Set it and forget it, easy and hearty crock pot vegetarian chili recipe is nourishing and flavor packed! This vegan and vegetarian slow cooker chili recipe is make ahead ready and freezer friendly. This recipe is vegetarian, vegan and gluten free.
Pure comfort food during the chilliest seasons of the year, what could be more satisfying than vegetarian chili in the crock pot? It’s super simple to pull together, is make ahead ready and will wow even your meat eating friends and family!
This was one of the many recipes I started working on after giving up meat long ago. Growing up in Texas, chili was a staple in every kitchen. In restaurants, it’s common on menus, served piled high with toppings or on burgers, fries, nachos, hot dogs and Texan’s beloved Frito pie (have you tried it?).
A plant based chili was unheard of back in the day. But it didn’t take long to realize a hearty vegan chili is suitable for even the most meat loving chili connoisseurs. This hearty vegan slow cooker chili has a rich spice base akin to its meat based siblings and a rich, full bodied texture.
Related: Love cozy chili? Give my Vegetarian Pumpkin Chili a go!
Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili Recipe Ingredients
Heavy on the spices, the heat can be taken up or down. Here’s what you’ll need to make this healthy crockpot vegetarian chili recipe (see recipe card below for full details):
- Dry beans such as Black Beans, Pinto Beans or optionally Kidney Beans – **updated: see FDAs advisory on not cooking dry kidney beans in the slow cooker in recipe notes**
- Red Onion
- Bell Pepper – green or use poblano pepper
- Fresh Garlic
- Spices: Cumin, Oregano, Chili Powder, Ground Pepper, Salt, Bay Leaf
- Chipotle Chili (optional)
- Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
- Tomato Paste
- Masa Harina
A variety of chilis enriches this vegan slow cooker chili’s flavor profile. Masa harina thickens the chili, lends body and offers a mild corn flavor. If masa harina is new territory, I encourage you to give it a go! I’ve linked to other recipes I use it in on the recipe card.
Quick Guide: How to Make Crock Pot Vegetarian Chili
For this vegan bean chili, you can use soaked or unsoaked (updated: except kidney beans**) dry beans. I found the window of cooking time to be close either way. Slow cooked chili maximizes flavor because the spices and seasonings are concentrated. In summary, here’s how to make this easy crock pot vegetarian chili recipe (see recipe card below for full details):
- First, to soak or not to soak the beans. Soaking is optional (except for kidney beans – according to FDA, kidney beans must be soaked and boiled**). Sometimes I soak, sometimes I forget. Their’s not much difference in cook time.
- Second, to the crock pot, add chopped onion, bell pepper and dry beans (soaked or unsoaked).
- Third, add the garlic, spices, peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste and water. Stir.
- Next, lid the crock and set the cooker to high.
- Last, about 15 minutes before serving, make a slurry with the masa harina and pour it into the crock. Lid again and warm through.
Share this hearty vegetarian slow cooker chili piping hot with cornbread and all your favorite condiments.
Vegetarian Chili FAQs
Is Chili Better the Next Day?
When cooking chili in the slow cooker, I can’t tell that much of a difference the next day. However, when cooked quicker on stove top, an overnight rest in the fridge gives chili a noticeable flavor advantage.
How far Ahead Can I Make Slow Cooker Chili?
Chili’s flavor improves with a bit of time, so chili is perfect for meal prep. If refrigerating, the chili can be made up to days in advance. If needed after three days, freeze it.
Can I Freeze Vegetarian Chili?
This crock pot recipe freezes with ease. Simply cool the chili then store it in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge overnight and gently reheat on stove top.
How Long Can you Freeze Vegetarian Slow Cooker Chili?
I’ve frozen chili for up to two months with good results, although you can probably freeze it for longer.
How Do I Thicken My Chili?
In this healthy crockpot chili recipe, I use masa harina to flavor, give body and thicken the base. Masa harina is a signature flavor in American Southwest cooking. You’ll find it on the International food isle in well stocked grocery stores or online. It’s made with ground corn soaked in a lime solution then dried. You’ll find this ingredient in tortilla chips, corn tortillas, and tamales as well as many Southwest inspired recipes.
What’s a Substitute for Masa Harina?
I have used ground tortilla chips in place of masa harina in a pinch. The flavor isn’t as apparent, but it works. Grind the chips fine in a food processor – grind as fine as possible – and use the the crumbs where you would masa harina in this recipe. A little more due to crumb size.
A Few Recipe Notes
- Although this recipe is vegan and vegetarian, it can be shared with a variety of condiments like avocado, cilantro, jalapeños, scallions, chopped onion, sour cream or shredded cheddar. Keep it dairy free by omitting cheese and sour cream.
