Down’n’Dirty Vegan Chili

A super simple, fast, and easy vegan chili for those days you Just Can’t Cook (but need to anyway…)

A super simple, fast, and easy vegan chili for those days you Just Can't Cook (but need to anyway...)

No matter how good a cook you are, sometimes you just need to open a can of chili and call it dinner. And if that isn’t an option – well…

OK, backing up a step. If you haven’t read my last WIAW post, I have News! Rich and I are moving – in about a month! Eek!!! – to North Carolina to live with his parents. (More information here...)

Since we’re basically moving into the spare room, we need to downsize radically… We’re selling as much as we can, and right now seem to have a parade of people coming through the house to look at books and LPs and craft supplies and plates…  And when they’re not here, we’re sorting things into piles for people to look at later.  (At some point I’m sure we’ll find the sofa again – and then, we’ll sell it, too…)

His mother was an excellent cook, though she really isn’t up to it at all these days, so I’ll be moving into a well equipped kitchen. I’m keeping some tools and appliances I particularly like to use, and my favorite cookbooks, but many pots and pans and cookbooks need to go away.  And somehow, after a day of posting stockpots and baking dishes for sale, and juggling arms full of cookbooks (I have mine, and his, and my mother’s,  and the ones his ex left, and the ones he picked up at a thrift store, and the gifts my friends have given me, and…) well… after a day of all that I don’t really want to cook.

So, the can of chili… that wasn’t in the cabinet. And sometimes that’s the problem, sometimes you need a quick meatless meal for someone, sometimes you need to work around a food sensitivity, sometimes you’re OK with cooking – as long as you can have dinner on the table quickly…  I’d been playing around with ideas for a vegan chili made with the tofu burger crumbles, so I decided to go with the most basic version of that.

A super simple, fast, and easy vegan chili for those days you Just Can't Cook (but need to anyway...)

I also decided to use a commercial chili powder blend, so I wouldn’t have to fuss with other seasoning.  Now, the thing about chili powder is that it can be… well, not really just anything, there are parameters, but it can be powdered dry chilies of any variety (with wildly different levels of flavor and heat) or it can be a mixture of powdered chilies and other seasoning – cumin and oregano being the most common.  I grew up with the latter, which is what I used in this recipe for convenience, though I usually now use plain chili and add my own other herbs and spices. This also means that levels of heat are totally different – and of course people prefer different levels – so any measurement of chili powder in a recipe is merely the vaguest possible guideline…

Speaking of vague guidelines, this recipe really is just that. I’d finished my premade burger crumbles – if you have them, use them. Or for that matter, if you have preseasoned chili meat go ahead and use it. If you have and want ground meat it can replace the tofu – and honestly, beef or  pork will give it a bit more flavor. (Turkey or chicken – not enough to make much difference, with the spices…) The recipe is gluten free, of course (and some canned chili is not – read labels!) And I stirred in cooked rice, which I usually have – if you don’t, just serve it with taco chips or corn bread or whatever sounds good and is available.

I had half a package of tofu – I’d used the rest a day or so earlier – so I took it out, sliced it, and wrapped it in a towel to dry while I started everything else. Do that… or get out your burger crumbles.

A super simple, fast, and easy vegan chili for those days you Just Can't Cook (but need to anyway...)

Put your pan over medium heat, add oil, and a small chopped onion. (or half a medium one, which is what I did…) Stir that around and saute the onion for a few minutes until it starts to soften. Add chili powder to taste (well, see, that’s always tricky, since of course tasting doesn’t help at this stage. Add your best guess – and at this point use a little less than you think likely. You can always add, you can’t subtract…)  For reference, I used a tablespoon – we like things a bit spicy, and in fact this was on the bland side for our taste. It might not be for yours…

Now take the tofu that’s been wrapped to dry, and crumble it into the pan. Stir the bits around so they pick up the seasoning, and you drive off any moisture still in it.  Once they are all nice and reddish brown, and firm (you see them down in the front of the picture) add a can of rinsed, drained beans and one of tomatoes. I used red beans, here – kidney, pinto, or black beans are all terrific, and you can certainly try something else…

A super simple, fast, and easy vegan chili for those days you Just Can't Cook (but need to anyway...)

Stir all that together, to distribute seasoning, and add half a cup of water. Simmer it for ten minutes so the flavor has a chance to permeate the tofu and beans.  (OK, you can skip that part if you absolutely have to – but it does help.) Then add the cooked rice, stir in, and heat through. Taste it now to see if it needs more seasoning – but don’t make it too hot,  remembering that the rice is already in the mix!

And it’s done. We did add some cheese – Rich doesn’t think it’s chili if it doesn’t have cheese – but for you and me, that’s optional. (And of course, that changes it from Vegan to Vegetarian, unless you have Vegan Cheese.)

This is not the best chili you ever ate – or even the go-to recipe for ordinary weeknights. But it’s a perfectly reasonable dinner on a crazy night when you really do not have the time to cook,  or a night when you are suddenly feeding someone who can’t eat the meal you planned.  Or whatever emergency you face.

