This vegan chili recipe is made with a combo of three beans for a warm, hearty and ultra-flavorful meal. It’s truly a crowd-pleaser and no one will miss meat once they take a bite!
The best part is this is an easy recipe with minimal prep work. Don’t fear the long ingredient list; it’s mostly spices or pantry items that all help to create the best flavor possible!
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Vegan Chili Ingredients and Substitutions
This chili is packed with flavor and is truly the best vegan chili I’ve ever eaten. To make such a delicious chili, you need a fairly long list of ingredients.
Even with a long ingredient list, there’s very little prep work needed; it’s mostly opening cans and chopping a couple vegetables!
The flavors of all these ingredients work together perfectly, creating a rich and robust chili. Read below to learn what each ingredient adds to the meal, and potential substitutions for it.
- Avocado oil: You’ll start the recipe by sautéing onions, then other vegetables and spices, in oil. This is a critical step for maximizing flavor, as many spice compounds need fat to be fully tasted. You can use any oil you like for this step, but I don’t recommend skipping oil.
- Onion and garlic: Fresh onion and garlic create an important base layer of flavor in this chili.
- Bell and/or poblano pepper: I like to use one poblano and one bell pepper for this chili, but you can use two poblano or two bell peppers if you like. Any color bell pepper can work; I typically select green, but a sweet, colored pepper is good too.
- Tomato paste: For a concentrated tomato flavor, tomato paste is your best option. This helps create a thick chili too, which is a great texture.
- Chili powder: I use an American-style chili powder in this recipe. American chili powder is actually a blend of spices and isn’t too spicy on its own. While there are other chili powder options out there, nothing else is readily available where I live. If you like things spicy-hot, add some hot chili powder to the spice blend.
- Cumin, smoked paprika, oregano: These three spices add a great depth of flavor to the recipe. The smoky flavor of cumin is enhanced with smoked paprika. You can use sweet or hot paprika if you prefer. Oregano is a fantastic herb to add to chili; if possible, use Mexican oregano (this is a harder ingredient to find; I’ve never seen it in a store).
- Beer or wine: Select a beer or red wine of your choice for this recipe. Non-alcoholic beer or wine can work too. If you are strictly alcohol-free, use additional vegetable broth for this step. The flavor of the beer or wine is subtle in the final chili; however, the stronger the beer or wine, the more that flavor comes through (I use a non-alcoholic red ale for this recipe).
- Vegetable broth: Use a vegetable broth of your choosing for the rest of the recipe’s liquid content.
- Black, pinto and navy beans: This combo of three beans makes for a delicious chili, but use any combination of beans you like. Kidney beans are a classic chili ingredient so feel free to add them. You can also replace up to half of the beans with a vegan meat alternative if it’s already cooked (or doesn’t require cooking). For example, veggie ground round, crushed walnuts, cooked TVP, and cooked vegan ground beef.
- Canned diced tomato: This is the perfect way to add some chunks of tomato to the chili along with extra liquid.
- Soy sauce: With its salty umami flavor, soy sauce is ideal for adding depth of taste. Tamari can be used as a gluten-free alternative (making the whole recipe gluten free).
- Maple syrup: A touch of sweetness helps balance other bold flavors. This is technically optional and other types of sugars or sweeteners should work instead (but haven’t been tested).
- Cocoa powder: If you’ve never added cocoa powder to chili before, you’re missing out. While it may sound strange to some people, cocoa powder adds a deep flavor to the chili. People may associate cocoa powder with sweet chocolate, but it’s slightly bitter on its own and makes a great addition to savory recipes.
- Bay leaves: These are optional but recommended, especially if you have the time to simmer them into the chili for a couple hours so the flavor can fully infuse.
- Chipotle peppers: Add a touch of spicy heat and unique taste to the chili by using a couple canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. While this is an optional ingredient, I think the chipotle peppers are what truly takes this chili to the next level and makes it irresistible (but I love the taste of chipotle peppers so maybe I’m biased). These add spicy heat, but overall, this chili is a medium-to-mild heat at the end.