- My favorite side to share with this slow cooker vegetarian chili recipe is cornbread and sliced avocado. Corn tortillas make a nice addition sans cornbread if time is short. Try my Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread or Gluten Free Cornbread recipe.
- Time to cook this crock pot vegetarian chili varies depending on bean age, the older the bean the longer the cook. It’s possible that a bean can be so old and dry it won’t cook through, although I’ve not experienced this. I do not recommend eating under-cooked beans. Temperature variations range among slow cookers. Be sure to check the manufactures owners manual regarding cook time for beans. Use the cook time in this recipe as a guide.
- I’ve made this crock pot vegetarian chili recipe with soaked and unsoaked beans. If using soaked beans, reduce the amount of water by about 1/2 C. Adjust as needed.
- Freezer Friendly? Yes please! This recipe freezes with ease. Simply cool the chili then store it in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge overnight and gently reheat on stove top.
**UPDATE: I’ve been cooking dry beans (including kidney) in a slow cooker for 20+ years without any ill effects but after a reader alerted me to a raw and undercooked kidney bean toxin, I updated this recipe with notes. Feel free to use a mix of black and pinto beans and omit the kidney beans. Just because I’ve not experienced adverse issues, doesn’t mean there’s not the potential for others to experience it. See page 254 on FDA’s Bad Bug Book for more info.
More Vegetarian and Vegan Chili Recipes to Love
- Vegetarian Tater Tot Hot Dish
- Pumpkin Two Bean Chili
- Vegan Chili by Foolproof Living
- Vegetarian Chili by Green Valley Kitchen
Hearty Crock Pot Vegetarian Chili
- 1 1/2 C (320g) Dry Beans use your favorites: I use 1/2 C each: pinto, black and kidney beans** (see notes on soaking and FDA's cooking advisory on cooking dry kidney beans in the slow cooker).
- 2 C (230g) Red or Yellow Onion about one large onion
- 1 C (140g) Green Bell Pepper about one medium pepper
- 2 tsp Ground Cumin
- 2 Tbs Dried Oregano
- 4 Tbs Chili Powder ***see note
- 1 Tbs Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Tbs Fine Sea Salt
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 3 Plump Cloves of Garlic smashed and minced
- 2 Tbs Jalapeno Pepper fresh or pickled, chopped fine. Remove seeds and ribs for less heat
- 1 Chipotle Chili Pepper (optional) from a can of chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce
- 14 1/2 oz (411g) Diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes from one small can, undrained
- 4 Tbs Tomato Paste
- 4 C (980g) Water see note if using soaked beans
- 3 Tbs Masa Harina mixed with + 1/4 C (56g) hot water or use finely crushed corn tortilla chips as a sub.
- Pick through the beans picking out any shriveled beans or small stones. Rinse the dry beans and place them in the cook-pot of a slow cooker. If using dry kidney beans, soak/boil them according to FDA's guidelines below in the notes (and make sure they're fully cooked) before adding them to the soup or use one can (drained) of already cooked kidney beans. Add them to the crock during the last hour of cooking. To the beans add the onion, bell pepper, cumin, oregano, chili powder, black pepper, salt, bayleaf, garlic, jalapeno, chipotle pepper (if using), tomatoes, tomato paste and water. Stir thoroughly and lid.
- Cook Beans on High (soaked or unsoaked) for 6-8 hours. Be sure to check your crock pot manufactures owners manual regarding cook time for beans. Use this time as a guide.
- The chili is done when the beans are tender and creamy inside, flavors are concentrated and the chili has thickened. About 15 minutes before serving, mix the masa harina with hot water until smooth and pour it into the chili. Stir. The chili will begin to thicken during the last minutes of cooking. Time to cook this crock pot vegetarian chili varies depending on bean age, the older the bean the longer the cook. It’s possible that a bean can be so old and dry it won’t cook through. I do not recommend eating under-cooked beans. Temperature variations range among slow cookers – check your manufactures owners manual. Use the cook times as a guide.To the chili, add a good squeeze of lime juice, about 1/2 a lime, and taste for salt adjustment. If a thinner chili is desired, simply thin with water.
- Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with any toppings you like: avocado, jalapeño, cilantro, sour cream, scallions, diced onions, lime wedges, sour cream or shredded cheddar.
- Store in the refrigerator in a lidded container for up to three days or freeze for up to two weeks. Thaw overnight in the fridge and gently rewarm on low heat on the stovetop.
What do I need to adjust if using cannned beans? Guessing cook time ..
