This vegetarian chili is ultra flavorful and bursting with spices, notes of smoky chipotle, vegetables, and plenty of pinto beans. It’s rich, hearty, and oh so comforting; plus, it’s an easy one-pot meal as it simmers in a cast-iron skillet.
Chili is one of those recipes I always look forward to making in the colder months of the year. It’s warm, full of flavor, and infinitely customizable. To be honest, my favorite part of eating chili is loading it up with toppings like sour cream, tortilla chips, cheese, and cilantro.
What makes a good chili?
I have a lot of opinions on chili. It needs to be full of savory flavor and stewy in texture, with a little bit of acidity to cut the spices. On its own, chili should be slightly spicier than I’d want to eat it, so that when I add the sour cream and cheese, it’s got the perfect level of spice.
In my household growing up, I always reigned supreme as the chili queen! At least once or twice a year, my brother would ask me to make chili with him. For me it was always a no-recipe kind of recipe. We’d scour the pantry for anything that would make the chili, well, taste like chili. Sometimes we’d add hot sauce, sometimes vinegar, sometimes diced tomatoes, sometimes fire-roasted. No matter what we put in, it would always end up delicious from a long simmer and a balanced set of flavors.
What’s special about this vegetarian chili recipe?
There are a couple of key factors that make this chili special!
- Smokiness from canned chipotle chilies in adobe sauce and fire-roasted tomatoes: I’m obsessed with chipotle chilies — they add so much flavor! And fire-roasted tomatoes really give the chili a nice depth.
- Deeply savory: The combination of spices, vegetables, beans, and miso paste add a nice savory flavor sure to please vegetarian and non-vegetarians alike!
Why cook chili in a cast iron skillet?
Cooking this chili in a cast-iron skillet allows for better heat retention and faster evaporation; this helps create a depth of flavor and thickened texture in less time. If you’d like, you can serve the chili right in the skillet as a fun presentation loaded with all the toppings! It makes a weeknight dinner for two much more exciting.
Ingredients for chili
- Aromatics: Onion, garlic, carrots, celery, scallions, and a green bell pepper create a nice base for the chili and add a bit of natural sweetness.
- Canned pinto beans: Canned beans make this appropriate for a weeknight dinner. I love using pinto beans as they’re super creamy, but feel free to use a combination of beans you like. A mix of kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans would be great too. Make sure to drain and rinse the beans before adding to the chili to remove any excess saltiness.
- Vegetable stock or bouillon: Vegetable stock is fine here, though I more recently started using Better Than Bouillon’s vegetable base flavor (not sponsored, just love it!) It’s super convenient, because I don’t have to constantly re-stock my broths/stocks, and I can just mix the bouillon paste into water to instantly create a very flavorful broth.
- Spices: We are using aaalll the spices here. Dried oregano, cumin, and coriander add a savory earthy flavor, a pinch of cinnamon adds a bit of sweet/warming flavor, sweet paprika adds mild notes of bell pepper, and garlic powder helps balance some of the more acidic flavors.
- Crushed fire-roasted tomatoes: I recently discovered crushed fire-roasted tomatoes and it’s a game changer. It adds a little bit of smokiness, acidity, and sauciness to the chili. Can’t find crushed fire-roasted tomatoes? You can sub in regular crushed tomatoes and a pinch of smoked paprika.
- Canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce: These chipotle chilies have lots of smokiness and are coated in a tangy, spicy sauce. I add just two of these to the chili, as they can be quite spicy!
- Miso paste: A bit of miso paste helps round out the chili and add some umami. I love adding miso to vegetarian dishes, as it has such a complex depth of flavor.
What are the best toppings for chili?
Like I said, toppings are my favorite part! Below are a few suggestions to get you started. Feel free to pick and choose whatever you like.
- Grated cheese: Grated cheddar or pepper jack cheese makes the chili nice and creamy.
- Tortilla chips: This is my favorite topping. I crush some tortilla chips and top them with the chili for a little bit of crunch.
- Sour cream: Sour cream helps cut the acidity and spice of the chili. Don’t have sour cream? Sub in greek yogurt with a bit of lime juice. I do this all the time, and it’s a great swap!
- Minced cilantro: Freshly chopped cilantro adds a bit of necessary freshness to this rich and hearty meal.
- Thinly sliced scallions
- A squeeze of lime juice
- Pickled jalapenos: If you’re looking for a bit more heat and acidity, this is a superior topping.