- Smoked salt, regular salt and pepper: Salt and pepper are essential and should be added to your taste preferences. How much salt you need likely depends on whether the beans, vegetable broth and canned tomatoes you use are salted or not. I love using half smoked salt for a bit of extra smoky flavor, but if you don’t have this ingredient, use whichever regular salt you prefer.
- Lime juice and cilantro: Finish off the chili by adding fresh lime juice and cilantro. Lime juice is essential to brighten the deep, robust flavors of the chili. The cilantro is optional but recommended especially if you’re a fan of cilantro. I love heaps of cilantro but think this chili tastes amazing without too.
- Corn meal: This is another completely optional ingredient, but I like to add 1-2 tablespoons of corn meal at the end of the cook time. It thickens the chili and makes the final product taste richer. This is a fairly thick chili even without the corn meal.
You may also want some fun toppings for your chili like avocado, vegan sour cream, extra cilantro, corn chips, vegan cheese shreds, jalapeno peppers or sliced green onion to serve.
If you'd like a "meaty" vegan chili, check out my TVP chili recipe!
How to Make Vegan Three Bean Chili
Despite using many ingredients, this is a simple recipe to make. There are a few important steps in the beginning which bring out the maximum flavor of every ingredient. Once that’s done, just wait for the chili to simmer before serving!
Step 1: Prepare Ingredients
Start by chopping the onion and bell peppers (and/or poblano pepper), then finely mince some garlic and chipotle peppers.
Open all the cans so they’re ready to use, then drain and rinse your canned beans. Gather everything else you’ll need before you start cooking.
Don’t worry about the lime juice, cilantro or corn meal at this point; you can prep these ingredients while the chili simmers.
Step 2: Pre-Cook Vegetables and Spices
Begin by heating avocado oil in a large pot. Add the diced onion and sauté for 8-10 minutes over medium heat. The onion should soften and lightly brown during this time.
Then add your diced bell and/or poblano pepper, garlic and tomato paste. Stir to mix everything and cook this for 2-3 minutes.
The tomato paste should brown slightly and means the sugars in it are caramelizing, adding even more flavor to your chili. Don’t be alarmed if some tomato paste sticks to the pot here; that browning will lift off in a later step.
Next, add the main spices, including chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika and oregano. Toss to mix your spices throughout the tomato paste.
Toast these spices for 30 seconds to 1 minute to enhance their flavors. Then, add the beer or wine of your choice.
Beer or wine should sizzle when it hits your pot. Use this time to carefully scrape up any browning bits that were sticking to the pot.
Cook the beer or wine for 1-2 minutes; until any smell of alcohol is gone (if the beer/ wine contained alcohol).
Step 3: Add Other “Main” Ingredients and Simmer
Now for the easy part, adding the remaining “main” ingredients. This is every other ingredient excluding the lime, cilantro and corn meal which you’ll add at the end.
Once you’re through adding all those ingredients, stir the chili until everything is well mixed. Then, bring your chili up to temperature, until it simmers lightly.
Let the chili simmer for at least 30 minutes. Simmering for 2 hours is ideal, and you can simmer for longer than that if you like. It’s best to stir the chili every 10 minutes or so as it simmers.
I simmer my chili with the lid off. I find this helps the chili become thicker as some liquid evaporates. If you prefer, leave the lid on.
Step 4: Add Finishing Ingredients and Serve
When the chili is done simmering, remove it from the heat and take out any bay leaves.
Stir in fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro. If using, add the corn meal as well.
Taste the chili and adjust its seasonings (salt and pepper, lime juice for more acidity, maple syrup for sweetness) as needed.
Serve hot, topped with your favorite garnishes!
How to Create a Balanced Vegan Meal
This recipe has it all! There’s protein and healthy carbs in the beans. There’s also plenty of vegetables from the onion, peppers and tomatoes.
We also have some healthy fats from the cooking oil, although this is a relatively low-fat recipe.
You can serve the chili as a balanced meal on its own, or with sides. It’s also tasty to top the chili with other ingredients for extra flavor!