Hi Cece! Cook time, yes. I’d add the cooked beans to the crock pot about an hour before you’re ready to serve the chili. Also, you may want to reduce the salt since canned beans are salted, then adjust the salt to taste. I hope this helps!
Laura A Miller
Hi Traci! I am making my way through your recipes!! I was craving your tater tot hotdish again, but am on a mission to try more of your recipes. This is also amazing ! I have never even tried a chipotle until today. Was scared it would set me on fire! Not too hot though. I was pleasantly surprised. Subtle, but flavorful. I love the tomato paste. Always used sauce or diced tomatoes. Paste makes this so vibrant. Such a difference it makes. Golly. Very rich. I loooooove the Masa Harina and the Frontier chili powder. I did carry over one ingredient from your tater tot hot dish. I added about a teaspoon of the better than boulion (vegetable) to my water. Love it! Thank you for teaching me about that. I plan to have this all week long. Tomorrow I am making your suggested Frito pie with this. I loooove all of your helpful details.Thank you again!!
Oh my gosh, Laura! You’re on a roll! Isn’t chipotle so nice? It adds a nice smoky flavor… It’s something you’ll always find in my pantry/fridge/freezer! Tomato paste is a umami flavor builder – it’s amazing! And better than boullion in this… perfection. Isn’t it interesting what one simple ingredient can do? This chili is sooo good for leftovers… try it on a chili cheese veggie burger (Oh my!)! But frito pie – Now you’ve got me craving it! Thank you so much for your note, Laura. It truly made my day!
Looks great. What size crock pot do you use?
Hi Ted! My crock is 10 3/4″ rim to rim (round) and 4 1/2″ deep. I hope this helps!
Love this chili recipe and many of your other recipes! However, I find that 4 tablespoons of chili powder is way too much. I like spicy food and have a decent tolerance for spice and it was crazy spicy to me, like unpleasant to eat. I’ve made it since with 1 tbsp and it’s perfect. Just my two cents!
Hi Maddie… I’m sorry to hear the chili was too spicy for you. I’m curious about the brand of chili powder you used as I’ve learned there are a few brands that are much spicier than the one I recommend. Glad to hear you adjusted the recipe to taste however!
Thank you for this recipe. However, after 9 hours on low my black beans and chickpeas were not cooked, even though they were soaked. I would recommend going with the high setting!
Hi Megan! Thank you for your note. Wow! I’ve not experienced this before, but I understand crock pots can vary widely. Additionally, old beans may have trouble cooking through. Were you able to cook them through on high?
How much of the beans do I use if using canned beans?
Hi Maria! Use three cans of beans (425g/15oz each). I hope you enjoy the recipe!
Omg, these pictures make me drool over the dish. I have many chili recipes but this one is one of my favorites. I can never get enough of it. Gluten free, hearty, flavored, and sooo loaded with vegetables and spices. So easy to make and easy to modify. Though I’ve never added masa to my chili. Should definitely give it a go. Sometimes I serve it with shredded cheese for dinner guests (yeah, it makes the dish no longer vegan), and it’s always a big hit. I take it as a good sign when my friends request the recipe of this. Thank you Traci!
Hii Ann! Thank you for your note and rating! So happy to hear y’all are enjoying the recipe! I sometimes serve it with shredded cheese too, and sour ream! SO good!
Geraldine | Green Valley Kitchen
This looks really great, Traci. I never used to eat chili – I was always scared it would be too spicy – but now find that if I just tone down the spices a bit in a recipe, I have no problem with it being too spicy. Love the ease of using a crockpot and making a big batch is the way to go! I love that you’ve added masa to this recipe – I’ve never tried that and am looking forward to checking it out. Thanks so much for including my chili recipe as well!
Mary Ann | The Beach House Kitchen
I will most definitely be adding your recipe to my chili recipes list Traci! Both Tom and I enjoy chili and especially chili in the crock pot. So perfect for the chilly season that’s ahead. Loving how you thickened it with the masa too. So excited to try this one!
I’ve also never added masa to chili. Even though I’m the only bean lover in my family I’m wishing there was a pot of this waiting for me at home. Currently on an 8 hour drive home from a wedding in Maine and that would hit the spot tonight!
Liz @ Floating Kitchen
Ooo I’ve never added masa to my chili before. I need to try this! I bet it make it so thick and delicious! I think I know what I’m making this weekend!
Another great addition that can make chili souper hearty – hee hee – is bulgur wheat. It acts really meaty and soaks up all that yummy flavor.
Hi Kate! Thank you for your tip. That sounds amazing! Would we need to add more water to the crock?