This smoky and spicy vegan chilli con carne features cocoa and coffee to add deep flavours to this Mexican classic.
Fake meat... it's a bit of a 'Marmite' isn't it - you either love it or hate it, eat too much of it or never touch the stuff. It is rare for me to use it in a recipe here on The Veg Space but having cooked a lot of chillis in my time, I find the bite and texture some good quality vegan mince brings to this recipe is really worth it, and encourage you to give it a go even if you're not usually a fan.
I have a staple 'quick chilli' method which often makes its way onto our weekly meal plan, either for fajitas, a chilli & rice bowl like those below, jacket potatoes or even burritos. It goes: fry an onion and pepper, add tinned lentils or mince, add fajita seasoning, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a bit of water, and cook. It is good, quick and filling, but not what purists would call a chilli.
So I went in search of some 'proper' chilli con carne recipes to turn vegan. I'm a fan of Thomasina Miers' book 'Mexican Food Made Simple' - not vegan but some brilliantly easy-but-authentic recipes. Some more ideas from Nigella's recipe and Felicity Cloake's brilliant article for the Guardian, and my vegan version began to take shape.
The base of the sauce is not just chopped tomatoes but also fresh black coffee, with a tablespoon of cocoa added too. If you think that sounds like a Starbucks Mocha, think again - it is somehow deeply savoury, a really rich flavour but very different to your bog-standard everyday chilli.
📝 What you need
Vegan mince These vary quite a lot in their texture and taste - my personal favourite is Vivera plant mince pictured below with has a very good texture, but I also like Naked Glory mince or the Meatless Farm mince. The cheap supermarket frozen stuff tends to be pretty spongy - not what you're after here, though it is considerably cheaper so I occasionally revert to it if I'm cooking this in big quantities. (If you prefer a chilli without vegan mince, take a look at my Borlotti Bean Chilli instead).
Tinned lentils add a second form of protein and a lovely texture. They bulk out the chilli at a very low cost so if you're making a big batch and don't want to buy more mince, add more lentils instead.
Kidney beans are the classic chilli con carne bean, but I'm a bit of a borlotti bean fan (see my sausage casserole, borlotti slow-cooked chilli, borlotti & red wine pie, etc!), and often substitute those instead.
Gravy granules are my top-secret chilli ingredient to give a thick, rich, 'beefy', glossy sauce. I've tried the new OXO beef-flavoured vegan stock cubes which are good, and I use them a lot, but I like the extra sheen and thickness that the gravy granules add here.
🍽 Serving suggestions
Chilli is such a versatile staple - you can eat it in:
- Fajitas with lettuce, tomatoes, vegan mayo, jalapeños and a sprinkle of vegan cheese.
- Rice bowl a simple bowl of chilli and long-grain rice.
- Chilli Nachos Scatter some nachos (check they are vegan) over the base of a roasting tin, dollop over some chilli and scatter with vegan cheese, cherry tomato halves and jalapeños. Another layer of nachos, chilli, tomatoes, jalapeños and cheese then bake in the oven for 5 minutes. YUM!
- Burritos as for the fajitas, but toast the outside of the wrap all over in a frying pan - it seals in the fillings and adds a beautiful crunch.
- Jacket potatoes with a dollop of vegan sour cream (or I like the new Oatly thick greek yoghurt, just perfect with some chives snipped over the top).
- Tacos My kids love these, (and get VERY messy!) - I toast the little mini-wraps you can now get in supermarkets in a frying pan or griddle, and they pile them up with chilli and salad.
❄️ Freezing and storing
This keeps really well in the fridge for a few days, (in fact I prefer it when it has sat in the fridge overnight - the flavours mellow somehow).
You can also freeze it, so perfect for making up a double-batch and freezing in individual portions.
I recommend in many of my soup recipes using old margarine tubs to freeze individual portions - they are the perfect size and stack very neatly in the freezer. Don't forget to label and date them, though!
⭐️ Reader Testimonials
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ "This was absolutely delicious, probably the best chilli I've ever had! 100% recommend to all, very glad I have a lot of leftovers for the coming days!" Joe
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ "It was DELICIOUS. Family loved it including meat loving husband. Will now be my go to chilli recipe and next time I'll add more coffee. Thank you!" Gillian
Vegan Chilli con Carne
- 2 tablespoon rapeseed or sunflower oil
- 2 onions
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 red pepper
- 2 green chillis
- 500 g vegan mince
- 400 g tinned green lentils
- 400 g tinned kidney beans
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon gravy granules check they are vegan
- 2 tablespoon tomato purée
- 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
- 200 ml freshly made black coffee
- Heat the oil in a large casserole dish or lidded frying pan.
- Peel and chop the onion, and peel and crush the garlic cloves. Fry over a gentle heat for 3-4 minutes until they are starting to soften.
- De-seed and chop the red pepper and green chillis - the pepper can be in quite large chunks, and the chillis should be fairly small. Add to the frying pan and cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
- Add the vegan mince and cook for 3 minutes
- Add the lentils and kidney beans to the pan, followed by all the remaining ingredients, and season with salt and black pepper.
- Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until the liquid has reduced to a thick, glossy sauce. If it is looking too dry, add a little more water whenever it needs it.
- Serve your chilli with rice or fajita wraps, nachos, jacket potatoes, vegan cheese, dairy-free sour cream, guacamole, fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime, or anything else you fancy!
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