The very best, award-winning vegetarian chili recipe needed
July 18, 2016 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I would like to win my office's chili cook off. Added twist: vegetarian.

I've looked at all the previous chili threads I could find and they seemed to be either "I want to win the chili cook off" or "I need vegetarian chili recipes" but not both. I need both.

I have a great dutch oven, slow-cooker, and access to any crazy spice, as well as a willingness to try anything -- roasting my own peppers, novel varieties of beans, you name it. Spicy is great, weird is welcome, and tried and tested is best.
posted by *s to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
I've been making this slow cooker chili about once a month for the past couple of years. Other than swapping the green pepper for a red one and adding some cayenne for extra heat, I make it as written. I love the addition of sweet potato and the chili/cocoa powder combo gives it an interesting depth . Everyone loves it. Squeeze of lime over each individual serving really takes it over the top.
posted by little mouth at 8:26 AM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is it, basically. If you really want to win the contest, add some brown sugar and Frank's Red Hot.
posted by 256 at 8:27 AM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and though the recipe lists the cheese and sour cream garnishes as optional, they really aren't.
posted by 256 at 8:30 AM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not a specific recipe, just a few points I prefer:

Real peppers, roasted, skinned and de-seeded (if you wish), pureed, >>>> 'chili powder.' Better texture, better flavor, better chili. You can do the thing where you use put them right on your gas range and use tongs to flip them, but I find that can result in charred bits of pepper skin flying upwards toward your cabinets, especially if you have to do a lot. I usually put them in a sheet pan and stick it under the broiler, keeping an eye on them and flipping and rotating as they get charred. Keep the liquid, too.

I'm not anti-chili-powder, and it's a good supplement to the pepper puree, but I think it (alone) doesn't give you the depth of flavor and body you get from roasting peppers. Speaking of roasting peppers, use a variety of varieties, mostly mild but a few hot. You're going for layers of flavor.

Tomatillos, roasted and pureed, are a wonderful thickening agent. Also, very flavorful. You can halve them, drizzle some oil, and stick them and some garlic cloves in the pan with your peppers under the broiler. Puree everything for a thick yummy base.
posted by spelunkingplato at 8:30 AM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

My mother clipped this recipe years ago and has prepared it a number of times. I always enjoy it. The recipe is for an Italian-style vegetarian chili. I made a veganized version once (using this Parmesan substitute) for an office cook-off, and I won the contest.
posted by alex1965 at 8:30 AM on July 18, 2016

I've made a few things from Cook's Ilustrated Best ____ series, here is their vegetarian chili version. It may be worth a try. You can try Cooks Illustrated free for 14 days or here is a copied version of the recipe.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:35 AM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

That Real Simple recipe in little mouth's comment is my go-to for vegan-friendly gatherings, though I do not use the slow cooker (see below), and I am somehow famous for it.

I use a mix of plain chili powder plus ancho and/or chipotle, and sometimes I get a little crazy with my beans - I'm from Texas and a well-kept secret is that we totally do eat beans in chili, and they're pintos. When I've got time to plan, I make pintos and another bean (usually either dark kidney or a larger white bean like cannellini) from scratch in the pressure cooker with bay leaf and garlic. I'll drain off most but not all of the bean liquor if necessary (reserve, in case you need it back). If using canned, they just get half-drained and chucked in the pressure cooker.

Then I'll fry my onion (always yellow sweet) and pepper(s) in oil, then add my spices (minus cocoa) and fry them gently for 30-60 seconds like you would with a curry. Deglaze that pan with the tomatoes and dump all the contents into the pressure cooker, stir in the cocoa, add the potatoes, pressure 1 minute with quick release, which should have gotten your potatoes 2/3 of the way to done. Simmer a while until they are completely tender.

Sometimes I will add chopped mushrooms or a bag of Beefy or Feisty Crumbles at the end for a more meaty texture, but it actually seems like people like it a little wetter. It's good over rice, or with corn chips or Frito Pie supplies. (Do not eat Frito Pie in the bag, that is a made up thing. Put it in a bowl.)
posted by Lyn Never at 8:50 AM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

This vegan chili from Post Punk Kitchen is fantastically delicious. It contains a smidge of ground clove, which gives it an omg-what-is-that-haunting-flavor quality, plus uses all whole foods (2 kinds of beans, lentils) instead of any meat analogues or tvp. Cook it down a long time so it gets very thick. Everyone -- even diehard carnivores -- scrapes the bowl for this one.
posted by apparently at 8:51 AM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

You want J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's Best Vegetarian Chili. The explanation behind it is here, the recipe is here. Do read the explanation, though, since it explains the testing behind the choices he makes.

It's a massive pain in the ass to make (it involves hunting down 3 different kind of dried chili, then toasting, soaking and puree-ing the dried chilis for a homemade chili paste, processing chickpeas to make a thickening agent, and simmering on the stove for 2 hours) but it is 100% worth it. Every time I take a shortcut or make a change I regret it.
posted by AmandaA at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

This recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking is my favorite chili recipe ever. I am not a vegetarian but it is better than any meat chili I've had, and it's criminally easy to make.

