Variations on a Theme: Slow Cooked Vegetarian Chili

My wife and I have been cook­ing up a “Chili” dish for quite a few years. It start­ed out as a quick and easy veg­e­tar­i­an chili which we brought to one of our com­pa­ny pot lucks since one of our employ­ees was a veg­an. However, over the years I am not sure we have ever cooked the recipe the same way twice and quite frankly, have no idea what the orig­i­nal recipe real­ly was. But here is a look at some of the vari­a­tions we have had on the theme, Vegetarian Chili.

First, things first. There are Texans out there that will decry the idea that this is chili at all. To you, I ask for your for­give­ness. Unfortunately, chili is the best way to describe this dish to most peo­ple, even if it isn’t real­ly chili.

Ok, that being done, lets look at the orig­i­nal base recipe as best as I can remem­ber and then at the end will have the recipe as evolved.


3 cans (15.5oz) of kid­ney beans
1 bag (1lb) of Birds Eye Pepper Stir-Fry (frozen bell pep­per strips with onions)
1C of frozen corn
1 can (14.5oz) of crushed tomatos
1T of Chili Powder
1t of Cumin
1t of gar­lic pow­der
2T of Frozen Orange Juice Concentrate
Salt and pep­per to taste


Pop all ingre­di­ents into a slow cook­er and let cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hrs on low. Eat!

Now, I look at that and feel like some­thing is miss­ing but it may just be that we have changed it so many times I real­ly can’t remem­ber. The first thing we did, and I think we did this the very first time we cooked it, was to change out one of the cans of kid­ney beans with a can of black beans and used both a light red and a dark red kid­ney bean. I think we also used 4 cans of beans instead of three and added a small diced onion. I know my wife prob­a­bly also snuck in and spiced it up a bit more — she likes it spicy.

The biggest change of course was to turn this into a Vegetarian Chili with Meat, sor­ry guys. It all start­ed out inno­cent­ly enough. We made a dou­ble batch of this stuff and had some left overs. We used the left overs as a top­ping to some chick­en. Before you knew it, we were throw­ing all kinds of meats into the pot, what­ev­er we had in the freez­er — oh yeah, slow cook­ing is nice for this. If you don’t mind the ham­burg­er grease, a pound of frozen ham­burg­er thrown on top of all the stuff cooks real nice. And one nice thing about this recipe, it tastes even bet­ter when you refrig­er­ate it over night. You can skim off the solid­i­fied ham­burg­er fat before reheat­ing. Stew meat, poul­try, veni­son, sausage all work well.

An ear­ly vari­a­tion which we almost always use is to add 2 cans of Ro*Tel’s Diced Tomatos with Green Chiles. I think we did this orig­i­nal­ly because we didn’t have a can of crushed tomatos. The crushed tomatos get added if we have them but I don’t go out of my way to get a can if we don’t. And of course, if we have a small can of green chili and a can of crushed tomatos we can make our own so we don’t have to go out and get Ro*Tel if we don’t have any on hand (which we almost always do, they are an easy add to many recipes item). I also add a chipolte in adobo sauce chopped fine to the pot as it gives a bit more kick to the chili and a slight smokey fla­vor as well.

We also rarely, if ever actu­al­ly put the frozen corn in the mix.  It just doesn’t feel right although I believe we did put it in the first time since we were mak­ing it specif­i­cal­ly for our veg­an friend.

My biggest vari­a­tion is to use all fresh ingre­di­ents which makes the recipe most excel­lent although a lot more time inten­sive and so rarely done. Where the orig­i­nal takes maybe 10–15 mins to get going, all fresh ingre­di­ents takes a lot more prep time. Here is my fresh ingre­di­ent recipe — well, at least it is the basic idea that floats in my head any­way, this will be the first time I have writ­ten it down.


1 Green Bell Pepper sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper Sliced
1 Yellow Bell Pepper Sliced
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
3–4 Red Tomatos, Diced
1 poblano or oth­er mild green chili — deseed­ed and chopped
1 jalapeño or ser­ra­no (for extra kick) — deseed­ed and chopped
1 habeñero or scotch bon­net (for you nuts out there) — deseed­ed and chopped
1 Chipolte in Adobo sauce — chopped fine
1lb dried kid­ney beans (or a mix­ture of beans) — rinsed well but don’t both­er soak­ing
6 cups of broth (veg­etable, chick­en, beef, depend­ing on your taste)
Your spe­cial chili spices — or Chili pow­der and cumin  as need­ed (see dis­cus­sion below)
1 clove of gar­lic (smashed up well)
2T of frozen orange juice con­cen­trate or 2T of lemon or lime juice (not sure why but it seems to help)
Salt and pep­per to taste
Can of Tomato Paste (a just in case thing — although adding it would be a good option in and of itself) 
( Optional — for the non vegetarian/vegans out there )
1–2 lbs of meat ( ham­burg­er, stew meat, veni­son, buf­fa­lo, sausage, etc) 
Grated Cheddar Cheese
Sour Cream


1. Brown the meat if used and drain excess fat
2. Put all the ingre­di­ents, as dis­cussed below into a slow cook­er, set on low and cook for at least 8 hours. Be sure to taste dur­ing the cook­ing and adjust for fla­vor.

Since this is done in a slow cook­er, there is no need for soak­ing the beans. The bonus is they will absorb all the fla­vors in the pot. I would start out with 4 cups of broth, I like my chili thick. Watch and add addi­tion­al broth if need­ed as it cooks. espe­cial­ly ear­ly in the cook­ing when most of the broth is soaked up. The amount you need will depend on a lot of dif­fer­ent vari­ables includ­ing how much liq­uids are released by the veg­eta­bles, how much is soaked up by the beans and even what type of beans you are using. Tomato paste can help thick­en up the chili if it gets too watery. I have also seen sug­ges­tions to take some of the beans and pop them into a blender and blend smooth and re-add to the chili which will thick­en it up.

As to spices, the fresh chili pep­pers often will do most of the fla­vor­ing so only a bit of cumin is real­ly need­ed — if at all, espe­cial­ly if you tend toward the Serrano and Scotch Bonnet vari­eties. Using a vari­ety of fresh chili pep­pers real­ly makes a huge dif­fer­ence in chili — even if you are mak­ing a Texan “No Beans” 5 alarm chili. Remember, chili pow­der is usu­al­ly just dried and ground up chili pep­pers with some cumin.

Put it in a bowl, top with cheese and a spoon­ful of sour cream. Nothing bet­ter on a cold rainy day. Serve with jalapeño corn bread, a glass of milk (or Dr Pepper) and you will have a per­fect meal.

One thought on “Variations on a Theme: Slow Cooked Vegetarian Chili

  1. bill Post author

    Had an idea about this recipe this morn­ing. I bet roast­ing the bell pep­pers would add some inter­est­ing fla­vor to the mix. Just an exam­ple of how the recipe can evolve.

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