Desperately seeking awesomeness: Vegetarian black bean chilli

Vegetarian black bean chilli with fresh salsa and tortilla chips

I’ve been searching for the perfect bowl of vegetarian chill for a while now. I’m not much of a sports fan but the humble bowl of chilli is the perfect meal to eat while your watching the footy. You can cook up a big pot, feed hordes of people and with the lavish additions of sides like – sour cream, grated cheese, fresh salsa, guacamole and a tonne of crunchy tortilla chips and you have an instant fiesta in a bowl.

Because I’m also having of bit of love affair with black beans at the moment, it was essential that my ideal bowl of chilli included them as well. If you Google ‘vegetarian black bean chilli’, you get a plethora of recipes and I’ve tried a few – Joanne Weir’s Three Bean Vegetarian Chilli, Herbivoracious’ Best Vegetarian Chilli and Epicurious’ Black Bean Chilli with Cumin and Orange – with sides of tortilla chips, salsa and sour cream. They were all okay but I was seeking awesomeness in my black bean chilli and none of them really flew. Then I came across this recipe for black bean chilli with stout from L.V. Anderson at Slate magazine’s ‘Brow Beat’ column. It had such an intriguingly long and complex ingredient list, including shitake mushrooms, tempeh, stout and dark chocolate, that I just had to make it.

Because of the intimidating length of the ingredient list, it took me quite a while to get round to actually cooking it. I mean, stout! – nobody I know drinks the stuff – and I’m a non-drinker, so I had to have a special trip to the bottle shop to get that. After all the effort of hunting and gathering for this pot of beans, my expectations were sky high, the combination of everything was so weird, it had to be awesome – right?

I really wanted to love this version of chilli but… actually it was just a bit… well, weird. The whole ‘stout’ thing was overwhelming and a bit too boozey and it didn’t seem to temper or mellow with keeping. As I diligently ate my way through the leftovers throughout the week, it still smelt and tasted a bit like a brewery. I should have left it at that, but I’d expended so much energy and expectations on this pot of beans, and there was enough underlying intrigue in this recipe, that I was determined to try it again without the stout.

So, with a slight tweaking of the ingredients, I did a redux version of this chilli and I was glad I did because, damn –  it was awesome – rich, savory and complex. This version of chilli is deeply inauthentic, you have shitake mushrooms and tempeh in a vegetarian version of what is a classic Mexican meat dish – chilli con carne (even the beans aren’t authentic but chilli without beans – where’s the fun in that?) – but, somehow, it works. My son (who uses his chilli as a vehicle for copious amounts of sour cream, cheese and tortilla chips) is a bit of a mushroom-phobe, but he didn’t even notice the shitake mushrooms. I replaced the stout with some red wine, which added a nice dimension without the hopped-up smell of a brewery, added some more coriander (to add a bit more zing and freshness) and there you have it: awesomeness in a bowl. You don’t have to be a sports nut to make this chilli but I do think it is the perfect thing to eat while watching the Friday night game.

So, if there are any other black bean obsessives out there similarly seeking awesomeness in their vegetarian chilli, give this version a go and tell me what you think.

Vegetarian black bean chilli with fresh salsa and tortilla chips

Vegetarian black bean chilli

Adapted from L.V. Anderson’s  ‘Brow Beat’ recipe column, Slate magazine

Serves 4–6

  • 3 tablespoons of light olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow or red onions chopped
  • 100 grams (3½ ounces) of shitake mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thinly
  • 2–3 chipotle chillies, chopped OR 2 fresh jalapeno chillies and 1–2 teaspoons of smoked paprika (I used chipotle chilli powder)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced finely
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder (I used ancho chilli powder)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • 1 packet of tempeh (375–500g) crumbled
  • 4 cups of drained cooked black beans (cooking broth reserved). For instructions on cooking your beans, see the instructions here.
  • 2 x 400g (14 ounces) cans of tomato, chopped finely
  • 1 cup of red wine (or if you’re very, very game, 350mls (12 ounces) of stout)
  • 45grams (1½ ounces) of dark chocolate
  • 1 bunch of coriander chopped stalks and leaves separated (reserve some leaves for garnish).
  1. Heat oil in a large 4-litre (4-quart) pot. Add onions and saute until onion begins to soften, add chopped coriander stalks,  shitake mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until shitake mushrooms have browned lightly and their moisture has evaporated (about 5–7 minutes).
  2. Add chipotles or fresh jalepenos, garlic and saute until garlic becomes translucent, then add spices – cumin, coriander, chilli powder, oregano and smoked paprika (if using). Saute for about two minutes until spices are fragrant then add the tempeh and saute for another few minutes until the tempeh is well coated with the spices.
  3. Add beans, tomatoes, red wine and enough to bean broth to make a rich stew. Be careful not to add too much water or your chilli will be too soupy.
  4. Cover and bring to a slow simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until the tempeh and tomato have broken down about an 1 hour (I often cook my beans on a low, slow heat for hours, in a salty, tomato sauce broth it’s almost impossible to overcook them and the longer you cook beans the more mellow and tempered they become).
  5. Just before serving, add chocolate and allow to melt, before adding coriander.
  6. Serve garnished with coriander and sides of sour cream, fresh salsa, grated cheese, guacamole (for a vegan version), hot sauce and lime wedges.

Leftover chilli keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

This recipe is vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan (with an adjustment to the sides)


  1. The chocolate is an interesting ingredient. I can remember years ago someone cooking a chocolate roast beef. I was intrigued and slightly skeptical…but it was delicious!! I’ll have to give your Chilli a go!

  2. Elizabeth I admire your perserverance! So glad you were rewarded with an appropriate amount of awesomeness. Chilli looks delicious.

  3. Can’t wait to try this recipe!

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