Lentil Chili


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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!

lentil chili in a white bowl with a spoon

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!

bean and lentil vegetarian chili in a ladle and large saute pan

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.  
peppers and onions cooking in a saute pan

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!

smoky chipotle chili freezer label

Printable Freezer Label

Print and attach the label below so cooking instructions are ready when you are!

Print Freezer Label


Can I make this in the slow cooker?

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. 

Is this chili gluten-free?

Yes! All of the ingredients for this vegetarian chili are gluten-free as well.

More Cozy Chili Recipes

lentil chili in a white bowl with a spoon

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lentil chili in a white bowl with a spoon
5 from 9 votes

Lentil Chili

This fast and easy chili has smoky (but not super spicy) flavors, two types of beans, and lentils for loads of plant-based protein. Add your favorite toppings and dinner is served!
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Total: 40 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 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.


Cooking Oil – Use any high-heat cooking oil with a neutral flavor. My favorites are avocado, grapeseed, or vegetable oil.
Kosher Salt – I use Morton’s Kosher Salt to test recipes. If using table salt, reduce by about half. If using Diamond Kosher Salt, increase by about 25%. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to salt, so be sure to taste and adjust as you go.


Calories: 205kcal | Carbohydrates: 25g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Sodium: 1087mg | Potassium: 478mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1979IU | Vitamin C: 52mg | Calcium: 42mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Author: Jess Smith via Inquiring Chef
Cost: $10.00
Calories: 205
Keyword: chili, comfort foods, easy dinner, freezer friendly, gluten free, stovetop, vegetarian
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About Jess Smith

Jess is the recipe creator and photographer at InquiringChef.com. She spent nearly a decade as the Chief Recipe Developer for the award-winning meal planning app Cook Smarts. Her colorful, healthyish recipes have been featured in popular online publications including Parade, Hallmark, and HuffPost.

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  1. 5 stars
    Great recipe! Delicious and healthy. I also like using avocado oil for sautéing. This chili is going into my regular rotation. Thanks!

  2. 5 stars
    I’ve never commented on a recipe before, but I can’t help myself. This was excellent. I’m trying to add more legumes to my diet and this works. I added a tsp of tumeric (just because) and only used one can of black beans. The suggested add-ons are tasty, but they add calories and it was still excellent without them. I gave some to my sister and her family thought it was yummy.

  3. Hi Jess, I really love your recipes, but I am a little confused about this one. It says in your post to use cooked lentils, but the recipe calls for dried lentils. Also in the notes it says something about adobo sauce, but that ingredient is not listed in the recipe. Please help! 🙂

    1. Oh goodness – sorry Candie! You caught us right in the middle of an update, so you’re absolutely right. Those were hold-overs from an older version of the recipe, but everything has been updated now to the new and improved recipe I’ve been using. We even updated the photos to show the updated version that uses dried red lentils and no adobo sauce. Thank you for being patient with us – it’s such a busy season!