This hearty rainbow chili is easy to make and a perfect way to cook for the week ahead. Plus, it’s vegetarian and vegan, low-fat, packs a whollop of fiber and protein, and as always is easily amended with your favorite mix-and-match ingredients and toppings. Optional crumbled tofu handily replaces the texture of ground meat when browned with just a tablespoon of flour and chili powder (in this case GF flour). Other great additions to this could include frozen corn, canned pumpkin, chopped sweet potatoes or hearty winter squash, or your favorite spicy amendments, such as chipotle peppers, mild green chiles, or fire-roasted tomatoes and peppers.
How to make easy vegetarian chili
Onions and garlic
In a 6-quart soup pot, sauté one large chopped yellow onion in 3 Tablespoons olive oil. Add 4 cloves chopped garlic.
Tofu and seasonings
Drain 1 package firm tofu by pressing into a colander. Add to pot.
Add 2 Tablespoons unsalted, mild chili power, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 1 Tablespoon flour. I used Trader Joe’s chili powder and Namaste Organic Gluten-Free Perfect Flour Blend.
Stir to thoroughly coat the tofu and onions and cook 5-10 minutes, being careful to not over-stir, otherwise the tofu will break down into extra small bits, rather than larger chunks akin to the texture of ground meat.
Add two chopped carrots, four chopped stalks celery, and one 28-ounce canned whole or chopped tomatoes (I prefer the heft of whole tomatoes in this recipe). Add an additional 1-2 Tablespoons of tomato paste. (I used–gasp!–ketchup, as I was out of tomato paste.) Cook until just tender, stirring occasionally.
Assorted beans and rainbow peppers
Add 2 cups unsalted black beans, 2 cups unsalted kidney beans, and 2 cups unsalted cannellini beans, including just a bit of the liquid. (I used my Basic Black Beans and home-cooked kidney and cannellini beans cooked the same way; if you can’t easily find unsalted canned beans, just remember to adjust salt content accordingly.) You can mix and match these beans with your favorite varieties.
Finally, add chopped peppers. You can use any color pepper; I chose to add as many colors as I could find at the store and ended up with a lovely rainbow of red, orange, yellow, and green.
Season with 1-2 teaspoons sea salt, 1 Tablespoon soy sauce (I used gluten-free soy sauce), 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar, several grinds black pepper, and a bay leaf.
I know it might sound strange to add soy sauce and apple cider vinegar to chili, but these are useful additions. The soy sauce adds an important umami element. The apple cider vinegar rounds out the sweetness of the carrots and peppers, and the heat of the chili powder combines with it all to give you the all-important salt, fat, acid, heat, and sweet that your taste buds recognize as full-flavor food. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, balsamic or red wine vinegar are good options.
Cook until peppers are just tender. Season with additional salt to taste, if necessary.
Serve with your favorite toppings–such as, sliced avocado, crispy tortilla strips, chopped green onion, cilantro, shredded cheddar cheese, and fresh salsa. Keep favorite hot sauces nearby for the adults to kick up the heat. Pictured here is the next day’s installment for lunch, with just green onions and hot pepper flakes.
How To Make Easy Vegetarian Chili
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion chopped
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- 1 package firm organic tofu strained and crumbled
- 1 tbsp flour (GF)
- 2 tbsp mild unsalted chili powder
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 28-ounce can whole or chopped tomatoes
- 2 large carrots chopped
- 4 stalks celery chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 4 med-large peppers chopped
- 2 cups black beans unsalted
- 2 cups kidney beans unsalted
- 2 cups cannellini beans unsalted
- 1 bay leaf
- 1-2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp soy salt (GF)
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- several grinds black pepper
- Saute onions and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add strained, crumbled tofu, chili powder, cumin, and flour. Stir and brown for 5 minutes. Add carrots, celery, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Cook 5-10 minutes. Add beans, chopped peppers, and additional seasonings. Cook until peppers are just tender. Amend seasons as necessary. Serve with favorite toppings.