Vegetarian Three Bean Chili

Vegetarian Three Bean Chili

Do you smell that? That’s the smell of fall — the crisp scent of leaves turning color, the sweet, musty end of summer, and the wafting of warm spices bubbling away on the stove. Chili is pure comfort on a cold day, and this recipe is no exception. Classic, no-frills, and absolutely satisfying.

Even without the meat, this chili packs plenty of flavor. I wouldn’t call this a copycat recipe, but I was strongly influenced by the vegetarian chili at the Whole Foods hot bar, which I’ve been kind of addicted to. Turns out, making it from scratch is a whole lot cheaper (go figure, the WF hot bar isn’t known for being budget friendly) and I can have it ready in about the same amount of time it would take me to get in my car and go there. Okay, maybe not quite… but it’s close, and afterward I’m rewarded with a pot of chili big enough to feed a small army. Or me, when I’m really, really hangry.

Vegetarian Three Bean Chili

Chili is pretty much the ultimate in leftovers. It freezes well, reheats flawlessly, and actually gets better as the flavors sit and mingle. My mother used to fill her sixteen quart stock pot right to the brim whenever she made a batch of chili, and we’d have delicious, hearty dinners for months.

Since I’m going to be gone for a few days, this seemed like the perfect thing to make a big batch of and leave in the fridge for The Husband while I’m away. (The man is a fantastic cook, but I swear, I once left him on his own for a weekend and came home to find he had survived solely on ice cream and tortilla chips the entire time.)

He likes his chili piled high on a potato, then topped off with plenty of cheddar cheese. Me? I like mine with all the toppings I can get — red onion, cheese, cilantro, bell pepper, avocado, plain greek yogurt (which I like to use in place of sour cream, since I always have it on hand anyway), you name it — with a side of tortilla chips to scoop it all up. I wouldn’t say no to a helping of this jalapeno cheddar cornbread with caramelized onions to go along with, either.

Vegetarian Three Bean Chili

What are your favorite chili add-ons? Are you a purist, or do you like lots of toppings like I do? Let me know in the comments below. (I asked this same question on facebook recently, and one of you said, “macaroni and cheese” — to which I say, you, sir, are a genius.)

Vegetarian Three Bean Chili
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6-8 servings
  • 3-4 TBSP olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into half rounds
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds and veins removed, finely diced
  • 1 TBSP dried oregano
  • 2½ tsp. chili powder
  • 1½ tsp. cumin
  • ¾ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. finely ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup low sodium vegetable stock
  • 2 (28oz) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15oz) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder*
  • 1 cup frozen sweet corn
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • Salt, to taste
  • -
  • Toppings of choice: cilantro, sour cream (or plain greek yogurt), red onion, avocado, cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, etc.
  1. In a large soup pot or dutch oven (big enough to hold at least 6 quarts), heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the onion, celery, and carrot, and saute for 5 minutes, or until the onion has just started to soften. Add the garlic, bell peppers, and jalapeno, and saute for another 5 minutes. Add the oregano, chili powder, cumin, paprika, black pepper, bay leaves, and a big pinch of salt, and cook for another 1-2 minutes to toast the spices.
  3. Add the vegetable stock, crushed tomatoes, all of the beans, and the unsweetened cocoa powder. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Allow to simmer, covered, for 45-50 minutes.
  4. Remove the lid, and stir in the sweet corn and cilantro, if using. Season with salt to taste, and if you prefer your chili on the spicy side, adjust the level of heat by adding cayenne pepper, more chili powder, or your favorite hot sauce.
  5. Serve as is, or with your favorite toppings. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen for several months.
*Cocoa powder is my secret weapon when it comes to making chili -- the dark bitter flavor adds just that little extra depth of flavor, without being too noticeable. It's a trick my mother always used when she made chili, and now I never leave it out (though you certainly can, if you want to). I've also had success using just a tiny bit of instant espresso powder, or a splash of really dark, hoppy beer to add that extra something.


