Hearty Plant Based Chili


Chili is a crowd-pleaser. It’s filling, flavorful, and delights kids as much as adults. There are many ways to make chili, from the simplest dump-everything-in-and-let-it-simmer busy weeknight version to the most lovingly hand-crafted it-took-three-days-to-make-this rendition. And it’s just as good, or dare we say better, without animal products. Our Hearty Plant Based Chili is big on flavor, vegan, oil-free, and satisfying enough to please any omnivore. 

The secret is our Coney Island-Style Sauce, made with bulgar wheat, which is packed with seasonings and simulates the texture of ground beef. Putting together the Coney Island-Style Sauce before you make the chili takes extra time, but we promise it is so worth it. In fact, you should just go ahead and double it and use the extra to make all sorts of yums, or eat by itself. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

whole food plant based Coney Island style sauce

What’s inside 

Coney Island-Style Sauce

Bulgar wheat: this grain is made from cracked wheat hulls. It has a course, semi-firm texture, and a nutty flavor. You can typically find it in the bulk sections of grocery stores or online. We recommend purchasing the fine or medium-grain variety (this is most common and you can assume it’s fine or medium if not listed on the label). You can use course-grain bulgar if you prefer, but you’ll need to let it cook it a little longer. 

Chili powder: this common seasoning is actually a spice blend in itself, with many different varieties and spice levels available. What kind you use is up to you. Experimenting with different chili powders to see how the flavors change is super fun, so don’t be afraid! Even better, make your own and tell us all about it. We have a Simple Chili Seasoning in Plant Fueled Life if you want to give it a whirl.

Smoked paprika powder: this isn’t your mom’s paprika! We love its deep red color, but the real purpose here is to deliver subtle smoky notes that deepen the flavor of your chili. It’s commonly available in most conventional grocery stores, but there are lots of sources online if you have trouble finding it.

Coney Island style sauce ingredients

Cinnamon powder: you might be surprised by this one, but its light spicy flavor complements the more traditional savory seasonings incredibly well.

Low-sodium vegetable broth: any brand or variety will work. If you like making things yourself while saving money, you’ll love our Vegetable Bouillon Powder recipe. Mix up a batch and keep a jar on hand to make veggie broth, boost the flavor of ramen, soups, grains, and sauces, or sprinkle a little on your popcorn for a bit of savory flavor. Hell yeah!

Vegan Worcestershire sauce: say that three times fast. Most varieties contain anchovies or fish sauce, so be sure to purchase a vegan version. It should be clearly labeled on the bottle.

Hearty Plant Based Chili

Brown rice flour: uncooked brown rice is ground into a fine powder to make this handy flour. We love to use it for thickening soups and stews. Check the bulk section of your grocery store or purchase online. You can even grind your own with a fancy blender or food processor. Now if only the fancy blender could do the dishes…

Sweet onions: we like sweet varieties like Walla Walla, Vidalia, or Texas sweet for our chili as they meld nicely with the other flavors without being overpowering. They also caramelize beautifully.

hearty plant based chili ingredients

Mushrooms: grab whatever you like, is on sale, or in your CSA box. Try throwing in different varieties to play with texture and flavor. 

Jalapeño: you can remove the seeds or omit the jalapeño entirely, depending on your spice level tolerance.

Frozen corn kernels: we like to use frozen corn kernels because they’re available year-round and super convenient.

Let’s make Hearty Plant Based Chili

Coney Island-Style Sauce

First, let’s get our bulgar cooking. Measure one cup of water into a small saucepan and set it over high heat until it begins to boil. Remove the pan from the heat, turn off the burner, and stir in the bulgar. 

Cover with a lid and let it rest off the heat for at least 20 minutes.

omni friendly hearty plant based chili

Meanwhile, grab a small bowl and measure the spices into it (chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, salt, cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon, and allspice) and set aside. This will make things faster once we get our veggies cooking. 

hearty plant based chili

Place a smallish pot over medium heat and allow to warm for a few minutes. Once it’s hot, add the onion, garlic, and 1⅔ tablespoons of water. Cook until the veggies start turning translucent at the edges, about six minutes, stirring occasionally. You can add another splash of water if things start to stick.

Now, lower the heat to medium-low and add the tomato paste and spice mixture you set aside earlier. Stir continuously for about a minute to coat everything and get the spices nice and toasty. It’s ok if they stick to the pot right now. 

kid friendly vegan chili

Let’s deglaze this baby! Pour in your veggie broth and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot to grab any stuck bits—they’re basically flavor bombs. We like a wooden spoon for this. 

oil free Coney Island style sauce

Now add the cooked bulgar you set aside earlier, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, maple syrup, and liquid smoke (if using). Stir well.

tasty hearty plant based chili

Bring to a gentler simmer (you may need to raise the heat a little), and continue cooking, stirring often, until the sauce thickens, about five to 10 minutes.

vegan hearty plant based chili

Set aside until you’re ready to make your chili! You’ll need it all, so do your best not to get carried away after a taste test. If you were wise and made a double batch, here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy your extra Coney Island-Style Sauce:

Hearty Plant Based Chili

We’ll follow a similar process for the chili. If you want maximum efficiency, you can start your chili after you deglaze the pot for the Coney Island-Style Sauce. 

First up, let’s measure our spices, including the flour, into a small bowl and set aside (flour, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, cumin, smoked paprika, oregano, black pepper, and chipotle powder). 

Pull out your Dutch oven or large soup pot and place over medium heat for a few minutes to warm up. Then, add the onions, mushrooms, jalapeño, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released most of their liquid, about five minutes. If things start to stick, you should be able to hold off on adding water, as the mushroom liquid will help release things.

kid friendly hearty plant based chili

Once your veggies are softened, add the flour/spice mix and the tomato paste. Stir for about a minute while the spices toast.

omni friendly vegan chili

Add water, diced tomatoes, beans, and corn and stir well, scraping up all the stuck pieces from the bottom of the pot. You’re a deglazing master!

vegan oil free hot dog chili

Raise the heat to medium-low, bring everything to a light boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken, about 10 minutes. 