So – speaking of crazy times – posting here is going to be a bit sporadic until we get settled in…  Please bear with me! And then, well… we’ll see…  I will certainly be doing much of the cooking, and I do not expect my essential style to change though I will, of course, add a few things the parents like… and I will cook for four, not two.  I’ll continue to concentrate on easy meals, though! (Well – a little more complex than this one, usually…)

A super simple, fast, and easy vegan chili for those days you Just Can't Cook (but need to anyway...)

A super simple, fast, and easy vegan chili for those days you Just Can't Cook (but need to anyway...)

Down’n’Dirty Vegan Chili

Anne Murphy
A super simple, fast, and easy vegan chili for those days you Just Can't Cook (but need to anyway...)
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Main dish
Cuisine American, Gluten Free, Vegan
Servings 2 servings


  • 6-8 oz half a typical package tofu
  • oil for pan
  • small onion
  • 2-4 t chili powder or to taste
  • 1 can red beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 c cooked brown rice


  • Slice tofu and wrap in a towel to dry.
  • Heat a pan and add oil. Mince onion, Add onion to pan, saute briefly. Add chili power and stir to distribute.
  • Crumble the tofu into the pan. Stir to coat with chili powder, and saute briefly until dry, and onion softens.
  • Add beans and tomatoes, stir well. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add rice, stir in, heat through.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.
  • Serve at once.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!


30 thoughts on “Down’n’Dirty Vegan Chili”

  • I love how you have put this together. I can’t imagine moving and into a new kitchen. Well if it is well stocked and the appliances are fabulous that that might ease the pain. A lot of people cringe when they here tofu, but I believe thatwhen it is seasoned right and cooked well it has such amzing results. I don’t mind using commercial packed spices as long as it does not have too many ingredients here. Your chili looks fabulous and delicious and I am virtuall;y smelling it wafting in the either.
    Have a wonderful rest of the week, and great post!

    • LOL – most of my appliances are coming with me… (They downsized some of theirs in their last move.) But indeed, it is well equipped – and I have cooked in it before, so I have a reasonable idea of what to expect. I’m still waxing nostalgic over every saucepan… oh, well.

      I hated cooking with tofu (though it was good in Asian restaurants… hmm…) until I learned how to prepare it from a Japanese cookbook. So many Westerners just really don’t know how to use it… And that’s the reason I stir it with the spices, here, to pick up as much flavor as possible.

      Thank you – you, too!

    • Oh, yes – I think I must have half a dozen versions on the blog already! It just fits so many slots, as it were – comforting, and flavorful, and satisfying, and it can be easy…

      Thanks – and it did turn cold finally!

  • LOL. I love your title for this. Down and Dirty Vegan Chili. I have been known to throw together meals sometimes and Chili is so versatile. I do usually eat it vegetarian, thoough, so I don’t eat any meat but seafood – and have yet to find a seafood chili.

    • I’d used that term a year ago for a chicken soup (also thrown together under pressure – and also pretty good) and it seemed worth repeating! Too many are afraid to cook unless they have time for the Gourmet Experience – but really, this took less time than ordering in… (And was so much cheaper, and reliably fit my food needs, and…)

      I’ll eat it either with or without meat. Often I use just the beans, but some people want that “meat substitute” feeling so I’ve been experimenting with tofu, and I like this method best. (Seafood is tricky because of the simmering… too easy to overcook.)

    • Yes – it’s a nice option. Usually if I want it meatless I just use more beans – but that doesn’t work for every situation, so I wanted another choice.

  • I would love to move into my mother in laws kitchen! Man – she has everything! I’ve never thought about making chili with tofu! What a great idea! This recipe looks delish!

    • LOL – I know what you mean, but… See, mine has everything – but so do I. I’ve been cooking for decades, and I actually worked in promotions for cookware for a while.

      So this involves a lot of – OK, her saucepans and my fry pans. Her blender and my food processor. Her plates (but I’m keeping a box – which I won’t unpack in this house – of a few things I particularly like that I will want later.) And so on. It’s complicated.

  • I love quick and easy recipes like this. It’s so nice to have a few recipes like this in your back pocket! I’ve never put tofu in chili before. I should totally try it!

    • I have to have a few I don’t have to think about!

      Do try the tofu – but do make sure you cook them as crumbles, first, for the texture.

    • Right – firm tofu, and cook it as the crumbles, first. (And if you want – freeze it first, then thaw and squeeze out water, then cook as crumbles… ) The goal is to drive out moisture, so the tofu is firmer and picks up the seasoning mix.

      And you can skip it and just use more beans…

      But enjoy it, whatever you do!

    • Thank you! I appreciate the good wishes!

      I don’t usually use it, but it’s a good option if, for some reason I don’t want a lot of beans, but also don’t want meat. I like playing with different ways of making things, because I never know which will turn out to be Just Right for one of you!

    • LOL You have no idea how much you own until you try to spread it all over the living room to sort…

      And enjoy the chili!

    • Just so you know, many of my recipes are not vegetarian – but some are. I hope you enjoy the ones that suit you!

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