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Vegetarian chili anything but bland

Recipe: Butternut squash anchors a spicy dish

Chili in blue bowl with garnishes
This chili has plenty of vegetables and is plenty
spicy. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Plant-based chili might sound like a contradiction in terms to diehard chili fans. But leaving out the meat doesn't mean this is wimpy stuff -- far from it.

Oh, sure, football season is over, but it's still winter. And chili is an all-season dish, I believe.

This veggie-packed recipe sprang from another excellent one, on the Simply Recipes site . However, the star vegetable in that version is eggplant, and my house is an eggplant-free zone. No one likes it, including me. So adaptation was necessary.

But winter squash is still available, and will stand up to roasting, just like that eggplant. I also subbed cremini mushrooms for some of the zucchini (ahem, not in season) and increased the number of peppers. We like spicy food in our house, though not at the blister-your-mouth level, so I tested and tasted throughout the cooking process. When my daughter (the hot sauce fan) said it was hot enough, I knew I had a good batch.

Vegetarian chili with winter squash

Peppers, mushrooms and squash on counter
Peppers and squash and mushrooms, oh my.


1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes, about 3 to 4 cups

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 yellow onions, chopped

3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced

1 Mexican summer squash or zucchini, trimmed and chopped

1/2 cup chopped cremini or white mushrooms (about 4 ounces)

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped

At least 1 and as many as 4 jalapeño peppers, depending on their size and your personal taste, seeded and minced (gloves help keep your hands from getting “burned”)

One 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped, with liquid (or use fresh if available)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 to 2 tablespoons prepared chili powder (or create your own blend)

1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

One 15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Zest of 1 lemon

Butternut squash cubes on pan
Roasting the squash enhances the flavor.

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For garnish (optional):

Sour cream, chopped cilantro, sliced scallions, grated cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the butternut squash cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring once. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a large pot (6 to 8 quarts), heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onions a few minutes until translucent, then add the garlic, stirring, for another minute.

Add the chopped bell peppers, summer squash, mushrooms and jalapeños, and continue to cook for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and their liquid, and add the cumin, 1 tablespoon of the chili powder, the smoked paprika, oregano, and fennel seeds. Add more chili powder plus salt and pepper to taste. Blend in the roasted butternut squash. Simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.

Chili in pot
The vegetables simmer awhile before the beans and
the rest of the ingredients are stirred in.

Stir in the drained beans, the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and chopped cilantro. Adjust the seasonings and simmer for at least 5 more minutes. This chili holds very well at low heat if it's ready before serving time. Add a little water or vegetable broth if it seems to be getting too thick.

Serve chili with garnishes as desired.