The Best Vegetarian Chili EVER

Chili is the perfect dish for a casual gathering on a fall day. We threw a small birthday party for my son recently and while the kids had pigs-in-blankets and sweet potato fries, the adults chowed down on chili accompanied by jalapeno corn bread and the usual chili fixins’. While I was getting ready for the party, the chili was simmering away on its own in the slow-cooker – one of my top ten favorite kitchen appliance. I’ve made this chili numerous times and it is certainly a crowd-pleaser. It can definitely hold its own next to its meat-filled counterpart, and it’s good for you. It’s an oft-requested recipe so I’ve dedicated a post to it. See? It’s the best chili EVER.

A few notes on the recipe…regarding the beans, I prefer black and pinto beans since I find these varieties to be the most flavorful. You’ll also note that there is an added step of running the diced tomatoes through the food processor to achieve a desired consistency that lies between purée and chunky. So, why not just use crushed or puréed tomatoes, you ask. Well, the folks at Cook’s Illustrated concluded that “tomato purée tasted too thick and sweet” and that the consistency of crushed tomatoes varied too greatly among the different brands of canned tomatoes. Believe me, I tried the puréed and crushed tomatoes on separate occasions and the consistency of the chili was never “right” even after hours in the slow-cooker. And after making this dish many times, I prefer some tomato chunkiness in my chili so I usually run just one can of diced tomatoes through the processor and leave the other one as-is.  The corn is a must-add,  the cilantro brightens the dish, and the sugar balances the heat and acidity of the chili. This chili also freezes well so you can have chili throughout the year.

Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Bean Chili

adapted from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe by Cook’s Illustrated / America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 6 to 8

2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium onions, minced
8 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 8 teaspoons)
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 (15.5-ounce) cans pinto, drained and rinsed
2 (15.5-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1-3 tablespoons minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce
4 teaspoons sugar
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
Ground black pepper

1 – Pulse the tomatoes with their juice in a food processor until slightly chunky, about 5 pulses; set aside. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until the onions are softened and lighly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the processed tomatoes.

2 – Transfer the onion and tomato mixture to the slow cooker insert and stir in the beans, chipotles, and sugar until evenly combined. Cover and cook on low until the chili is flavorful, 7 to 8 hours.

3 – Stir in the corn and cilantro, cover, and continue to cook until the corn is heated through, about 5 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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  • May ling Wu

    Nothing beats chili on a cool fall day! Will have to make this. I’ve been meaning to use that slow cooker a bit more.

    • Amy

      You will not be disappointed! My slowcooker will get more love this year…I plan on making more one-pot meals now that I’m on the east coast.

      • Chihana

        Amy-please do post more one-pot slow cooker recipes. I’ve had no luck with my slow-cooker recipes. They all turned out horrible. I will make sure to try this vegetarian chili out!!

  • Frank Honore

    Chili is one of my favorite foods! Will have to try this vegetarian version!

    • Amy

      Hi Frank! You will not be disappointed! Let me know how it turns out for you.

  • Michelle

    Thanks! I may try this out next week

  • Erin

    Now that I have time to cook, I am making this. Awesome. Gorgeous photos. :)

    • Amy

      Yay for more time! Will we see a guest post on babychili soon??? And thanks for the compliment….means a lot coming from you!

  • fooddreamer

    I love veggie chili and my favourite recipe comes from….The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook! It’s not quite the same as this one, but it is close. I may have to do a taste test with the one I do and this one!

    • Amy

      I noticed that about ATK. They’ll have slightly different versions of the same recipe. What are the differences for the veg chilis?

  • Jean

    I love my slow cooker, too! I was a convert after using mine for the first time 4-5 years ago. Now I should pull it out to try out this chili–I think I even have this book already. Warmth and comfort in one bowl–it would be perfect tonight. :-)

    • Amy

      T’is the season for the slow cooker! Let me know what you think of the chili.

  • Sue Park-Jensen

    hey Amy – I’m in the market for a new slow cooker – which do you have and/or recommend?

    • AMY

      I have an oval-shaped slow cooker called Crock-Pot which I’ve been happy with. Cook’s Illustrated recommends the updated version called Crock-Pot Touchscreen ( and the All-Clad Slow Cooker with Ceramic Insert.

  • Stubbs

    The latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated has a new version of this (cooked in oven but I bet a slow cooker would work too) that is excellent. Takes some work but even meat eaters think it’s not veggie.

  • Lance

    I loved this recipe! Best veggie chili ever. I made one substitution though…instead of sugar I used semi-sweet chocolate.

    • kimchi_mom

      Nice! I need to try the chocolate substitution. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Lulu

    Made this yesterday, I have to agree it was the best veggie chili ever! Thanks for sharing –it’ll be made many times :)

  • IvyGal

    This recipe is amazing! Love the crockpot focus too. A great way to make a big meal without heating up the house.

    I took a poster’s suggestion to use semi sweet chocolate chips instead of sugar – tasted terrific. I pulsed canned fire roasted tomatoes in the blender, instead of plain tomatoes which gave a deeper flavor. I also was out of canned chipotle so worked canned a green chilies (not pickled!) into a paste with a few tablespoons of tomato paste, a teaspoon of olive oil, and a few table spoons of ground chipotle. It was difficult to predict the heat. Better to add sparingly and increase at the end. Glad to figure out a work-around, I don’t think this recipe would be the same without the chipotle!

    • kimchi_mom

      I love it! I’m also going to try the chocolate chips next time! Thanks for visiting!

  • Too hot for me

    We used 1/4 cup of chili powder as suggested and it was way too hot. Probably half that amount or less would be better. Was wondering if qe his was a typo in the recipe??

    • kimchi_mom

      I like the heat of this chili, but maybe I should’ve mentioned that it’s on the spicy side! Thanks for your comment!