How to make a vegan chili loaded with protein and spice—and no processed ingredients

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Photo: Sonja and Alex Overhiser
Pretty Simple Cooking cookbook
Photo: Da Capo Lifelong Books

When Sonja Overhiser, recipe developer, healthy food advocate, and one half of the couple behind A Couple Cooks, went to a chili cook-off at her office, she was surprised to find that her favorite chili was (gasp) vegan. “But when I asked for the recipe I found out there were several processed ingredients,” remembers Overhiser.

Knowing she could make it even better, she and her husband Alex Overhiser got to work reverse engineering the recipe to keep the flavor, but ditch the processed ingredients. The end result is a recipe from their new book Pretty Simple Cooking—Darn Good Vegan Chili—that uses a blend of beans and grains to create a hearty meat-free chili with umami undertones.

The secret to making vegan chili great? “It’s got to be loaded with flavor,” says Overhiser. “Ours has lots of spices: garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, and a healthy dose of chili powder.” Plus, it’s essential to get the texture right—they replaced high-sodium V8 in the original recipe with a blend of parsley, tomatoes, carrot, and Worcestershire sauce to add body to the sauce, and incorporated bulgur wheat for a texture that’s similar to ground meat in chili.

One tip: Make a big batch of the creamy cashew sauce to serve alongside this chili, then use leftovers for just about anything: Drizzle on tacos or grain bowls or use it to add dairy-free creaminess to pasta sauces.

Keep reading to get the vegan chili recipe.
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Darn good vegan chili

Serves 6 to 8

For the creamy cashew sauce
1 1/4 cups raw unsalted cashews 
3/4 cup vegetable broth (or water)
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste

For the chili
1 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 15 oz.can petite diced tomatoes
1 small carrot, broken into three pieces
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, drained
1 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 28 oz. cans petite diced tomatoes
1/2 cup bulgur wheat 
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Creamy Cashew Sauce, for serving (see below)
Hot sauce, for serving

For the creamy cashew sauce:
1. Place the cashews in a bowl and cover them with water. Soak for one hour, then drain.

2. Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend on high for one minute. Stop, scrape, and add additional liquid if necessary to come to a creamy consistency. Blend for several minutes until creamy and smooth. If desired, add additional salt to taste. (Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer for several months.)

For the chili:
1. In a blender, blend the 15 ounce can of tomatoes, carrot, parsley, and Worcestershire sauce until fully combined into a thick, reddish-brown paste.

2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, green pepper, and celery, and saute for five to six minutes until tender.

3. Carefully add the blended vegetables, two 28 ounce cans tomatoes, beans, bulgur wheat, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, kosher salt, and black pepper. Simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes until the chili thickens slightly and the bulgur is tender, stirring occasionally. Serve with garnishes as desired.

Excerpted from A Couple Cooks | Pretty Simple Cooking: 100 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes to Make You Fall in Love with Real Food by Sonja and Alex Overhiser. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

If you want more vegan crowd-pleasers, try this vegan seven-layer dip or a vegan (and gluten-free!) red velvet cake

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