Vegetarian Chili for Meat Lovers

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Tim Greenway / Portland Press Herald / Getty Images

The idea of taking the meat out of chili is sacrilegious in most of the U.S. And yet, chili is really the perfect vehicle for vegetarianism. Rich, flavorful, filling, it is the opposite of most salads. The soul of chili is a dish that makes the most of meager ingredients, and what sounds more meager to you, beef or lentils?

It's a Vegan Meal Meat Eaters Will Enjoy
Ed Hamilton, of Texas Chili Queens, an Austin, TX, food truck that puts a spin on the traditional chili cart by being run by drag queens, serves a vegan chili, but when it comes to chili, the difference between vegan and vegetarian isn’t that wide. “Usually it boils down to eggs and dairy, and making chili, why would you add either of those things?” Otherwise, you don’t have to change much from a meat chili recipe. Hamilton uses the same chili puree in both the meat and vegan chilis, to keep the flavor profiles on point. 

Choose Your "Meat” Wisely
When it comes to a protein source, there are a variety of options, like beans, tofu, seitan, and even whole grains. Hamilton went with lentils as the star of their vegan chili. "I wanted to show off good vegan ingredients, and lentils are delicious, hearty, nutritious," plus they are notoriously sturdy in stews. Smaller grains can also work well, but make sure they still have some bite. "You don’t want gruel." You know what else you don't want? Fake meat. Try and avoid that stuff as much as possible.  

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Top It Off
If you're going to use cheese, freshly grated cheddar, or monterey jack if you’re looking for a little kick. A lot of people will tell you to toss a dollop of sour cream on top of your chili, but a good Greek yogurt can also do the trick if you’re looking for a healthier alternative. And have you thought about putting some sliced avocado atop? You should.

Play with texture
Of course, you can use multiple vegetables, legumes, and grains to create texture and flavor. Hamilton also adds canned diced tomatoes for umami flavor and salt, and you can add ingredients like chopped zucchini, squash, pepper, and corn to change things up. Combined with the standard onions, garlic, and chilis, you’ll be using nearly your entire garden. And if you're not strict, go ahead and use some chicken stock for flavor. We won't tell.

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