Award Winning Vegetarian Chili (Slow Cooker / Instant Pot)

My easy vegetarian chili recipe won the grand prize in a national contest that called for healthy recipes. Now, chili is a hotly debated subject (no pun intended.) There are over one hundred chili cook-offs in the state of Texas alone, and there are countless opinions as to what should go into the perfect chili recipe. That said, I have made this hearty recipe for vegetarians, vegans, and meat eaters alike, and it always gets rave reviews.

Vegetarian chili in red bowls.

Side note: What goes better with chili than cornbread?  If you answered "nothing", you are correct! Serve this with my Cheddar and Jalapeno Cornbread for a winning combination.

Why My Vegetarian Chili is Award-Worthy

  • So much flavor!: Made from simple ingredients, my best vegetarian chili recipe is full of zesty spices that create a depth of flavor without being too hot.
  • Healthy and hearty: Chili usually isn't considered a health food, but this is a version that is a self-contained well rounded meal.  It is full of protein, fiber, and vegetables, so even a small serving will fill you up (and one batch will feed a lot of people!)
  • Meatless "meaty" texture: Bulgur wheat is one of my secret ingredients that gives this meatless vegan chili recipe a meaty texture. See the "Ingredients"section, below, for more details on this healthy whole grain.
Vegetarian chili in a red bowl next to cornbread.

My Top Tips for Preparing The Best Chili

  1. Season to your liking: Depending on how much flavor you like to add via spices and seasoning, use less or more of my recommended amounts. I've use enough to create bold flavors without being overwhelming, but if you tend to enjoy extra spicy foods, add an extra jalapeno or minced chipotle chili. See the Ingredients section for more suggestions.
  2. Thicken it: Once the chili has finished cooking, simmer it a few minutes longer to thicken to your liking. I love a thicker chili that I can pile high with lots of toppings!
  3. Add plenty of toppings: Speaking of toppings, options are plentiful! Some of my favorite chili toppings are minced green onion, shredded Cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, avocado, hot sauce, diced fresh tomatoes, or crushed tortilla chips. Or, if you're vegan, top the chili with vegan sour cream or shredded vegan cheese.
  4. Make it ahead: Chili is a great option for easy and filling meal prep. It lasts for several days in the refrigerator, and leftover chili tastes even better the next day, when flavors have had a chance to blend.

Ingredients and Special Equipment

Check recipe card at the bottom of this post for specific quantities.

Ingredients for chili.

Vegetarian Chili Ingredients

  • Red onion: Yellow or white onion may be substituted.
  • Red bell pepper: Red pepper may be replaced with diced yellow, orange, or green pepper, or add a second pepper for a more colorful chili.
  • Jalapeno pepper: Depending on your preferred level of spice, jalapenos can be replaced with a few tablespoons of diced green chiles or canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, which will add a bit of smoke.
  • Butternut squash: Substitute diced peeled sweet potatoes.
  • Spices: Ground cumin, coriander, chili powder, and cinnamon. I've added a generous amount of these spices, but you can add more or less to taste, depending on personal preference. You can also add/substitute other spices such as chipotle chili powder, garlic powder or. smoked paprika.
  • Crushed tomatoes: Tomato sauce may be substituted.
  • Water: Substitute low-sodium vegetable broth.
  • Garbanzo beans / chickpeas: Different types of beans work in this recipe.  Just make sure that you have three cans total.  Use a combination of any of the following types: black beans, pinto beans, white beans, red kidney beans, or garbanzo beans.
  • Dried bulgur: Bulgur is a grain usually found in the health foods or organic foods sections of your grocery store (or occasionally it is shelved with the rice and grains.) If you can't find bulgur, substitute rinsed quinoa or even couscous.

Special Equipment (Optional)

  • Instant pot: This "multicooker" is an electronically controlled combination of a high pressure cooker and a slow cooker. I've included instructions in my recipe for making this chili with an instant pot, a slow cooker or crock pot, or on the stovetop.

Step by Step Photos and Instructions

Instructions for Instant Pot / Slow Cooker

  1. Heat the olive oil in your Instant Pot or Slow Cooker using the "Saute" function.
  2. Add the diced onion, carrots, bell pepper, garlic, jalapeno, and butternut squash. Saute the mixture until the vegetables are tender, 6-8 minutes.

3. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, cinnamon, and salt; saute the mixture for 2 minutes more. Turn off the saute function.

4. Without stirring, pour the crushed tomatoes and water over top of the mixture. You want the tomatoes to stay on top of the mixture before cooking, or else they can burn the bottom of your pot or slow cooker.

5. Add the garbanzo beans, bulgur and red wine vinegar.

6. Place the lid over the mixture. If you are using an Instant Pot, seal the lid.

7. For an Instant Pot: Cook the chili on the "Manual" function for 16 minutes. Let steam slow release for 15 minutes, then carefully flip the steam release handle to release the pressure.

8. For a Slow Cooker: Cook the chili on HIGH for 3-4 hours or on LOW for 6-8 hours, until the bulgur is tender and the mixture has thickened.

9. Give the chili a good stir and, if desire, simmer for 5-10 minutes more to thicken. Ladle the chili into bowls, garnish with your favorite toppings, and serve hot!

