3-bean vegetarian chili that's perfect for weeknights

Looking for the perfect, easy, go-to meal for a chilly night — or, if you are Al Roker, for any time of the year? Well, Kate Shungu, a home cook who loves vintage recipes and blogs at Gift of Hospitality, has just the meal for you. The best part of her 3-bean vegetarian chili is how you can customize the ingredients to best suit your tastes, whether that means dialing up the spice, or toning it down. You can even add meat to this dish if you prefer. "It's warm and comforting, and perfect for warming up after being outdoors," she says.

But the best part of this accessible recipe is how quickly it comes together. You'll need only a few basic ingredients, which you may already have stocked in your kitchen. As Shungu told Mashed about her inspiration for this chili recipe, "I often make a meal out of items that I have in my pantry, and I usually have beans, tomato sauce, and seasonings on hand. I don't even have to go grocery shopping." Most of us can relate to that feeling of accomplishment when you pull a delicious, flavorful meal off without having to source ingredients, or even plan ahead. 

Meanwhile, the prep time is minimal, which means this hearty, healthy lunch or dinner makes it to the table in less time than other chilis you have may tried in the past. Hungry now? We thought you might be!

We're betting you already have many of the ingredients for this 3-bean vegetarian chili

The ingredient list for this 3-bean vegetarian chili is short and sweet, er, spicy. You'll need beans, tomato sauce, and spices, as Shungu said, as well as garlic, onion, and salsa. Here's where things get fun, and you get to make this meal your own. "If you're not a fan of garlic, you can just leave it out," the Chicago native says. Likewise, as Shungu explains, "If you don't like spice, choose a mild salsa and a mild chili seasoning." Her advice: "Avoid the labels that say 'medium' or 'hot.'" 

What if your food can never be too spicy (raises hand)? "To make the meal spicier, use a chili seasoning labeled 'hot.' You can also add cayenne pepper," she says. Shungu's recommendation to start with a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and go from there, since you can always up the spiciness — it'll be more challenging to tone it down if you add too much!

Start by dicing your onion

Shungu explained why she chose yellow onion specifically for this 3-bean vegetarian chili to Mashed: "I love the sweetness that comes from a yellow onion compared to a white or red onion, which is more pungent and sharp in taste." 

She also offers up advice for dicing your yellow onion just right for the 3-bean vegetarian chili, saying, "Start by slicing an onion in half, and then remove the brown skin. Lay one of the halves cut side down on a cutting board, and cut off one end. Make cuts in the onion every 1/4 inch parallel to the cutting board. Then, make cuts every 1/4 inch perpendicular to the cutting board, from the stem to the end that you cut off. Finally, make small cuts perpendicular to the cutting board, but going the other way through the onion, to create a fine dice."

Now your onion is ready to hit the saucepan or Dutch oven.

Cooking the onion is one of the longest steps of this 3-bean vegetarian chili recipe — and it's only 5 minutes

You'll add your olive oil and finely diced yellow onion to a saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Then, allow the onion to cook for just about five or six minutes — Shungu recommends stirring the onion occasionally. When your onion is translucent, it's time to add your spices and your garlic. Don't have fresh on hand? Shungu says, "Jarred garlic is just fine." She adds, "You can use 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, too."

The rest of the steps for cooking this 3-bean vegetarian chili will go by pretty quickly. Just 30 seconds later, you'll be adding your beans, so be sure to drain and rinse them ahead of time. Why is this step so important? "The liquid in canned beans contains sodium, so the dish will be overly salty if you don't rinse and drain the beans," Shungu explained to Mashed.

Add the rest of your ingredients to your 3-bean vegetarian chili

You are going to love how simple the next step is — just add the rest of your ingredients, including the salsa, tomato sauce, and beans. Shungu explains the relatively-short amount of time this chili spends on the stove, saying, "Since this recipe is meatless, the only ingredients that require cooking are the onion and garlic. The rest of the ingredients just need to be warmed up. The 10 minutes of cooking time is enough to let the flavors marry, without having to wait too long for dinner."

If you want to add more protein to this 3-bean chili, Shungu says ground beef works well here. "Sauté 1 pound of ground beef with the onion, and then proceed with the recipe as directed, adding 1 additional tablespoon of chili seasoning to the chili," she recommends. 

Spice up your 3-bean vegetarian chili with your favorite chili toppings

The final step in creating this 3-bean vegetarian chili affords home cooks another opportunity to customize the meal to their liking. After ladling chili into serving bowls, add your favorite toppings. Shungu recommends sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and chopped cilantro. "To make the toppings dairy-free, choose a dairy-free shredded cheese and a dairy-free sour cream. You could also add other toppings such as chopped green onions, chopped chives, or even dairy-free cornbread croutons!" Shungu says, adding, "I always serve cornbread on the side!"

Enjoy this meal tonight, and bonus, it makes great leftovers

"This chili makes great leftovers," Shungu says. "The flavors marry even more as the chili sits in the refrigerator overnight." Enjoying your chili for lunch or dinner the next day is easy. "To reheat it, place the chili in a saucepan over medium heat until it's warmed through. Alternatively, place the chili in a microwave-safe dish, cover, and microwave on high until the chili is hot throughout."

Meanwhile, this 3-bean vegetarian chili is so quick and easy, you'll want to prepare it again and again. As Shungu told Mashed, "I put chili on our meal plan every couple of weeks throughout the winter." 

3-bean vegetarian chili that's perfect for weeknights
5 from 2 ratings
But the best part of this 3-bean vegetarian chili recipe is how quickly it comes together. You'll need only a few basic ingredients, which you may already have stocked in your kitchen, and this chili makes it to the table in about 30 minutes. Hungry now? We thought you might be!
Prep Time
10
minutes
Cook Time
17
minutes
Servings
6
servings
3-bean vegetarian chili
Ready in 27 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons chili seasoning
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup salsa (from a jar—use your favorite variety)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
Optional Ingredients
  • Shredded cheddar, sour cream, or chopped cilantro for topping
Directions
  1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the yellow onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5–6 minutes.
  2. Stir in the chili seasoning and garlic, and cook for 30 seconds more.
  3. Add the salsa, tomato sauce, and all of the beans. Stir to combine. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat to allow all of the flavors to combine.
  4. Ladle chili into bowls and top with sour cream, shredded cheddar, and chopped cilantro, if desired.
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