Smokin' Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili

January 27, 2012
5 Ratings
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

From the little exposure I've had to chili contests, I have come to understand that Texans are adamant that they're the only ones who know how to make real chili. And if there is one nugget of wisdom I've gleaned about Texan chili, it's that beans are not allowed.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, why not sass them? Here's my good-natured comeback of a bean-only vegan chili. I found these beautifully whimsical heirloom vaquero beans from Rancho Gordo (don't they look like cows?) and decided to make a meatless chili suitable for cowboys and cowgirls, and safe for cows, too. For those of you unfamiliar with the brilliant products offered by Rancho Gordo, it is a Napa, California company owned by Steve Sando, who is dedicated to preserving heirloom beans from the New World/Latin America.

Vaquero beans, also known as Orca beans, are a playful black and white. Rancho Gordo describes them as a cousin to the Anasazi bean. They’re fun to cook with, because even after cooking and giving off an inky pot liquor, they maintain their dappled markings. If you have trouble obtaining these lovely beans, pinto beans make a fine, though less exciting, substitute. This is a pretty spicy recipe, so feel free to cut down on the chipotle and cayenne if you are afraid of too much heat. I throw in some dark chocolate at the end, which combines really nicely with the smokiness of the chipotles and gives the chili a flavor reminiscent of mole. I serve this cow-friendly chili with vegan cornbread. —Beautiful, Memorable Food

Test Kitchen Notes

This chili is hearty, delicious and spicy. The addition of finely diced onions, carrots and bell pepper gave good body and texture to this meatless chili. The original spicing would have been too hot for me, but B,MF's notes allow for that adjustment. I used just a pinch of cayenne to 1 lb. of beans and one chipotle in adobo, along with 8 cups of water (original was for 8 oz. of beans to 5 cups of water) and for me it was spiced just right. Adding the melting chocolate at the end more than compensated for the depth meat would have added, and rounded things out for a great balance of flavors. —creamtea

What You'll Need
  • 8 ounces dried Vaquero beans, soaked overnight (may substitute dried pinto beans)
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1-2 chipotles in adobo, sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 1 ounce dark chocolate
  1. After beans have been soaked, drain from soaking liquid and set aside. Reserve liquid for later use.
  2. Prepare all vegetables and fry in a heavy pot with a tablespoon of canola oil. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes until vegetables have softened.
  3. Add cumin and cayenne and fry for another minute.
  4. Add beans, tomatoes, water and oregano, and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer for 1 hour, or until beans are to your desired level of softness. Depending on your beans, you may need to add additional water. I like to add a little of the soaking liquid for more flavor and color.
  5. Salt to taste.
  6. Just before serving, stir chocolate into chili until melted, then mix well.

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I'm the author Spicebox Kitchen and a physician and chef who teaches healthy cooking classes in San Francisco at the Thrive Kitchen. Come cook with me! More information on Facebook at TheDoctorsSpicebox. To your health!

7 Reviews

Recipe did not disappoint! I omitted the chili pepper, because I didn’t have one on hand, so added ancho chili pepper spice instead. Covered the pot for the hour plus simmer. Beans were perfect as was the spice. Definitely recommend.
Alex S. February 14, 2021
This is an awesome dish, be it chili or soup (thin it). Don’t let people say “those beans freak me out.” They are absolutely beautiful, somewhat like a Appaloosa horse. I’m looking at my Notes on the page I printed out, and it seems the only changes I made were to sub stock and bean juice, instead of all water.
It also freezes very well. My hubby and I enjoyed some last night, which prompted me to see if I had submitted a review.
Btw, I used very fresh Rancho Gordo beans cooked all dente, didn’t soak them, never do. Added a tiny pinch of salt right b4 they were done. Used bean juice in the recipe instead of water, that’s probably why it was so delish.
lapiloto September 8, 2021
I have these on the stove right now with RG vaquero bean too- so looking forward to this- it's smells amazing already!
Lizabeth October 8, 2013
those beans freak me out.
RoastedBeet March 12, 2012
The beans are gorgeous -- my 4,5-yr-old daughter loved them! I liked the dish but didn't love it. Though that might have been because I only added one chipotle pepper and no cayenne, in the hope that my kids would like it. So even though I cut back on the chocolate, the chili ended up quite sweet. Also, it took much longer for the beans to cook than the recipe suggests. Or maybe my husband just likes his beans softer. In any case, I'll try again, perhaps with pinto beans. And I'll add the cayenne and order in for the kids.
creamtea February 16, 2012
Congratulations! This was yummiful. The resident chili expert scarfed 4-5 bowls--we lost count.
Fairmount_market January 27, 2012
Gorgeous beans! And a delicious sounding recipe.