Where can I purchase canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce?
You should be able to find a can of chipotle chilies in adobo sauce at your standard grocery store or supermarket. It’s typically in the international aisle and labeled as “chipotle peppers in adobo sauce”.
How to make this skillet vegetarian chili
Hungry yet? Let’s walk through making this chili!
This chili recipe is quite easy and straightforward. Here’s how to make it.
Step 1: Saute the aromatics until they’re nice and golden-brown and softened. The key here is to get some flavor, so golden-brown (but not burnt) edges are a must. Stir in the chipotle peppers and saute for a minute or two.
Step 2: Add the spices and stir to combine. Cook for a minute, just to “activate” and toast the spices.
Step 3: Stir in the beans.
Step 4: Add the crushed tomatoes, vegetable stock, and miso paste. Stir to combine.
Step 5: Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour). This simmering time allows the chili to develop flavors. If you find that it’s splattering, cover it with a lid.
Step 6: Top with cilantro and serve.
Chili will last 3 to 4 days in an airtight container stored in the refrigerator. Make sure to cool it down to room temperature before storing in a container!
Absolutely! This chili will taste even better the next day as the flavors continue to develop. You can make the chili itself a day in advance, and even prep any toppings in advance (and keep them in the refrigerator if needed). Then, you can reheat the chili in the microwave or on the stove at low heat until warmed. Serve with desired toppings and enjoy!
Typically, chili tastes too acidic from the canned tomatoes. This can happen if the brand of tomatoes are on the more acidic side, or if the chili hasn’t simmered long enough. If you’ve simmered the chili for at least 30 minutes, and it still tastes quite acidic, there are a few fixes. 1. Add more spices: If you can barely taste the spices (maybe your spices are old, for example), spices like garlic powder, ground coriander, and ground cumin can help cut the acidity.
2. Add a pinch of cocoa powder: Unsweetened cocoa powder is a common ingredient added to chili. It sounds surprising, but it adds more depth and rounds out the flavors of the chili.
3. Add a pinch of baking soda: Last year, I made a shrimp stew and the tomato flavor was just too acidic. I read a tip online about using baking soda, so I added a pinch (less than 1/4 of a teaspoon) of baking soda and it completely transformed the flavor! It cut out any excess acidity and the dish tasted really balanced.
Did you try this recipe? I would love to hear your feedback! Be sure to rate the recipe and leave a comment below.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Vegetarian Skillet Chili Recipe
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 1 stalk of celery, finely diced
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 1 green pepper, deseeded and diced
- 2 chipotles chilies in adobo sauce, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika, avoid smoked or hot paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- Pinch cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- Salt and black pepper
- 15.5 ounce can of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 14 ounce can of crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoons miso paste
- Cheddar cheese, grated
- Sour cream
- Chopped cilantro and scallions
- Tortilla chips
- In a cold cast-iron skillet, add oil and garlic. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes until light golden-brown and aromatic. Add the onions, celery, carrot, scallion, and green peppers. Saute for 10 to 15 minutes until soft, translucent and golden-brown at the edges, stirring occasionally.
- Reduce the heat to low, then add in the chipotle pepper and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Stir in the spices until incorporated. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Stir in the pinto beans.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, vegetable stock and miso paste. Stir to combine.
- Bring mixture to a boil, then simmer on medium-low heat for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Season with salt and pepper and stir occasionally, scraping the sides as needed. Make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- After simmering, season again as needed.
- Remove from the heat and divide chili amongst serving bowls. Top with desired toppings. Alternatively, for a fun presentation, serve the chili straight from the skillet. Top with desired toppings and dig in!
- Typically, chili tastes too acidic from the canned tomatoes. This can happen if the brand of tomatoes are on the more acidic side, or if the chili hasn’t simmered long enough. If you’ve simmered the chili for at least 30 minutes, and it still tastes quite acidic, there are a few fixes.
- Add more spices: If you can barely taste the spices (maybe your spices are old, for example), spices like garlic powder, ground coriander, and ground cumin can help cut the acidity.
- Add a pinch of cocoa powder: Unsweetened cocoa powder is a common ingredient added to chili. It sounds surprising, but it adds more depth and rounds out the flavors of the chili.
- Add a pinch of baking soda: Start with 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder and stir it into the chili. It should help cut the acidity; if needed, add another 1/8 teaspoon.