Real Deal Vegan Chili with Beans

As a meat eater one of my favorite things to eat in the world was Texas chili con carne. You know the meat and chiles without any healthy beans to get in the way! I developed a pretty kick-ass version over the years. It combined some Mexican cooking methods that I learned from J. Wade Williams (a la Rick Bayless) and testing a few recipes from the web. The flavor breakthrough is all about using dried chiles and toasting them for maximum flavor. No chili powder from a jar!

So when I set out to convert that original recipe into a more life-sustaining dish sans the carne I knew I had to get it right. Flavor  is  of the utmost importance. But how do you get a meatless dish to taste like beef? I tried a few times and failed. I was attempting to replace the texture of chuck steak with chunk seitan. It was only mildly succesful. The real issue was not so much the mouthfeel of the seitan as much as it was the lacking in beefy flavor of the chili itself.

U my mami?

This month I finally had a breakthrough. Cook's Illustrated wrote a piece on vegetarian chili and the tested and discussed the dilemma I have just described to you guys. How to increase that umami flavor in the chili to make it taste more savory or beefy.

I had already been on the hunt for more umami earlier this year developing the recipe. I had experimented with tomato paste and soy sauce. A friend of mine Ian had suggested I check out black garlic. That was a step in the right direction for sure.Armed with my new knowledge of umami I was ready to tackle the recipe once again.

beans in chili?

I had debated adding beans to the chili because real Texas chili has no beans. Or at least I should say chili con carne has no beans. I decided to leave out the seitan add pinto beans and bulgar for the meaty texture (another suggestion from Cook's). I know the purist will mock me for the beans but I don't really care. I love beans! They really are my favorite protein source. Every meal with beans leaves me feeling fuller and more satiated for a longer period of time because they take much longer to digest that other veggies. The bulgar adds a great meaty texture to the chili.

The last thing I will say to preface this recipe is that when it comes to chili I am all about the slow cooker. This process is pretty involved. Although it did get simplified a bit by the time you get everything in the pot you are ready to clean up and call it a night. That's why I love the slow cooker. Once you get the whole pot boiling you just transfer it to the slow cooker and walk away. You come home later or wake up in the morning to the most amazing smell! Its really the only way to do this in my opinion.

Alright. Enough jibber jabber. On with the recipe.

Real Deal Vegan Chili with Beans

5 dried ancho chiles
3 dried guajillo chiles
2 large white onions diced about 2# whole or 4 cups diced
4 garlic cloves minced
1 (28oz) can of diced tomatoes (of fresh if in season) drained and liquid reserved
7 cups of water
2 1/2 cups of dried pinto beans, washed
1/2 oz of dried shiitake mushrooms coarsely chopped
1/2 cup of toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon ground cumin
4 teaspoons mexican oregano
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
4 tablespoons of tamari/soy sauce
2/3 cup of coarse bulgar (medium coarse is ok too)
4 cloves of black garlic (mashed with a fork)
3 teaspoons of white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
chopped green onions and cilantro for garnish (optional)

1. preheat oven to 300 degrees. Arrange dried chiles on baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes until fragrant and puffed. Transfer to a plate to cool about 5 minutes. Stem and seed the chiles. If you like your chili hotter leave some seeds or pith. Grind toasted chilies, oregano, and shiitake mushrooms in a spice grinder/mortar and pestal to a fine powder. I have an immersion blender with a small food processor like attachment. That's what I used and it worked great.

2. Process walnuts in a food processor until finely ground. About 30 seconds. Set aside.

3. Process drained tomatoes, jalapeno, regular garlic, and tamari until very finely chopped.

4. Heat dutch oven over high heat until very hot. Add onions and cook with lid on stirring occasionally until onions start to brown and are translucent. About 5-8 minutes. Add cumin and chili powder and cook stirring frequently 1 minute. Add beans, black garlic, tomato puree, walnuts, bulgar, and water. Bring to a full rolling boil.

5. Transfer carefully to slow cooker and cook on high heat for 4 hours or low heat for 8. Stirring once or twice to ensure beans are submerged in liquid. Add vinegar and taste. Season with salt and pepper and serve with cilantro and green onions as garnish if desired. Depending on your chili heat you may or may not need some hot sauce as well.

Hope you enjoy it. Remember that these stews always taste better a day or two after making them.

Enjoy in health!

typed first draft with many, many revisions.

dried Guajillo chiles

grinding the chiles, shiitake, and oregano

where I shop this is usually hanging in the produce department near the regular garlic. It can also be ordered online.


  1. are amazing!!!! I think you should have a TV cooking program. And have the kids and Kristen pop in to taste the final product along with a few antics!!!
    What do you think?

  2. So this looks pretty good but definitely harder than my typical 'throw a bunch of things in a crock pot' method. I will try it. I'm looking for a good recipe for a chile cook off at work. It's still several months away so I have time to experiment and try new recipes.

    How long does the pre-slow cooker part take you? I'd have to do that in the morning before work and then take everything to work and plug it in there.

    1. I would guess 30-45 minutes but perhaps more. I would play it safe and say an hour because inevitably something will take longer than it seems when you need to get to work! :)

  3. I've got this cooking as I type this. I'm very excited about it because it smelled amazing when I left the house. Made me so hungry! I couldn't find black garlic at my local Whole Foods, so I just added more garlic. What does black garlic do for it - am I going to be sad that I didn't go for all out mission to find it?

    1. Black garlic is fermented garlic. It is one of he umami flavors. These add a savory beefy quality to the dish. I'm sure it wil taste great. If you have any vegan worchestershire sauce you might add a dash. But taste it first. It may not need it.

  4. This is so funny, I was looking in the produce department for garlic, that's black. Well too late now. The house smells amazing and I'm looking forward to digging in! Have a great day.

    1. In Northern California at WFM it is sold in the produce dept. I just uploaded a photo of what it looks like. Check it out.

  5. Ahhh, that's good to know. I was going to look for in the pickle department. LOL. The soup/stew/chili is AWESOME! Very tasty. Now I look forward to cauliflower and squash. Mmmmmmm.


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