Don’t-Miss-The-Meat Vegetarian Chili

I love chili, but ever since reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and watching “Food Inc.” I have a hard time making it with ground beef. Of course, on special occasions, I make Michael Symon’s recipe with slab bacon and pork shoulder, but last Wednesday wasn’t a special occasion. No: it was just a weeknight and as I found myself wandering the aisles of Gourmet Garage, I wondered: “What if I just get a bunch of vegetables and beans and cook them the way I cook Michael Symon’s chili? Ya know: with beer and chilis in adobo and freshly ground coriander and cumin seeds?” The results, as you can see above, were so good even Craig agreed: “I don’t miss the meat!”

Making a good chili, it turns out, is all about developing flavor. When you have meat, the meat does the job for you; all that fat emerges and serves as a flavor amplifier. When making a vegetarian chili, you’ve got to compensate. So I pulled up this vegetarian chili recipe from Epicurious: I’d made it before to some mild acclaim. This time I would rev it up with ingredients from Michael Symon’s chili so the whole thing exploded with excitement.

And indeed it did. Of course, it helped that I served it with tons of sour cream and grated smoked gouda, along with cilantro and scallions and Tortilla chips; but even with a spoon, this was some good chili. Here’s how you make it.

Don’t-Miss-The-Meat Vegetarian Chili

adapted from Epicurious & Michael Symon

with several flourishes by yours truly


2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 orange pepper, chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno, chopped


1 28-ounce can tomatoes

1 12-ounce bottle of amber ale or porter


2 15 ounce cans red kidney beans

2 15 ounce cans black beans [Note: I didn’t have these extra two cans, so I just used the kidney beans. But I think it’d be better with the full amount of beans.]

2 Tbs white wine vinegar

5 minced cloves garlic

2 Tbs chili powder

1 Tbs toasted coriander, ground in a coffee grinder

1 Tbs toasted cumin seed, ground in a coffee grinder


[Note: this makes a big difference, don’t skip it!]

2 Tbs chopped chilis in adobo [these are spicy, so use accordingly]

1 Tbs sweet smoked paprika

Salt to taste


Sour Cream

Chopped cilantro

Sliced scallions

Shredded smoked gouda

Tortilla Chips


1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions and peppers and jalapenos and saute until everything’s tender but not brown. Add a pinch of salt.


2. Add tomatoes, 3 cups beer, beans, white wine vinegar, garlic, all the spices (the coriander, chili powder, etc.), the chilis in adobo: basically everything except the garnish.


Give another good pinch of salt, bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Stir and wait; let it reduce and thicken. It takes 20 – 30 minutes.


Make sure to taste as you go, adjusting for salt and, if necessary, vinegar (that white wine vinegar can really help.)

Doesn’t that look thick and hearty for a vegetarian chili?

Here’s another trick: if you make this earlier than you need it, just let it sit on the stovetop, off the heat, with the lid half-on for a few hours. All the flavors get a chance to marry and the texture improves too (maybe the beans soak up even more liquid?) But it’s no biggie; you can eat it right away too. I wouldn’t blame you.

Related Posts:

The Best Chili of Your Life

The Secret To A Successful Dinner Party is a Big Pot of Food & Dessert

This Chicken Chili is Pretty Good

2 thoughts on “Don’t-Miss-The-Meat Vegetarian Chili”

  1. we added toasted sesame oil to ours. Also took a little out and used a immersion blender to make a richer broth. Great chili recipe!

  2. Just wanted to let you know that I come back to this recipe time and again, sometimes with different veggies or kinds of beans but I think the ratio of the spices is just about perfect for my tastes :)

    Tonight it includes a chopped zucchini and corn from three cobs, with 3 cans of black beans (same peppers… I think I used two jalapenos and two bell peppers). The best!

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