A New Kind of Vegan Chili

February 20, 2014

Every other Thursday, Gena Hamshaw of the blog Choosing Raw shares satisfying, flavorful recipes that also happen to be vegan.

Today: Want to recreate the texture of classic chili, without the meat? Here's how. 

Tempeh Chili on Food52

Shop the Story

Whether you knew it or not, there’s a good chance you’ve had meatless chili before. Chilis made with beans (for example, black bean and sweet potato chili) are fairly ubiquitous, and most of us have crossed paths with them at some point or another. But tempeh chili? Well, that’s another story.

Unlike its fellow soy product, tofu, tempeh remains a somewhat exotic ingredient in American kitchens. This is a shame, because tempeh is versatile, nutritious, and satisfying in ways that some other meat substitutes are not; it has a dense, chewy texture and a nutty taste. And when you grate it on a box grater, it takes on a texture that is not unlike ground beef. Could anything be more perfect for a pot of vegan chili?

More: Looking for more vegan chili recipes? Try Gena's smoky black bean and sweet potato version.

This recipe mixes grated tempeh with kidney and pinto beans to create a perfect, hearty chili that’s full of flavor and spice. I like to brown the tempeh before adding my beans and liquid; this adds an extra layer of flavor and makes for a more authentic chili texture. Even if tempeh hasn't impressed you in the past, I bet it will be hard not to fall in love with this recipe.

Tempeh Chili on Food52

Tempeh Chili 

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
One 8-ounce package tempeh, grated on the largest setting of a box grater or crumbled finely
1 large green bell pepper, diced
1 large stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup puréed tomato sauce
One 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup green onions or scallions, chopped

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Gena Hamshaw  

Order now

The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • eileen
  • FoodFreak
  • veganmiam
Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.


eileen October 1, 2014
Here in Canada we can buy Yves Veggie Ground Round which is vegan and is excellent for spaghetti sauce and, I think, chili. It has different flavours, Italian, Mexican, regular and I think one other. It is very adaptable in place of any ground round recipe.
FoodFreak March 11, 2014
I made this last week-end. I loved the grating technique for the consistency it gave the dish but I thought it needed more chili powder and maybe a bit more tomato. I had soaking liquid left from rehydrating some ancho chiles and I used that instead of water when the pan got too dry and I think that helped.

I also had an issue browing the tempeh. It stuck to the pan and what stuck to the pan did get brown, but the tempeh never did. I added water to loosen the brown bits. I've had this issue with sticking every time I've tried to cook with tempeh and in the past, I've cut it into cubes and browned it in the broiler before adding it to my recipe. But I don't know how well that would work with grated tempeh. How do you keep it from sticking to the pan?
veganmiam February 23, 2014
This looks delicious, Gena! I used soy rizo sometimes in my chili and loads of cilantro for the flavor.