Finally, add all of your Coney Island-Style Sauce, stir to combine, and simmer for about five more minutes. That’s it! You’re free to enjoy your Hearty Plant Based Chili.

Coney Island style sauce hot dog

If you like your chili extra thick, make it the day before you plan to eat it as it will continue to thicken as it cools. Then reheat and enjoy!

vegan oil free hearty plant based chili

Hearty Plant Based Chili

Makes about 8 cups
Author: Molly Patrick


Coney Island-Style Sauce

  • 1 cup water (240 ml)
  • ¾ cup uncooked bulgar wheat (110 g / fine or medium-grain)
  • teaspoons chili powder
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¾ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch cayenne powder (omit if you don't like spicy)
  • 1 pinch fresh black pepper (about three turns)
  • 1 pinch cinnamon powder
  • 1 pinch allspice powder
  • ¾ cup sweet onion, minced (130 g)
  • teaspoons fresh garlic, minced (4 g)
  • 1⅔ tablespoons water
  • 1⅓ tablespoons tomato paste (20 g)
  • 1⅓ cups low-sodium vegetable broth (310 ml)
  • teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • teaspoons vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 1⅛ teaspoons yellow mustard
  • ½ teaspoon 100% pure maple syrup
  • 1 drop liquid smoke (optional)

Hearty Plant Based Chili

  • 2 tablespoons brown rice flour (20 g)
  • 1⅓ tablespoons chili powder
  • teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon cumin powder
  • ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika powder
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
  • teaspoon fresh black pepper (about 7 turns)
  • 1 pinch chipotle chili powder
  • 1⅓ cups sweet onion, diced (215 g)
  • 1⅓ cups mushrooms, diced (95 g / any variety)
  • 1⅓ tablespoons jalapeño, minced (15 g / optional / remove seeds for less spicy)
  • 1⅓ tablespoons fresh garlic, minced (10 g)
  • 1⅓ tablespoons tomato paste (20 g)
  • 2⅔ cups water (630 ml)
  • 2⅓ cups canned diced tomatoes, including the juice (565 g)
  • 2 cups canned red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (300 g)
  • 1⅓ cups frozen corn kernels (180 g)
  • 2⅔ cups Coney Island-Style Sauce (one full recipe)


Coney Island-Style Sauce

  • Bring the 1 cup of water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the bulgur. Cover with a lid and set aside (for about 20 minutes) while you continue with the recipe.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, salt, cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon, and allspice. Set aside.
  • Heat a smallish pot over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and water and cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a splash of water if things start to stick.
  • Lower heat to medium-low and add the tomato paste and the spice mixture from the small bowl. Cook, while continually stirring, for 1 minute. It’s okay if some of the spices stick to the bottom of the pot, you'll be deglazing shortly.
  • Add the vegetable broth to the pot and stir well, scraping up stuck bits from the bottom of the pot (deglazing). Next, add the cooked bulgur, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, maple syrup, and liquid smoke (if using) and stir well.
  • Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring often, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 5–7 minutes. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

Hearty Plant Based Chili

  • In a small bowl, mix together the flour, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, cumin, smoked paprika, oregano, black pepper, and chipotle powder. Set aside for now.
  • Heat a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the onion, mushrooms, jalapeño, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the flour/spice mixture and the tomato paste and stir continually for about 1 minute.
  • Add the water, diced tomatoes, beans, and corn and stir, making sure to scrape up any bits off the bottom of the pot. Bring just to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the Coney Island-Style Sauce and continue simmering, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. The chili will continue to thicken as it cools.
  • Dish it up and enjoy!
plant based Coney Island style sauce

Yield, storage, and serving suggestions 

These recipes will make 2⅔ cups of Coney Island-Style Sauce and 8 cups of Hearty Plant Based Chili, respectively.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days. This is a great dish to make over the weekend to enjoy all week long.

Are you a Plant Fueled Life member? View the recipe there and get cooking.

While you’re there, grab this Cornbread recipe. It’s the perfect companion for your delicious chili. We also love it topped with Vegan Sour Cream, but you can’t go wrong with keeping it simple if that’s more your style.

hearty veggie chili

Have you made our Hearty Plant Based Chili? What’s your favorite chili powder to use? Let us know in the comments below!

Wishing you new joy from familiar pleasures.

Team Dirty

Get a weekly dose of inspiration to eat more plants and celebrate imperfection

Our Sweary Saturday Love Letters are written by our ex-boozer, ex-smoker, plant-loving co-founder, Molly Patrick.


  1. Margie on June 12, 2023 at 10:04 am

    What can be substituted for the bulgar. That is gluten free?
    Can you freeze this? Just me eating this way so it’s far too much and too many repeats of the same thing if it can’t be.

    • Stephanie from Team Dirty on June 12, 2023 at 10:41 am

      Hi Margie,

      We haven’t tested it, but you can try quinoa in place of the bulgar. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions for that.

      You can absolutely freeze the chili! We like to freeze single portions so it’s easier to thaw and eat later. You can either use a small freezer bag (squeeze out all the air and lay it flat to freeze) or silicone trays with large cups (one brand is Souper Cubes) to do that.

      Happy eating!

      • Barbara passman on July 29, 2023 at 2:52 pm

        Love learning about the Souter cubes!
        Will try my favorite Ancho villa
        Powder in the chili

        PLEASE URGE MOLLY to put together a book of her recipes. A giant book. I would gladly pay $100 for such!

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