Some ingredients, such as onions and beans, are common to all kinds of vegetarian chili; other ingredients are entirely a matter of your choosing. Use your favorite vegetables or experiment with some traditional additions to make your own signature chili to satisfy both vegetarians and meat-eaters. With vegetarian chili, you have traditional flavors of chili with meat, but without the work of cooking the meat or the additional fat the meat adds to the final dish.
Beans and Vegetables
Canned beans provide both convenience and good taste to chili. Use red kidney beans, black beans, black beans and pinto beans, great Northern beans and pintos, garbanzos and white kidney beans — or any favorite bean. For more flavor and texture add chilies, such as bell peppers to create a mild chili, or habaneros or jalapenos to make the chili spicy. Include 1 diced sweet potato or 1 can of corn, along with a can of diced or crushed tomatoes, for each 2 or 3 cans of beans.
Traditional red chili includes tomatoes, chili powder, cumin and, in Mexico, dried oregano, according to Rick Bayless, chef and author of Authentic Mexican. For chili with smoky flavors as well as spicy ones, swap out the chili powder for an equal amount of pureed chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, which are dried and smoked jalapenos. Or experiment with new flavors, such as a tablespoon of cocoa powder or 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate, to give depths of flavor to red chili.
For green chili, reduce the amount of diced or crushed tomatoes you use, and substitute green salsa — also called salsa verde, canned green chilies or roasted green chilies such as poblanos or Anaheim chilies. Or, make your own authentic Mexican green salsa with tomatillos, a small lime-green fruit that you can add to salsa either cooked or raw, according to Bayless. Keep the green theme going by including 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Putting It All Together
Chili comes together in one pot on the stovetop. Begin with sauteed chopped onions and garlic, then add cumin, beans, vegetables and chili powder, if you’re using it. Let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes, before adding chipotle chili puree and 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar to bring the flavors to life. Simmer the chili for another 5 minutes. In a slow cooker, add all your ingredients to the pot, and allow the chili to cook on high for 4 to 5 hours.
Classic chili toppings include sour cream, shredded cheddar, chopped cilantro and chopped green or white onions. But if you’re a big fan of toasted almonds or raisins, those would also work as garnishes with either red or green chili, balancing the heat in chili with salt and sugar. Traditional bread options for chili include cornbread, crusty sourdough bread or tortilla chips. Although you would be mixing cultures to serve Italian breadsticks, those would also pair well with this Mexican classic.