I don't like spicy chili, so I leave out the green chilis and add extra Italian seasoning. My ex who loves spice wanted more spiciness than the base recipe, so you may have to experiment a little with the spices but it's just so good.
posted by possibilityleft at 9:29 AM on July 18, 2016

My ex who loves spice wanted more spiciness than the base recipe

This reminded me of something I saw recently at a potluck: there was a big crock of chili labeled "Chili - mild spices" and a smaller bowl next to it marked "<- 2 spoons = medium, 4 spoons = hot". The small bowl was sauteed fresh peppers and spices cooked down in a can of tomatoes with a little more onion and garlic, basically extra base with more spices, so it matched up with the flavor of the chili and added more heat without watering it down or messing with the texture.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:10 PM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

NYTimes' food writer, Martha Rose Shulman's Vegetarian Chili with Winter Vegetables is so good, I've completely gone over to it. I haven't made meat chili in a couple years. I've tried to deconstruct just what it is that makes it so good--it's some magical combination of flavors and textures. I've made it in my le Creuset, in a slow cooker, and in a pressure cooker, and every version is scrumptious. Above all, my carnivorous spouse is crazy about it.
posted by Elsie at 12:21 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buffalo Style Quinoa Chili is in heavy rotation at my house. It's not only delicious, but a little off the beaten path when it comes to chili.
posted by LinneaJC at 12:27 PM on July 18, 2016

It's easy for vegetarian chili to be low-fat. Low-fat chili is unlikely to win a prize. Add the oil of your choice when sauteing the onions. Make sure there is plenty of sour cream available. And cheese. Do not be shy with the chili powder.
posted by theora55 at 1:30 PM on July 18, 2016

There are some pretty good-looking recipes to go by above. I swear by adding beer as a cooking liquid in my chili in place of water where it's called for - ales are good, something flavourful like a nut brown ale or a (not-too-hoppy) IPA. It'll add a lot of depth of flavour, kind of in line with J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's modus operandi.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:17 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is our recipe. I have heard from a MeFite who used to live in Austin, TX that it went over well when she entered it in a local competition. And when I entered it in a competition a Marine whose motto is "vegetables are what food eats" said he actually liked it ... and it won 3rd. The only veggie recipe that placed.
posted by terrapin at 4:43 PM on July 18, 2016

Chile sin carne is Bryanna Clark Grogan's take on a traditional chili.

Moroccan-Spiced Vegetarian Chili is fantastic, but it's a very different approach.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:23 PM on July 18, 2016

If you have time, go with good heirloom beans, not supermarket beans. They can be crazy flavorful on their own even before you add spices and they will have a depth that old dried up supermarket beans will not have. The place to get good beans: Rancho Gordo.

(The best part of heirloom beans is that you can get the best beans you've ever had for $6, because even heirloom beans are cheap. Go for it.)
posted by troyer at 9:48 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Cook's Illustrated one above is the best chili I've ever eaten, hands down. The umami comes from walnuts, dried mushrooms, and soy sauce, but you don't detect those flavours. It is similar in style to Amy's canned chili, but more delicious. It is not quick to make, but all the vegetarians and carnivores I've fed it to have raved and raved.
posted by Frenchy67 at 6:17 AM on July 19, 2016

I'll second the suggestion to use pureed dried chili pods as a base, I start with mild ones until I have enough volume, then add hot ones to get the right heat.
For beans, you could use one of those multi-bean soup mixes (13 bean, 18 bean, 21 bean, good god it looks like someone is marketing a 32 bean mix), just don't use the flavor pack if it comes with one.
One of the vegetables should be nopales, looks a bit like green bell pepper when diced and cooked but to me has a slight citrus flavor. I've seen it in some mexican supermarkets already de-spined and diced.
posted by 445supermag at 7:41 AM on July 19, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you all so much! Right now, I'm leaning toward making a test batch of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's using some roasted tomatillos for part of the thickening agent, beer in place of the water, and maybe adding some peaches and cocoa powder per past threads. Maybe fish sauce for additional umami goodness? If that recipe doesn't work for any reason, I'll try the Post Punk Kitchen option. I am going for the bananas gold.
posted by *s at 8:36 AM on July 19, 2016

Following on to a statement that J. Kenji Lopez-Alt makes about texture - he grinds up chickpeas in the food processor, but I like to use a sort of mirepoix: onions, celery, mushrooms, and maybe carrots ground in a food processor (or slap-chop device), then sauteed until softened and/or a bit carmelized, then deglaze the pan with a rich beer and reduce it. To me, this gives the mouthfeel of the bits of ground beef that would be missing, plus it builds a nice umami base flavor. Season any way you like.
posted by CathyG at 12:59 PM on July 19, 2016

Maybe fish sauce

You may want to rethink this ingredient if this chili is being served to actual vegetarians (and not just a specific chili theme for omnivores).
posted by Paid In Full at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2016

Agreed. Umeboshi plum paste can add umami without animal juices.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:50 PM on July 19, 2016

Update, in case this hasn't happened yet. somewhat inspired by this thread, I made some chili last week and it was amazing. I basically used the recipe I linked before, but I started it with a base made from boiling half a cube of vegan soup stock with four whole dried guajillo chiles. I also added half a pound of veggie ground round. It was amazing, but then I accidentally left it on the stove on low for another 2 hours after serving, and the much thicker reduced results as leftovers the next day were way better.

I really credit the guajillo peppers.
posted by 256 at 4:39 PM on July 22, 2016

Response by poster: I did not place :( but it was a blast entering the contest! (Perhaps not entirely surprising that the recipe with 7 lbs of brisket won: I am in Texas, after all.)

I went with the J. Kenji Lopez-Alt recipe with the following modifications: substitute brown ale for water, add a teaspoon of cocoa powder, cloves, roasted tomatillos, and a small can of peaches and syrup.

I wound up not using the (vegetarian) fish sauce.
posted by *s at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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