This fast and easy vegetarian 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!
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!
WHERE TO FIND PRE-COOKED LENTILS
One of my favorite shortcuts is to use pre-cooked lentils. I find them in the refrigerated produce section of my grocery store or in the refrigerated section at Trader Joe’s. You can also buy canned pre-cooked lentils – just drain and rinse them well before using.
If you prefer to use dried lentils in this recipe, use ¾ cups of green or brown lentils and increase stock to 3 ½ cups.
MAKE ANY CHILI 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.
INGREDIENTS for THIS SMOKY VEGETARIAN 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.
- Chipotle Adobo Sauce – This smoky, spicy sauce adds big flavor to the chili. Look for a small can of chipotles in adobo in the international aisle and use only the sauce surrounding the chilis (not the chilis themselves). The chilis and sauce freeze well, so save any leftovers. It is quite spicy, so use more or less depending on your spice preference.
- 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.
- Cooked Lentils – Pre-cooked lentils help to keep this recipe fast and easy, but check the recipe notes if you want to use dried lentils instead.
- 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.
MORE CHILI RECIPES
- Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili
- Instant Pot All American Chili
- Slow Cooker Turkey, Quinoa, and Sweet Potato Chili
- Slow Cooker Classic Beef Chili
- Cutting Board
- Dutch Oven
Smoky Chipotle Lentil and Bean Chili
- Dutch oven
- 2 Tablespoons Cooking Oil (see note)
- 1 cup diced Yellow Onion
- 1 cup diced Red Bell Pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Chipotle Adobo Sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo; see note)
- 2 teaspoons 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
- ½ teaspoon Kosher Salt
- ½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 15 ounce can Red Kidney Beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15 ounce can Black Beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 ½ cup Cooked Lentils (see note)
- 1 15 ounce can Tomato Sauce (tomato puree or crushed tomatoes will also work)
- 2 cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock / Broth
- Sour cream, Cheddar Cheese, Green Onions, Tortilla Chips (optional, for serving)
- Heat a Dutch oven or large saute pan with oil over medium heat.
- To heated oil, add onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until very tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add chipotle adobo sauce, chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and garlic powder and stir gently until spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add kidney beans, black beans, lentils, tomato sauce, and stock.
- Bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes to let the flavors come together.
- Taste finished chili and add some more salt, if needed.
- Ladle chili into bowls. Serve with toppings and chips.
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