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16 Responses to Vegetarian Three Bean Chili

  1. Liz @ Floating Kitchen October 3, 2014 at 1:42 am #

    This looks delicious, Willow! I like sour cream and lots of cilantro on top of my chili!

    • Willow Arlen October 8, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

      Thanks, Liz! Sounds perfect, those are a must!

  2. shannon October 3, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    “strongly influenced by Whole Foods’ hot bar…” lol my entire WORLD is strongly influenced by Whole Foods’ hot bar some days. :) Everyone needs a soul chili, i think: we had one for awhile before i knew how to cook properly, and it was (and is) delicious…turning out great even when i didn’t know how to substitute that well, etc. now we have a few others in the mix, and this one may be joining them.

    • Willow Arlen October 8, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

      Haha, I know, right? It’s just so easy to grab something there when I’m in a rush. I find their soups are easy to stretch, too — just bake a potato, or cook up some pasta or rice, and a little container becomes a whole meal without breaking the bank. For reals, though, I don’t think I’ll be buying their chili again now that I have this recipe up my sleeve… just too easy, and delicious!

  3. Lan | morestomach October 3, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    yes to the addition of the cocoa powder. i’ve used it before to make Cincinnati chili and adore the flavor it imparts.
    i’ve been thinking about simple one-pot dishes that do well ignored on the stove and is even better as a leftover the next day. this is perfect, this is something that will stewing in my kitchen very very soon.

    • Willow Arlen October 8, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

      Cocoa powder for the win! I also like to add a bit of espresso, sometimes — it just gives it that extra something, doesn’t it? I hope you do make this chili, I’d love to know what you think of it! We’re still finishing off the last of this batch, and haven’t gotten sick of it yet!

  4. Jennie @themessybakerblog October 7, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    I can smell this here chili through the screen. Can I come to your place? Squirrel isn’t all that fond of vegetarian food, but I love it.

  5. Jasmin November 15, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    I would never in my dream though to put cocoa powder into some bean dish, hmm now I’ll have to try it :)
    And btw, I usually have bean chili with peace of toasted bread and plain tomato salad

  6. Kayna February 26, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

    I have really enjoyed making large batches of this soup and freezing it for quick meals since I find myself wanting this soup all the time! Has anyone tried canning it? I don’t have a lot of freezer space so I’m trying to do more canning (which I’m new to) Thoughts or advice?

    • Willow Arlen February 27, 2015 at 11:50 am #

      Hi Kayna, I’m so glad you like the chili! I’ve never tried canning it, but I don’t see any reason it wouldn’t work. Let me know how it goes if you try it! :)

  7. Rakhee@boxofspice December 3, 2015 at 7:13 am #

    This is as hearty and fall like as it gets. I kind of had to read the ingredient list a few times though because I wasn’t sure I read it right. Cocoa powder? Brilliant. I sometimes do that with a bag of black tea. Gives of the most delicious smoky flavor and dark tones.
    We have our own sort of version of your chili in India and I’m serious, as a kid, I used to sit and make myself ill because I just couldn’t stop eating it! Now yours has me wanting to do the same thing. :)

    • Willow Arlen December 3, 2015 at 10:57 am #

      I’m so glad you like the chili! A bag of black tea would work well in place of the cocoa powder — you’re absolutely right, it’s all about adding that little bit of subtle, dark flavor. I’ve also achieved that flavor by adding a bit of coffee or dark beer to the chili. It doesn’t take much, but it just isn’t quite the same without one of these ingredients!

  8. Johanna March 30, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

    I’m not normally a fan of eating the same thing over and over but I made this soup last week and was so sad when I had the last of it today that I’m really tempted to make it again this week. It was hearty and tasty; a divine combination.

    • Willow Arlen March 30, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

      Thank you so much for this comment, Johanna! I’m so glad you liked it!


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