Never in the history of chili making, did anyone who spent countless hours perfecting their chili recipe NOT believe theirs was the best chili EVER. So I think my less-than-humble claim to the ‘Best Damn Vegan Chili’ is probably acceptable—even in here in the Midwest, where only Canadians surpass us in politeness and humility.
Why I call this the best damn vegan chili ever
My best vegan chili recipe is an evolution of the traditional, rich and ‘meaty’ chilis I’ve been cooking up most of my life—some as a vegetarian, some as an omnivore, and now this vegan version. What I’ve strived for in all these recipes is a balanced blend of spices, a just-right beans-to-chili ratio, and most important, a rich, hearty texture.
I’ve made (and enjoyed) plenty of ‘many vegetable’ chili recipes with ingredients like zucchini, eggplant, corn and the like. But, in my book, these are more like chili-flavored stews than real chili. For me, the best vegan chili has gotta have that rich, hearty, ‘meaty’ mouthfeel—without the meat, obviously.
In this best vegan chili recipe, the convincing texture, and much of the earthy flavor, comes from mushrooms. Wait! Before you say you lost me at mushrooms, hear me out! In this recipe, we transform those fungi!
How to Make the Best Vegan Chili
How you ask? First, while you can use any kind of mushrooms, I like a blend of creminis and shitakes. Shitakes are a bit expensive, but they have a wonderful, full-bodied, earthy flavor that’s kind of magical in this chili. And did you know, mushrooms help prevent breast cancer? It's true, and plain white buttons mushrooms appear to do this the best.
Second, rather than simply slice or rough-chop the mushrooms, they get ground in the food processor (see photo). I imagine you could also do this by hand. The key is, you don’t want to turn them into mush, just a nice fine dice.
Third, the mushrooms get thoroughly browned until all of their liquid is released. This does away with their spongey, wateriness while concentrating and enhancing their umami flavor. The result is a rich, healthy, hearty stand-in for meat, with a texture and flavor guaranteed to please all but the die-hard mushroom hater/meat lover. And the best vegan chili, ever.
Finally, if you’ve skipped down to the recipe and are wondering if ‘¼ cup of strong coffee or espresso’ is a mistake, it’s not. Like the well browned mushrooms, the coffee provides an added layer of complexity and helps balance the strong flavors of the mushrooms and ground fennel seed in this chili. Besides, could this really be the best vegan chili if it didn’t have a secret ingredient?
Bake up some Rustic Polenta Muffins and get ready to sop up every last drop of this delicious, satisfying chili.
If you like this whole food plant-based recipe, you might also like:
- Best Damn Instant Pot Vegan Chili
- Vegan Pumpkin Chili Mole
- Healthy Vegan Chile Relleno
- Vegan Mushroom Walnut Bolognese
- Smokey Vegan Rice and Beans
- Kid-Friendly Red Quinoa Tacos
I LOVE hearing from you! Connect with me on: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or drop me a note in the comments.
Best Damn Vegan Chili
- 1 pound cremini mushrooms cleaned and finely diced (see notes)
- ½ pound shitake mushrooms cleaned and finely diced (see notes)
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground fennel
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- Optional: ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (for heat)
- 1 28 ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, chopped, with liquid reserved (see notes)
- 1 15 ounce can pinto beans drained and rinsed (or 2 cups of cooked beans)
- 1 15 ounce can black beans drained and rinsed (or 2 cups of cooked beans)
- ¼ cup strong coffee or espresso (brewed coffee, NOT coffee grounds. The secret ingredient!)
- 1 ½ cup water
- Sea salt to taste
- Brush the mushrooms clean with a dry towel. Place mushrooms in a food processor in batches, about ¼ at a time, and pulse several times to grind. You want them finely diced, but not mushy. (See notes.)
- Heat a tablespoon of water in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Add water a little at a time if things begin to stick.
- Add the mushrooms and saute until well browned and the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium, add the cumin, chili powder, fennel, cayenne pepper and cocoa powder. Stir, and cook 3 minutes, adding water 1-2 tablespoons at a time if things begin to stick.
- Deglaze (loosen and scrape up any brown bits) with the coffee. Add the smashed tomatoes and their liquid, beans, and water and simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes and up to one hour.
- Shitake mushrooms can be expensive, but add a rich, earthy flavor. It's fine to use a smaller amount shitakes or substitute them completely with cremini or white button mushrooms. Just make sure you have about 1 ½ pounds total.
- Shitake mushrooms have a tough section on the end of their stem. I snip those off with kitchen shears.
- If some large pieces of mushrooms remain, don't keep pulsing. You want them finely ground but not mushy. Remove any large pieces and set them aside. Transfer the ground mushrooms from the food processor to a bowl. Then, add any large pieces back to the processor with the next batch and repeat until all of the mushrooms are finely ground.
