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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