 8:09 AM on November 14, 2008

A dash of maple syrup will add a meaty base note that is often difficult to get other wise in vegetarian cooking. I tend to use red peppers for the veg and a mirepoix base (finely diced carrots, celery and onions) wouldn't go amiss. For spices I use garlic, cumin, chipotle, smoked paprika and smoked manuka salt.
posted by tallus at 8:09 AM on November 14, 2008

Also: Excellent use of the omnomnomnom tag
posted by kryptondog at 8:10 AM on November 14, 2008

turgid dahlia: "... I doubt I'd find a chipotle if my life depended on it.

Fun Fact: A chipotle is a smoked jalapeño. If you manage to find any fresh jalapeños, you can make them yourself.

mudpuppie: "Bad mudpuppie. Chili = the dish. Chile = the pepper. Consider this part of your chili/chile schooling."

Fun Fact 2: "Chili" is the English spelling and "chile" is the Spanish spelling for a hot pepper. The US dish "chili" is short for the Mexican dish "chile con carne", so you'll often see it spelled either way.

I have made the the chili from Joanne Stepaniak's Vegan Vittles book many times, and it's great. Especially because the Mac & Cheese recipe is on the opposing page, so sometimes I'll make them both and mix them together. Here's her instructions from Google preview (the recipe itself isn't available, but you can see the ingredients):
Pour the oil into a large, heavy pot, and place over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions, celery, and garlic. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, or until the onions are tender. Add the tomatoes, beans, tomato sauce, water, bulgar, tomato paste, chili powder, sugar, oregano, pepper, cumin, allspice, and cayenne, and stir until well combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste.
posted by team lowkey at 12:55 PM on November 14, 2008

Almost, you've almost got it!


Red wine, spinach, mushrooms.


Beer (dark lager—you want malty sweetness), pinto beans, SLICED carrots (they get mushy and are great, but you have to cook them long enough to soften and shredded carrots are just narsty in chili), jalapeños, chili peppers (you can buy 'em from your local indonesian or indian joint if they're not at your supermarket), tempeh is better than TVP, bitter chocolate can be good (molé, dude), and you definitely want cinnamon in there.

Later tonight, I'll type up the super-secret family recipe for awesome vegetarian chili that will blow your freakin' mind.

"Bad mudpuppie. Chili = the dish. Chile = the pepper. Consider this part of your chili/chile schooling."

Worse mudpuppie— Chili = the dish and the pepper, in English. Chile = the pepper and the country. For the pepper, the spellings are interchangeable (though chile rellenos are spelled "chile" because they're Spanish/Mexican). And if you're British, you can even spell it chilli.

posted by klangklangston at 3:13 PM on November 14, 2008

Whatever you want to throw in a pot, do it. but instant delicious vegan chili for people who don't usually make vegan chili:

1) chiles en adobo (one chili, cut up per 2-3 quarts of chili depending on spice tolerance)


3) TVP is the tool of the devil. Seitan, if you must, but I prefer a range of bean types-- big butter beans or corona beans are great toothsome additions.

4) just when you think it's too salty, add more.

5) make cornbread.
posted by markovitch at 8:38 PM on November 14, 2008

Sorry turgid dahlia. I'm categorically sure you are not full of shit, and I was full of vino, when I posted above. Cheers.
posted by goo at 8:53 PM on November 14, 2008

Oh, I'm definitely full of shit, but not when it comes to the foodstuffs available within a 5km radius of where I live, which isn't UQ. However I forgot about Fruity Capers at Toowong - will definitely check them out next time, thanks for the reminder!

Made the chili on Saturday night, using many of the tips here. Subtracted a lot of the weird vegetables and TVP, added more beans, dairy-free chocolate, peanut butter, coriander, cumin, paprika, jalapenos. Didn't add the wine but also didn't add the beer, and didn't leave it to cook for long enough (it smelled good and I was starving!), but, y'know, it was pretty damn good. I have a lot left over (had some more last night and it was even better), so for about ten bucks worth of ingredients, plus all the stuff I already had, I'm pretty pleased with how it came out. I will compile all these tips into a Definitive Chili Guide and do an ever better job next time. Thanks for the tips peeps!
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:48 PM on November 16, 2008

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