Published Oct 02, 2023•Updated Dec 01, 2023
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Fast and easy Lentil Chili has smoky, slightly spicy flavors, two types of beans, and lentils for loads of plant-based protein in a cozy bowl. Add your favorite toppings and dinner is served!
Chili season is officially here, and it may be my favorite dinner to make for guests. Last week I loaded up my slow cookers with chili, set out a bunch of toppings on tables on our back deck, and invited friends over for dinner. It’s always easy, fun, and a big batch of chili can feed a crowd.
As much as I love a classic meat and beans chili (this is the one I made last week), it’s fun to mix things up with a vegetarian version. And here’s a little secret – lentils become very meat-like in a thick stew like chili – you can barely even tell the difference!
Ingredients for Lentil Chili
- Yellow Onion and Red Bell Pepper – Use these as a base to start building flavor. Be sure to dice them fairly small so they blend right.
- Chili Powder – Chili powder is actually a blend of spices. We often think of it as being really spicy, but if you’re concerned about spice, look for a mild version (I like this one.) You’ll get all the flavor without the spicy kick!
- Kidney Beans and Black Beans – I love this combo for the creaminess of the kidney beans and the heartiness of the black beans, and both add plenty of vegetarian protein to this chili. Feel free to just use one type or sub in your favorite beans.
- Red Lentils – Red lentils cooks speedy fast and thicken the broth as they cook.
- Low-Sodium Stock / Broth – If not using a low-sodium version, reduce the salt in the recipe. You can always taste and add more at the end.
- Tomato Sauce – Tomato sauce is extra smooth, but tomato puree and crushed tomatoes (both slightly less smooth than sauce) will work just fine.
- Cooking Oil, Smoked Paprika, Cumin, Garlic Powder, Salt and Pepper – Pantry staples you’ll need to build flavor.
To Freeze this Chili
To freeze this chili, make as directed. Allow it to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Freeze for up to 4 months. Defrost in the refrigerator completely before reheating on the stovetop. Print and attach the label below so cooking instructions are ready when you are!
Printable Freezer Label
Print and attach the label below so cooking instructions are ready when you are!
Almost any chili can be transferred to the slow cooker for hands-off simmering. Cook everything on the stovetop according to recipe instructions then transfer to the slow cooker for the “simmer” step. Most chilis should simmer on high for 7 to 8 hours or low for 4 to 5 hours. Check the chili halfway through slow cooking and add some more water if needed to account for evaporation over the long cook time.
Yes! All of the ingredients for this vegetarian chili are gluten-free as well.
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- Dutch oven
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil (see note)
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 cup diced red bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon chili powder (be sure to use chili powder that is a blend, not cayenne pepper)
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (sub regular paprika)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated (sub 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
- 1 cup uncooked red lentils
- 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce (tomato puree or crushed tomatoes will also work)
- 3 cups low-sodium vegetable stock or broth
- 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- sour cream, shredded cheese, green onions, corn or tortilla chips (optional, for serving)
- Heat a Dutch oven or large saute pan with oil over medium heat.
- To heated oil, add the onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until very tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and garlic and stir gently until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add the lentils, tomato sauce, and stock. Bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low-medium and cover the pan with a lid.
- Simmer the chili, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 15 to 25 minutes. (Note: It's important to remove the lid and give the chili a good stir, focussing on scraping the bottom of the pan, about every 5 minutes to be sure that the chili doesn't stick to the bottom and burn. The lentils may take slightly longer to cook depending on their age, so don't stress if it takes a bit longer for them to turn tender. Just keep cooking and stirring.)
- When the lentils are tender, stir in both types of beans and let everything simmer together until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes more.
- Ladle chili into bowls. Serve with toppings and chips.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.