The Ultimate Vegetarian Chili

A hearty, spicy vegetarian chili made with caramelized cabbage that gives a new spin on an old classic.

It’s chili season! Being Mormon I can always look forward to a chili cook off come fall. My dad has always made my favorite chili but I found myself eating around the beef that was in it. I’ve just never been a big ground beef kinda gal. 

When I got older and started making my version of dad’s chili, I just left out the beef. While leaving out the beef cut costs and tasted better to me, it was still missing something. The chili was just slightly more bland, less hardy.

This crockpot vegetarian chili recipe is the ultimate in satisfaction. It's incredibly delicious and healthy. | We Three Shanes

I went in search of vegetarian chili recipes to see what other options I had. Every recipe I saw used corn or sweet potato. Now I enjoy both corn and sweet potatoes but not in chili. I just don’t want a sweet bite of food in my otherwise spicy chili.

So what to do? I turned to my new favorite filler, cabbage. This isn’t a soggy, boring, boiled cabbage. This is a super flavorful, caramelized, sautéed cabbage that starts with butter, onions and garlic. How can you go wrong with that? Add to it all the chili powder, cumin, and other spices that go into chili and you’ve got one amazing dish.

The Ultimate Vegetarian Chili - A hearty, spicy vegetarian chili made with caramelized cabbage that gives a new spin on an old classic. - We Three Shanes

We had a couple of vegetarian/vegan eaters at church in Indiana and I volunteered to bring the vegetarian option for our chili cook off. When I went to get some I couldn’t find it. Turns out the chili got put in the kitchen because everyone was eating it and there wasn’t going to be enough for those it was meant for.

If you think meatless chili is not for you, give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised.  If you just can’t bring yourself to, then simply substitute the cabbage for ground beef. Remember, that’s how this recipe started in the first place.

I start with dry kidney beans. Everything will eventually end up in the crockpot anyway so you may as well start with dry beans and save some money. You can use canned beans if you’re not up for the dry ones.

Just remember to give yourself extra time if starting with the dry beans. I use a 1 lb bag of beans. Anything I don’t use for the chili goes in the freezer for next time or in the fridge to put on salads for the week. 

The Ultimate Vegetarian Chili - A hearty, spicy vegetarian chili made with caramelized cabbage that gives a new spin on an old classic. - We Three Shanes

Vegetarian Chili Recipe
5 from 1 vote

The Ultimate Vegetarian Chili

This spicy vegetarian chili is bursting with flavor
Print Recipe
Prep Time:20 minutes
Cook Time:2 hours
Total Time:2 hours 20 minutes


Sauted cabbage

  • 2 Tbsp butter oil or vegan butter may be used to make dish vegan
  • 1/2 head cabbage chopped
  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced


  • 2 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can chili beans in chili sauce
  • 2 15 oz can kidney beans drained
  • 2 cups vegetable broth


  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp cayanne
  • 1/4 tsp chipotle powder optional
  • to taste salt



  • If you are using dry kidney beans you will need to rinse them and take out any rocks that might have been left in and then put them in your crockpot.
  • Cover your beans by at least one inch of vegetable broth and cook on high until beans are soft. This takes about 6 hours. Keep an eye on the vegetable broth level. Always make sure to have the beans covered.
  • If you are using canned beans, drain them and throw them in the crockpot, along with the chili beans and spices.
  • You can dump the diced tomatoes in or if you’re like me and prefer a smooth sauce, blend the tomatoes and then add them to the crockpot.
  • Cook for at least one hour on high or 3 hours on low. The longer it cooks the thicker it gets and the more the flavors blend.

Sauted Cabbage

  • Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat.
  • Saute the onions for about 5 minutes. They should be starting to get translucent.
  • Add in the chopped cabbage and saute until soft and slightly caramelized. About 15-20 mins.
  • Stir in the minced garlic and cook for 2 mins, stirring consistently.
  • Add the cabbage to the crockpot and cook another 30 mins.
  • Taste and adjust any spices you need to.


You have a couple of choices when choosing your tomatoes. You can use plain old diced tomatoes, fire roasted, stewed tomatoes, chili ready tomatoes or even rotel for some extra kick.
Servings: 8 people

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  1. 5 stars
    I had some purple cabbage leftover from another dish and never thought about making a chili with it until I found your recipe! I also threw in carrots, mushrooms and jalapenos to add some variety, and I used vegan butter instead of regular, and it turned out great! The measurements for the spices is the perfect mix to give it that classic, yummy chili flavor — which is hard to find, but you nailed it! This recipe is much appreciated. I will continue to make over and over again and also experiment with throwing in different veggies!

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