This quinoa chili is a vegetarian’s delight. Quinoa, black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, onions, and garlic are cooked in a broth infused with chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and unsweetened cocoa. Piled on top are diced avocado, grated Cheddar cheese, sour cream, crumbled pita chips, and cilantro leaves.
No ordinary vegetarian chili, this quinoa chili is sufficiently satisfying to please all the palates at your table. There’s the expected beans, tomatoes, and quinoa but it’s jacked up with cocoa and cinnamon in addition to chili powder and cumin. A spectacular one-pot supper that makes ample leftovers to see you through school and work lunches.–Angie Zoobkoff
☞ Table of Contents
For the chili
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups diced sweet onion
- 2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt divided
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Two (28-oz) cans crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
- Two (15-oz) cans kidney beans drained and rinsed
- Two (15-oz) cans black beans drained and rinsed
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 3/4 cup uncooked red quinoa rinsed
- Drizzle of honey (optional)
- Squeeze of Sriracha (optional)
- Sour cream
- Grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Crumbled pita chips
- Diced avocado
- Warm a large Dutch oven over medium heat and swirl in the oil. Stir in the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and sauté until tender, stirring occasionally, 7 to 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder, and cinnamon, and cook for no more than 30 seconds. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the tomatoes, beans, and 2 teaspoons salt, stirring to combine. Cook for about 10 minutes on a low simmer, stirring occasionally. (You can cover and refrigerate the chili and finish making it just before serving.)
- Stir in the water and quinoa and adjust the heat to bring the chili to a simmer. Cover and cook until the quinoa is tender, 25 to 45 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the white ring on the quinoa grain is visible. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. If you like your chili spicier, stir in a squeeze of Sriracha. If the chili tastes too acidic from the tomatoes, add a touch of honey.
- Serve, offering sour cream, cheese, cilantro, pita chips, and avocado on the side for garnish.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This quinoa chili was practically indistinguishable from one with meat, producing a hearty and satisfying meal. The flavors blended together beautifully so that no one element overwhelmed any of the others. The cinnamon and chocolate became part of the whole rather than identifiable within it. I used a 6-quart Dutch oven that was the perfect size for this recipe. The directions were clear and accurate for the most part, but in two places where I followed the directions as written I would adjust next time. I sautéed the onions for the 4 minutes suggested in the recipe, and while they appeared tender, they were still slightly crunchy in the finished dish. Next time, I would continue to sauté them until soft before adding the spices to eliminate that raw crunchiness. The quinoa took much longer than expected to become tender, about 45 minutes, and then only when I raised the temperature to medium from its low simmer. This resulted in a slightly thicker chili, a personal preference, as more liquid evaporated at the higher temperature. Both the heat and acidity levels seemed perfect, so I didn’t add either the sriracha or the honey and garnished with a bit of grated cheddar.
Chili lovers, add this recipe to your repertoire. Although the recipe is written as vegetarian it provides a wonderful base for any protein (chicken, beef, pork) in place of the quinoa. I would argue to always include the quinoa—it provides nice texture and protein punch. The flavor reminded me of one of my favorite versions of chili: Cincinnati Chili which most of the time includes unsweetened cocoa and cinnamon which lends smoky depth to a chili. I have been enjoying the leftovers for lunch all week and the flavor is just as amazing and satisfying as the first day. I served this topped with avocado, Greek yogurt (in place of sour cream), shredded pepper jack cheese (we love spice) and crumbled 3-seed sweet potato crackers (thank you, Trader Joe’s). We forgot to try the drizzle of honey or Sriracha, the flavors were just right.
Warm and satisfying with great chili flavor and chili texture, this quinoa chili recipe comes together in no time, 15 minutes maximum. We sauteed the onions for 8 minutes total so they would be soft and sweet. Be sure to have all your ingredients lined up and cans opened, because once you start the recipe, one step comes closely after the next. We couldn’t detect the chocolate or cinnamon flavors individually, but clearly all the spices and cocoa work together because the final chili is wonderful. We will make this again, and we can imagine making two pots: one exactly as written, and one with sauteed sausage added for the carnivores in our circle. We used the fire-roasted tomatoes from Trader Joe’s and did not need to add honey. We served with lots of cilantro, avocado, and a sprinkle of cheese. Terrific recipe!
