Spicy Vegetarian Chili

I’ve been working on this recipe for years, and I’ve shared it with several people (I even though I had posted it here, but apparently I didn’t!)

This chili is vegetarian but if you love spicy chili, you won’t miss the meat: there’s something that will make you think meat is in it, even!  It’s difficult to get some of the ingredients, but it’s about improvisation: cook with what you have!

First thing’s first: this chili comes in three basic parts:

  • The base is critical and you can’t really change it without changing the overall result.
  • The spices and chilies you add are entirely up to you.  I tend to avoid jalapeños because I don’t like them very much.  Anaheim, Serrano, and Poblanos are my favorites (Pasillas are great too!)  For the spices, you should ALWAYS toast and grind seeds if possible (rather than using jarred powder.)
  • The vegetarian sausage is the KEY to this recipe and you shouldn’t use something else unless you’re extremely confident that it will turn out right.  If you use ground meat of some kind, instead, for example, the flavor profile will be very different (though with some tweaking I bet you could do it well with stewing-cut meat, preferably something other than “ground beef”.)


  • 1 big dutch oven or soup pot
  • spice grinder (to crush the seeds)
  • blender


  • The base
    • cooking oil (not much, 1-2 TB max)
    • 3/4 cup chopped onion
    • 1TB chopped garlic
    • 22oz bottle of Stone Smoked Porter.  Preferably the one with Chipotles, but Stone’s been VERY inconsistent on when they brew that beer!
  • The spices and chilies
    • Powdered:
      • 1-2 tablespoons various ground chili powders.  Try to avoid “chili powder” and go for things like “smoked paprika”, “chipotle powder”, “cayenne powder” or anything from the Dave’s Insanity line (they make some GREAT ground chili powders!)
      • Gumbo File Powder.  If you can find it: about 1 teaspoon for thickening.
    • Seeds and dried
      • 2 tablespoons cumin seed (lots: you WANT this to be the main thing you smell in the kitchen)
      • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed (not too much: it can overpower!)
      • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
      • 3-4 dried allspice berries
      • 1 tablespoon whole or crushed black peppercorns
      • Whatever dried chilies you can find (the ones that come in the bag and don’t go bad: they have the texture of fake leather and are really annoying to work with: scissors work best in my experience!)  Any good latino market will have several different varieties to choose from!
    • Fresh Chilies
      • about 1 cup (this is a pretty large amount) of finely diced fresh chili peppers
        • Remove the seeds: they’re bitter and don’t taste very good
        • If you want to reduce the heat (WHAT???) you can also cut a very thin layer off the INSIDE of the peppers: that, plus the seeds, contain most of the capsaicin
        • VARIETY is key!  Don’t just use jalapeños!  Go for broke!  Today I used anaheim, pasilla, and habanero peppers and it was both spicy and tasty (the fruitiness of the fresh peppers will come through in this chili)
  • The “meat” and tomatoes
    • One packet (4 sausages) of the Mexican Chipotle flavor of the Field Roast Grain Meat Company‘s AWESOME sausages.  Whole Foods keeps them in stock in San Diego: you’ll have to figure out how to get them where you live (I wish I could get them at places other than Whole Paycheck, but there ya go!)  I break them up by hand rather than cutting them to give them a more natural look/consistency (rather than “slices” it looks like “chunks”).
    • about 30-40 ounces of diced fire-roasted tomatoes.  You can get them in the grocery store, but the size of the tins varies so much that you’ll have to adjust accordingly.  For a LARGE batch, I used two of the largest tins I could find.
    • 1 small tin of tomato paste: this helps round out the flavor a bit and also makes it more “red” and less “brown”
    • Last, the secret ingredient: FRESH OKRA.  OK, I understand, this stuff is creepy to work with and very slimy, but that’s the point.  I use about 8 or 9 of them in each batch: just dice them into “wagon wheels” : they _look_ like circles of jalapeños, but they don’t actually taste like much with everything else (above) in there, so it just looks like another chili pepper!  But they’re both green (adds color) and slimy (improves texture).  You can skip them and you won’t notice the flavor difference, but the texture will suffer greatly: instead of a consistent “chili” feel, it will be more of a “solids in a watery liquid” feel.  Tastes good, but not right!



  1. In your pot (over medium heat), put some oil (so the onions don’t burn) and sautee the onions until they are soft and translucent (not brown: you just want them soft, not burnt!)
  2. Add the garlic and the beer.  Reduce (this will take a while) until it’s a single dark consistent color (the onions will get the dark color of the beer.)
  3. While #2 is reducing, put all the seeds into a DRY pan on the oven over medium-high heat and toast them until the kitchen smells super yummy and you can see some activity happening (they’ll actually jump a bit in the pan!)
  4. Add the toasted (hot!) seeds to the grinder with the dried chilies (the ones that you cut with scissors) and grind/chop them until you get a fairly fine powder.
  5. Add the result to the #2 (which probably isn’t done reducing yet) and mix it up well.  Your kitchen should smell awesome at this point!
  6. Once the reduction is complete, add all of the rest of the ingredients (except the gumbo file) and stir. This might take a while and several batches: usually I’m cutting things up at this point and adding each item as I cut it up.
  7. After it gets back up to temperature, look at the consistency: at high heat, the liquid will be more “watery” (less viscosity) than when it cools down, but if it needs thickening, add a teaspoon of the gumbo file powder: it will help!
  8. Cook over medium heat for up to 20 minutes: any longer and it will start to turn to mush.  You can keep it on the “warm” setting in a crock pot for many hours, though!


  • Grated cheddar cheese
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Sour cream or crema (to cut the heat)

Serve and enjoy!


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