This smoky lentil chili recipe is a vegetarian and vegan version of the classic chili con carne. It has the chili powder, spices, and tomatoes you would expect, but high protein lentils and beans in place of ground beef. The taste and rainbow colour of the veggies is sure to win over both omnivores and plant-based eaters alike.
How to Make Lentil Chili
Chili is among the easiest one-pot dishes to make. This lentil chili is just as convenient as lentils cook quite quickly and the dish uses canned beans.
To make this lentil bean chili, you will require a large stockpot or a Dutch oven as the recipe makes a large quantity that can serve between six and eight people. Once you heat the oil (olive oil or your choice of other oil is fine), you want to cook the onion until translucent, but not browned. This will require around medium-low heat. Next, you add the garlic and bell pepper and cook until the pepper starts to soften.
After this, you add the chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, brown sugar, lentils, and diced tomatoes. This mixture needs to simmer until the lentils are tender before adding the remaining ingredients. This process will allow the chili powder and spices to infuse into the sauce. The total time for the lentils should only be about 30 minutes or so to cook. If you don't have smoked paprika on hand, you could simply add sweet paprika. This chili with lentils won't have quite the same smokiness, but will still be delicious.
Once you add the beans, corn, and sweet potatoes, the chili will need just another 20 minutes so that the sweet potatoes can soften. This recipe calls for 2 cans of beans, but of course, you can also use beans that you have previously cooked yourself - like my Instant Pot Black Beans.
For bean varieties, you can use classic red kidney beans if desired, or even black beans or pinto beans. The black beans are particularly striking against the bright orange of the sweet potatoes. For an awesome flavor and texture contrast, I recommend using 2 different types of beans.
Once done, you can serve up a bowl as is or even dollop it with some tangy sour cream. Ripe avocado cubes are a great vegan topping that also provides some creaminess. Sliced green onions and/or chopped cilantro leaves are also wonderful chili toppings.
What Types of Lentils Should I Use?
There are several different types of lentils, but the best choice for this lentil chili is something that stays firm when cooked, like brown lentils. Green lentils will also hold their shape and have a similar cook time so they can easily substituted here.
Red and yellow lentils are better for puréed soups and stews because they tend to dissolve during cooking. They also have a much faster cook time than green or brown lentils (15-20 minutes).
Beluga lentils are black and very intriguing to look at. They are best for salads due to the fact that they retain their shape and have a strong, earthy flavour.
Finally, Puy lentils are very distinct because they only grow in France. Their flavour is somewhat peppery, making them ideal for salads and side dishes.
For this vegetarian chili I have only tested brown lentils. They give the chili a great taste and don't disintegrate into your mixture. They are also incredibly easy to find, cheap and go a long way to making tons of healthy meals.
Can I Use Something Other than Vegetable Broth?
Yes, you can! Vegetable broth builds flavour into this lentil chili, while also keeping it vegan/vegetarian. You could substitute with a meat broth if desired. This is especially good if you have some broth to use up, whether it is store bought or one that you have made yourself. If in a pinch, you could even add water and some bouillon powder/cubes, and still end up with a tasty chili.
Homemade vegetable broth is incredibly easy to make, though, and could help you use scraps you would normally compost. To do this, simply combine veggie scraps like carrot, sweet potato, garlic and onion peelings. You can use a few cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, but they can lend some bitterness so it is ideal to limit them. Also, starchier veggies like potatoes and turnips might make your broth more cloudy. Otherwise, place your scraps in a crockpot with seasonings like bay leaves, leftover herbs, and peppercorns, and cook on low for an entire day. When done, you can strain out the scraps for a perfectly clear broth.
You can also put vegetable scraps in the freezer until you are ready to make broth. Simply place them in a freezer bag in the freezer, and keep them there until you are ready to use them.
Storing Chili Leftovers
If you don't have a large family, this lentil chili will go far and you will need to store it. Luckily, it tastes even better after it is reheated the following day. As a result, you could have a few meals in a row consisting of this tasty, spiced lentil mixture. You could even change up how you serve it as well. Besides putting it in a bowl and topping it with garnishes like cilantro and green onion, you could even have it over hot cooked rice or quinoa. Alternatively, you could stuff it into quesadillas or serve it messily in a wrap like a burrito. Chili Mac is another delicious way to transform leftovers. Check out even more chili leftover ideas here.
To store chili in the fridge, ensure it is in airtight containers. It should safely keep for three to four days, but always make sure you reheat leftovers thoroughly before consuming. Although it may keep longer, the flavours usually start to deteriorate after a few days. As a result, it is best to consume it as quickly as possible.
If you would like to keep your chili longer, freeze it instead. To do this, simply divide the mixture between airtight containers or sealable freezer bags, ensuring that the chili has cooled completely and leaving some headspace. You want to leave headspace to accommodate expansion in the freezer so that your container doesn't crack. Once frozen, the chili should keep for between four and six months leaving you with some convenience food for busy nights of the week. Although the chili may be safe in the freezer for longer, freezing can cause the flavours to dull and soften the textures of the food. For the best results, try to consume your vegetarian chili before six months is up. Thawed meals often benefit from some a squeeze of lemon juice and additional seasonings to brighten up flavors.
Other Chili Recipes You'll Love:
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 red bell pepper chopped
- 2 tablespoons chili seasoning
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- ½ tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 cup dry brown lentils rinsed
- 2-15oz cans diced tomatoes or 4 cups fresh tomatoes
- 1 15-oz can crushed/pureed tomatoes
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 15-oz cans beans use two different kinds like black, pinto or kidney beans, drained
- 1 8-oz can sweet corn or 1 cup frozen corn optional
- 2 med-small sweet potatoes peeled and diced
- In a large stock pot or dutch oven sauté the onion with oil until translucent.
- Add the minced garlic chopped red bell pepper. Cook until softened.
- Stir in the rinsed brown lentils, spices, sugar, diced and crushed tomatoes, vegetable broth and bay leaf.
- Cover the pot with a lid and bring everything to a boil on medium-high heat. Then turn heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes until lentils have softened.
- During this time drain the beans and corn. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into dice.
- Open the pot and remove the bay leaf. Stir in beans, corn and sweet potato.
- Cover again and simmer for 20 more minutes until sweet potatoes have softened.
- Serve each bowl with desired toppings like cilantro, green onion and avocado.