If you’ve ever tried to make a vegetarian chili, you know how wrong this stuff can go.

Some versions call for up to six cans of beans – a recipe for solitary confinement if there ever was one. Others taste like someone dumped a shaker of cumin into a pot of vegetable soup.

They just don’t taste like chili.

Chili needs to be spicy, meaty (even when there’s not any meat) and thick enough to hold a tortilla chip in place like the Sword in the Stone. It should taste right with sour cream and green onions. And Fritos.

Chili’s supposed to be fun.

I’d pretty much given up on ever finding a meatless version that deserved to be called chili – until I stumbled across this recipe from Emeril Lagasse. Instead of making the black beans do all the heavy lifting, he combines them with chopped onions, red bell peppers, serrano peppers, zucchini, corn, mushrooms and tomatoes to make a Vegetarian Chili so meaty, you might actually catch yourself looking for the beef.

Finally, a meatless chili that’s delicious and fun. And healthy! Vegan, even. So, serve it over leftover brown rice for the biggest nutritional bang, or trash it up with some sour cream, diced avocado and green onions. It’s a win either way.

Now, pass the Fritos.

Vegetarian Chili

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch’s “Emeril’s New New Orleans Cooking”

Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (about 3 small onions)
  • 1 cup chopped red bell peppers
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 to 3 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced
  • 1 medium zucchini, stem ends trimmed and cut into small dice
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (about 3 ears)
  • 1 1/2 pounds portobello mushrooms (about 5 large), stemmed, wiped clean and cubed
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 3 cups cooked black beans (or 2 15-ounce cans of black beans), rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce*
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or water*
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (do not add to the pot if you’re planning to freeze chili)
  • Optional additions: cooked brown rice, sour cream, Greek yogurt, diced avocado, chopped scallions
  1. In a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic, and serrano peppers, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the zucchini, corn, and mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables give off their liquid and start to brown around the edges, about 6 minutes.
  4. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Stir in the tomatoes.
  6. Add the black beans, tomato sauce and vegetable stock, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from the heat, and stir in the cilantro. Adjust the seasoning, to taste.
  8. To serve, place 1/4 cup of brown rice in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle the chili over the rice, and top with whatever garnishes you choose. Serve immediately.

*Gluten-Free Tip: Be sure to use GF tomato sauce and vegetable stock.