Make this chili. You won’t be disappointed. There are only two of us so we halved the recipe. It was perfect! For some reason, without any spice that would be considered hot on its own, the chili fools the palate into thinking it is actually hot. It wasn’t hot enough for us so after we tested the “real” recipe we went to work and added chopped chilis and/or Valentina sauce. We have Sriracha but we consider that Asian so we went with authentic Mexican. For garnish we used sharp Cheddar (we couldn’t get authentic Mexican cheese), diced avocado and fresh cilantro. This recipe may end up being our new go-to chili. We will, of course, add chiles to heat it up a bit and probably use sour cream instead of cheese but this recipe was a total surprise. We expected little from it and were totally surprised by how much we enjoyed it. As an added bonus it is vegan friendly. We try to follow a vegetarian diet and prefer vegan (plant-based) diets, but once you leave a major metropolitan city, that gets tricky, so we have learned to be flexible.
In less than an hour you will have a nice vegetarian quinoa chili if you make this recipe. My Sunday guests went back for seconds. The chili is hearty, healthy, and easily adaptable. I’m not sure that meat eaters would find the chili to be indistinguishable from the beef-laden counterparts though. My chili powder was quite mild so the chili didn’t have much of a kick. I did like the taste of the cumin. I ran out of pre-ground cumin so had to grind my own which resulted in a grind that was more coarse. The tomatoes were quite acidic so I did add a little honey to the chili. The chili did have a mouth feel that was a little tannic, perhaps from the cocoa. I actually made the make-ahead version of the chili, making the bulk of it on Saturday and adding the quinoa on Sunday. This worked really well.
I didn’t miss meat in this quinoa chili at all. There was plenty of substance (and protein) from the beans and the quinoa. It’s one of the best vegetarian chilis I have tasted. I served it with all of the suggested accompaniments as well as a little sour cream to balance the acid and heat.
For something called “quinoa chili,” this wasn’t overwhelmed with quinoa…and I mean that in the best way possible. My husband and I have been trying to eat less meat over the last year or so (re: global warming), but a lot of vegetarian chilis are either basically bowls of quinoa flecked with some beans and tomatoes or they’re just bland as hell. THIS chili…oh, my. This chili is rich and meaty. There’s a hefty portion of beans in it (so, sorry, Texas chili purists) that give it the mouthfeel of a good, traditional chili along with a solid seasoning mix (cocoa powder? yes, please…and I highly recommend the Sriracha but not the honey). We’ll be making this weekly…forever? I set it up on a chili bar with sour cream, sharp Cheddar, chopped cilantro, avocado, and pepitas. My husband even suggested we try it for brunch with some runny egg.
Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever given a 10/10 rating on anything…this is a winner!
I’m always on the lookout for a good vegetarian chili recipe. I have tried many over the years and most are not worthy of a repeat. This one had good flavor, if not quite enough heat for our tastes. It also had a different, more interesting texture than most from the quinoa. I disagree with the headnotes that it is indistinguishable from a beef chili, but the quinoa did give it a different texture than it would have had with beans alone and this made for a better veggie chili in my opinion. I will certainly make this chili again. Not only did I enjoy the flavor and texture, but it was also easy and not terribly time consuming. It was good for our busy weekend evening, when I wanted a bowl of comfort, but didn’t have the time to leave something simmering on the stove all day. We served and ate it with grated Cheddar, diced avocado, sliced green onions, and chopped cilantro.
I don’t give out many “10s” but this is a good one. I am always on the lookout for a vegetarian recipe that is not easily distinguishable as such. I was a little concerned at the amount of cinnamon and chocolate in the recipe, afraid that it would be obvious and overshadow the other flavors but it mellowed nicely. Plus, this is a hearty chili, with all the beans and once the quinoa opens up, it’s plenty to carry both the cinnamon and the chocolate, just enough of a hint to the flavors to make you curious. I served 3 with plenty leftover for lunch the next day, which, by the way, was the better time to eat it. As with most soups and stews, giving the flavors time to meld after cooking almost always improves the flavor. I would suggest making this a day ahead.
Originally published April 13, 2018