How to Store Leftovers
Refrigerate leftover chili in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat by microwave or in a small pot on the stove, over medium heat, until warmed through.
You can freeze this recipe too! Let the chili come to room temperature before transferring to a freezer-safe container. It should last frozen for at least a few months. To serve, thaw frozen chili in your fridge overnight before reheating.
If you make this recipe, please rate and comment below to help others benefit from your experience!
Vegan Chili (Three Bean)
- 3 tablespoons avocado oil
- 1 medium onion , diced (about 1 ½ cups, 160 grams)
- 6 cloves garlic , minced (22 grams)
- 2 large bell pepper , diced (about 2 ½ cups, 290 grams)*
- 5 ounces tomato paste (150 milliliters, 160 grams)
- 3 tablespoons chili powder (American-style chili powder)**
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons dry oregano
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika *
- ¾ cup beer of choice (185 milliliters) *
- 2 cups vegetable broth (500 milliliters)
- 15 ounce can black beans (1 ½ cups, 240 grams)
- 15 ounce can pinto beans (1 ½ cups, 250 grams)
- 15 ounce can navy beans (1 ½ cups, 150 grams)
- 28 ounce can diced tomatoes (800 milliliters)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (30 milliliters) *
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup (30 milliliters) *
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce , chopped
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from chipotle pepper can)
- ½ teaspoon smoked salt *
- ½ teaspoon salt
- black pepper (to taste)
- 1-2 tablespoons lime juice (15-30 milliliters)
- 1 cup cilantro , chopped (16-20 grams)
- 1-2 tablespoons corn meal , optional
Step 1: Prepare Ingredients
- Chop the onion and bell/poblano peppers.1 medium onion, 2 large bell pepper
- Mince your garlic and chipotle peppers.6 cloves garlic, 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- Gather all other ingredients (open cans, drain and rinse beans).
Step 2: Pre-Cook Vegetables and Spices
- Heat some cooking oil in large stock pot or Dutch oven, on medium heat.3 tablespoons avocado oil
- Add the chopped onion and cook 8-10 minutes, until softened and starting to brown.1 medium onion
- Add garlic, bell/poblano pepper and tomato paste; cook 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously, until the tomato paste starts to brown.6 cloves garlic, 2 large bell pepper, 5 ounces tomato paste
- Add your spices and toss/ mix around for 30 seconds to 1 minute.3 tablespoons chili powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons dry oregano, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- Deglaze the pot by adding the beer, scraping up any browning from bottom of pot.¾ cup beer of choice
- Cook in the beer/wine for 1-2 minutes.
Step 3: Add the Other “Main” Ingredients and Simmer
- Add vegetable broth, canned tomato, all three beans, soy sauce, maple syrup, cocoa powder, bay leaves, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, smoked and regular salt and black pepper.2 cups vegetable broth, 15 ounce can black beans, 15 ounce can pinto beans, 15 ounce can navy beans, 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 2 bay leaves, 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, ½ teaspoon smoked salt, ½ teaspoon salt, black pepper, 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
- Stir until everything is well mixed.
- Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and simmer, stirring every 10 minutes or so, for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours. I simmer with the lid off.
Step 4: Add Finishing Ingredients and Serve
- Once done simmering, remove chili from heat and remove bay leaves.
- Add the optional corn meal and stir through to thicken.1-2 tablespoons corn meal
- Add lime juice and cilantro and stir through.1-2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 cup cilantro
- Taste and adjust seasonings as needed (salt and pepper; lime juice for more acidity or more maple syrup for sweetness).
- Serve hot with your favorite chili toppings.
**American-style chili powder is a blend of spices (not just dried ground chili peppers). Accuracy of nutrition information cannot be guaranteed (certain ingredients may not have all nutrients listed in the database); amounts may vary (and will vary depending on brands of ingredients used); all nutrition fact values rounded to the nearest whole number.
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About Nicole Stevens
Nicole is a vegan Registered Dietitian (RD) and founder of Lettuce Veg Out.
She helps people thrive on a vegan diet with balanced recipes and easy-to-understand nutrition science.