- Chopping whole tomatoes can make a mess! To avoid this, empty the whole can into a large bowl and break them up them with a potato masher, or place them in the food processor and process on low for about 15 seconds. I prefer to use whole tomatoes, as canned diced tomatoes contain a chemical (to keep them from dissolving), which alters the flavor. Also, I find there's no match for the flavor of San Marzanos.
Best Damn Vegan Chili is loosely inspired by Forks Over Knives Bean and Mushroom Chili–and dozens of chili recipes I’ve made throughout the years.
Love this recipe, thank you Elizabeth! I don't use salt to I substitute a little Tamari toward the end of sautéing the mushrooms... adds another layer of flavor. Looking forward to trying more of your recipes. IP Chana Masala is next.
Hi Elizabeth. I recently joined this WFPB Disease Reversal group through my doctors office. We're being medically monitored weekly, medical fitness classes, group sessions, one on one doctor follow up calls,
while completely changing the way we eat. I thought it was going to be a breeze until I found out that we can't use any oils, butters, dairy, or avocados. I nearly cried. It has been a challenging, slow week. While looking for oil free dressings and foods, I came across a few of your recipes and then I followed then to your website. I am excited again!!! I'm feeling more confident and ready to try your recipes. We are having group potlucks the next two mondays instead of our regular group sessions. I an excited to try and bring this chili and the muffins. Thank you!!!!
Thanks so much for your comment, Rae-Linda. It is challenging to make so many lifestyle changes all at one time, but I promise, it does get easier. At least for us it has over these last 3 years. I always tell people, fall in love with cooking all over again, and that really helps. Don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions; I'll do my best to help. And good luck with the chili and muffins! 🙂
I’m afraid it was way too spicy. I had to dilute it with another can of tomatoes, 2 more cans of beans and it was still hotter than we like. So out it went.
I’m going to try again, not putting in the spices until the end.
I’m determined to make this. The coffee and chocolate are very intriguing. And I love vegan chili.
Hi Katrina, I'm so sorry to hear this was too spicy for you! It is definitely on the spicier side. I made this recently for a family gathering--my mother-in-law and I thought it was perfect, my sister-in-law thought is was very spicy, and my husband was reaching for the tabasco sauce! I'm going to change the recipe to cayenne - optional, because it's the cayenne that adds all of that heat. I hope you give it another go. I also have a new chili recipe coming out in another week or so that's a bit milder. Thanks so much for your feedback!
I just have done something wrong... this did NOT turn out well. It was super bitter. I keep re-reading the recipe to see if I missed a step or forgot an ingredient but I don’t think I did. I know there are a lot of other vegetarian and vegan chili’s that have a ton of good flavor so I’m not sure why this was so different.
Hi Alyssa, I'm so sorry to hear you had trouble with this recipe. I've made it dozens of times myself, and have heard many positive reviews from others who have made it, so I agree, sounds like something went wrong. My guess is the coffee, as it's the only bitter ingredient in the recipe. I'm wondering if you possibly used coffee grounds rather than brewed coffee? That could definitely cause the chili to be much too bitter. But 1/4 cup of coffee in 8 cups of chili shouldn't be a problem. Of course, you could always skip the coffee altogether, and this chili would still be great. Thanks for your feedback, and hope you give it another try.
very tasty! Rich deep flavor My son didn't even know it was vegan until we told him. He had a second bowl 🙂 Thank you for sharing
Hi Barb, Thanks so much for your comment! I'm thrilled you enjoyed this chili--it's definitely a family favorite at our house. Love that your son didn't realize it was vegan! 🙂 I have a grown son who is most definitely not vegan, but he loves my Bolognese sauce, which is also made with mushrooms. When we can satisfy our omnivores, well that's a win isn't it! Take care.
I made this yesterday for lunch and it was really tasty - I could have had 3rds! I used mini portabello mushrooms and added about a 1/2 cup of red quinoa for more texture and protein so I doubled the liquid but it thickened up nicely nonetheless and still had rich intense flavor. I can't wait to take the leftovers to work for lunch this week!
Hi Kelly! So glad you tried the chili and liked it! I bet it was great with the quinoa in it too, what a great idea. I'll give that a try next time. Take care, Elizabeth
This chili TOTALLY looks like the best damn chili. I can't wait to make it. Thank you!!!
Thank you so much, Ameera! We really love this recipe. In fact, I'm making it today for my husband's department faculty party tomorrow night. It's a good one for omnivores 🙂 Hope you like it.
Question: it says 1 can whole tomatoes with liquid reserved. Do you use the liquid in the chili after you mash the tomatoes or leave the liquid out completely and just use the smashed tomatoes?
Hi Erin, Thanks for that question! Yes, you do use both the tomatoes and the reserved liquid in the chili. I'll update the instructions to make that clearer. Happy cooking! -Elizabeth