How To Cook This Chili On a Stovetop

Stovetop preparation for this chili is easy and similar to that of an Instant Pot or slow cooker:

  1. Saute the vegetables in a large pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the spices and salt and saute for 2 minutes more.
  3. Add tomatoes, water, garbanzo beans, bulgur and vinegar.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and cook, uncovered, until the bulgur and the squash are tender and the mixture has thickened. Ladle the chili into bowls, garnish as desired, and serve hot!
Close up of vegtearian chili in bowls.

FAQ and Troubleshooting Your Vegetarian Chili

What is bulgur wheat?

Bulgur is a grain that is similar to cracked wheat and is most commonly found in tabbouleh salad or pilafs.  Its nutritional value makes it a good substitute in a vegetarian recipe for rice, quinoa, or couscous.  In most supermarkets, it is found in the health or organic foods sections or occasionally it is shelved with the rice and grains.

How long does vegetarian chili last?

Chili will generally last for 5-6 days in the refrigerator, covered and stored in an airtight container. Leftover vegetarian chili tends to taste even better the next day after preparation, when flavors have had time to blend. Reheat chili in either a microwave safe dish or a small saucepan set over medium-low heat.

Can you use dried beans for chili?

Yes! Dried beans are commonly used in chili recipes. Cover the beans with water and soak them overnight to soften them. Once soaked, they can be cooked in the chili along with other ingredients. Dried beans may absorb extra liquid, so you may need to adjust the amount of broth or water in your chili recipe to ensure the right consistency.

Vegetarian chili in a red bowl.

Wondering what to serve with That Bowl of Chili Come Game Day? Here are a Few Ideas:

Tried this recipe and loved it? Take a photo and tag me on Instagram or give it a review!

Vegetarian Chili in individual bowls.

Award Winning Vegetarian Chili (Slow Cooker / Instant Pot / Stovetop)

Julie Hession
This easy spiced vegetarian chili won me the grand prize in a national cook-off call the "Healthy Food Fight!" Seasoned with warm spices and full of colorful vegetables and hearty garbanzo beans, this chili is given a meaty texture with the addition of bulgur wheat. Cook it on your stovetop, in a slow cooker, or by using your Instant Pot. I've provided instructions for all three.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 18 minutes
Servings 10
Calories 222 kcal
5 from 2 votes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Equipment

  • 1 Instant pot or slow cooker (optional)

Ingredients
 
 

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the bias
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 3 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
  • tablespoon ground cumin
  • tablespoon ground coriander
  • tablespoon chili powder
  • teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • cups water
  • 3 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • cup uncooked bulgur wheat
  • 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Optional garnish: Chopped scallions, Greek yogurt or sour cream, shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips

Instructions
 

For Instant Pot / Slow Cooker

  • Heat the olive oil in your Instant Pot or Slow Cooker using the "Saute" function.
  • Add the diced onion, carrots, bell pepper, garlic, jalapeno, and butternut squash. Saute the mixture until the vegetables are tender, 6-8 minutes.
  • Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, cinnamon, and salt; saute the mixture for 2 minutes more. Turn off the saute function.
  • Without stirring, pour the crushed tomatoes and water over top of the mixture. You want the tomatoes to stay on top of the mixture before cooking, or else they can burn the bottom of your pot or slow cooker.
  • Add the garbanzo beans, bulgur and red wine vinegar.
  • Place the lid over the mixture. If you are using an Instant Pot, seal the lid.
  • For an Instant Pot, cook the chili on the "Manual" function for 16 minutes. Let the steam slow release for 15 minutes, and then carefully flip the steam release handle to release the pressure.
  • For a Slow Cooker, cook the chili on HIGH for 3-4 hours or on LOW for 6-8 hours, until the bulgur is tender and the mixture has thickened.
  • If desired, simmer the chili for 5-10 minutes more to thicken (I love a thicker chili!) Ladle the chili into bowls, garnish as desired, and serve hot!

Stovetop Instructions

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot set over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion, carrots, bell pepper, garlic, jalapeno, and butternut squash. Saute until the vegetables are tender, 6-8 minutes. Add the spices and salt and saute for 2 minutes more.
  • Add tomatoes, water, garbanzo beans, bulgur and vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until the bulgur and the squash are tender and the mixture has thickened, stirring often, 20-25 minutes.
  • Ladle the chili into bowls, garnish as desired, and serve hot!

Notes

  • Leftover chili will keep for 5-6 days in the refrigerator, tightly covered in an airtight container.  Reheat in a microwave safe bowl or in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
  • If you are using an Instant Pot or a slow cooker, make sure that you don't mix the tomatoes with the vegetables before closing the lid.  Just keep them layered on top.  Tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes can have a tendency to burn the bottom of the pot while cooking. 

Nutrition

Calories: 222kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Sodium: 883mg | Potassium: 537mg | Fiber: 11g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 7789IU | Vitamin C: 34mg | Calcium: 105mg | Iron: 3mg
Did You Make This Recipe?Please leave a comment below or pin it to your Pinterest account!

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2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I'm so glad I stumbled upon this recipe! As a vegetarian, it can be hard to find delicious and hearty chili recipes. This slow cooker/Instant Pot chili looks absolutely phenomenal and I can't wait to try it out. The addition of black beans and sweet potatoes is genius – they add so much texture and flavor to the dish. I'm positive this will become a new favorite in my household. Thanks for sharing! 😋🥘

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