This hearty lentil chili is delightfully warming. It’s packed with pinto and black beans. Top it with non-dairy cheese, avocado, and green onions. Then add tortilla chips or crackers for dunking. It’s the ultimate cozy fall food. Vegan & gluten-free.
Like many people, when I stopped eating meat, I started eating a bunch of foods I’d ignored in the past. Amongst them, lentils!
At the time, there was an Armenian restaurant that was a big favorite of ours in Burbank. They made a lentil soup that I’d get every time we went.
Lentils have a heartiness about them and slight tinny-ness in flavor that I really enjoy.
But lentils also work surprisingly well as a meat substitute in recipes.
The texture is vaguely similar to ground beef. And that metallic edge in flavor works in a similar way.
Also, a half cup serving of lentils has 9 grams of protein and offers 20% of your iron for the day.
When I first went vegetarian, I often added lentils to pasta sauce, in place of ground beef. And lentils work really well as taco meat in a vegan burrito bowl.
Lentil chili with pinto & black beans
Now that there’s a chill in the air, I’m jonesing for hearty, comforting meals like chili.
(And all of you must be feeling the same way, because my vegan three bean chili recipe has been getting a lot of action!)
There are endless ways to make vegan chili – with beans, seitan, tofu, mushrooms… For added texture, Soy Curls work well in a vegan bean chili.
And of course, for a satisfying, full-bodied chili – lentils all the way!
They have bite & texture that adds welcome body to chili. And they go alongside pinto and black beans beautifully.
What kind of lentils should I use?
For this recipe, I recommend brown lentils. They hold their shape well. French lentils du Puy are a little smaller, but they would also be fine here.
I do not recommend red lentils for this recipe. Red lentils don’t hold their shape when cooked. They become smooth.
They are better in curry lentil soup, where they add extra protein and thickness to the dish. However, when you’re looking for an addition that offers bite, red lentils aren’t the best choice.
(For more information on the difference between lentil types, check out this post from the Kitchn.)
Lentils cook quickly, but pre-cooked are even faster!
Unlike beans, lentils don’t have to be soaked before cooking. Plus, they cook quickly – in about a half an hour. They’re the antithesis of dried beans, which take a lot longer.
However, if you REALLY want to shorten the time it takes to make lentil chili, use pre-cooked lentils!
Trader Joe’s sells steamed lentils in the produce area. (Look in the refrigerated section.)
It comes with 2 ½ cups of lentils in the package, which is exactly what you’ll need for this recipe. So you can just dump in all of the lentils from the package. So easy!
How to make lentil chili:
Start by bringing a soup pot to a medium heat with oil. Sauté onions and garlic, until they are softened and fragrant.
Then add spices to the pot, and cook with the onions for about 30 seconds.
De-glaze the soup pot with water. Then add fire roasted tomatoes, black beans, pinto beans, salt, mustard, and hot sauce. (Here are my three top hot sauces.)
Don’t like spicy things? Leave out the hot sauce. Prefer a spicier chili? Add even more!
Bring the chili to a simmer and cook for about fifteen minutes. That way the chili can thicken, and the flavors can blend.
I like to do one more thing at the end to make the chili a little thicker. I use an immersion blender inside of the soup pot for just 3 or 4 seconds.
You don’t want to make a chili bisque. You’re just looking to break up some of the beans and tomatoes.
There were still be plenty of whole beans left in the lentil chili. But by breaking them up some, it adds a thicker viscosity and heartiness to the soup.
Serve lentil chili with your choice of toppings
- Green onions
- Vegan sour cream
- Shredded vegan cheese
- Jalapeño pepper slices
- Sliced avocado or easy guacamole
- Tortilla chips or crackers
This spicy lentil chili is sure to take the edge off of the wind howling and leaves rustling outside. The warming stew & spices heat you from the inside out.