Texas Style Chili (Vegan)

imageKnowing how to make a good Texas chili could very well save your life one day. It’s cheap. It’s spicy and it’s filling; important attributes for survival in a dust storm or for getting through college.  I’m pretty sure chili evolved from the Mexican Chili con Carne which seems to be as varied in Mexico as chili is in the United States. There are huge rivalries and debates about this subject.  You can go down this wormhole on this page: legends of chili’s origins, and learn about San Antonio’s Chili Queens in Lomax’s piece here.  I also highly recommend the works of Adan Medrano regarding the history of Tex-Mex food.  He wrote the book on the matter and as I write these words he is working on a documentary with a chapter on this very subject.  I’ll be looking forward to that.

Texas chili has been codified by the state legislature as being both red and bean-free. “One cannot be a true son or daughter of this state without having his taste buds tingle at the thought of the treat that is real, honest-to-goodness, unadulterated Texas chili.”

Real Texas chili has chunks of chuck beef, but I know that there are vegan Texans out there who would like to heed the demands of the Texas state legislature without compromising their values.  I offer this recipe which simply swaps soy for the beef. There are vegan chuck-like products you can get, usually online or in Asian-markets. I’ve always been a bit wary about these products, mostly because of my gluten-free clients. Bob’s Red Mill makes an organic tvp and that is 100% organic soy and that’s what I use.  I would be interested to know if you use other products in your chili so please leave a comment and let me know.

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that chili is quick and easy to make, mediocre chili maybe, but chili that tastes like home requires attention and time. I add minced vegetables for heft, along with more traditional fixes like corn tortillas for thickness and achiote for color.  Once the chili is cooking in the pot it should be stirred every 30 minutes to an hour and tested for how-it’s-coming-along-ness. Does it need more cumin? more garlic? a dash of sugar? Probably.  I top mine with vegan cheddar cheese and avocado pico-de-gallo. When you are dealing with dried chilies there will be variables, from season to season, region to region, a guajillo chile may be spicy and citrus in one batch and smokey and bitter in another so recipe amounts are approximate. Feel free to experiment with other chiles like arbol and cascabel.  Also, vegan chili lacks the fat content of meat chili.  Therefore for authenticity, I add oil to the top of the chili.  This is part of the reason that this Chili won 2nd place in Onion Creek’s first annual Chili Cook-off, of which I was the first and last ever vegan contestant.  After I got second place for this chili among 20 carnivorous contestants, vegan chili was banned from the competition forever.  Hmmmm?

For a step by step picture gallery go here


Texas Vegan Chili


Soak the TVP:

  • 1 cups TVP (Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 1/2 cups chile water
  • 1 Tbls garlic powder
  • 1 Tbls smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbls cumin
  • 1 Tbls dried oregano
  • 2 Tbls vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or gluten-free soy sauce

For the chili

  • 1 small onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 big stalk celery
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbls vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbls brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 corn tortillas, crumbled
  • 2 Tbls achiote if you can find it
  • 2 Tbls sea salt
  • 2 Tbls black pepper

For the Tomato Sauce:

  • 4 cups whole peeled tomatoes
  • 6 ancho or mulato chiles
  • 4 guajillo or pasilla chiles
  • 2 chipotle chiles from a can of chile en adobo


Cook the dried chiles in a pot of water.  Weigh them down with something like a small bowl or a pot lid so that they all get submerged.  Boil them for about 7 minutes or until all the chiles are soft.  Dump out the water so that your chiles cool quickly but save a cup or two of the water.  When the chiles are cool you will remove the stems. If you want milder, less bitter chili, you may want to remove some seeds and pith as well. (I just remove the stems).

Soak the tvp. Add all of the tvp soaking ingredients in a bowl and let the tvp soak for 30 minutes to an hour.

In a blender or food processor, mix the whole peeled tomatoes with the dried chiles. Blend until smooth.

Chop the onions, celery, carrots into large chunks.  Pulse these in a food processor with whole garlic until minced. you may need to stop and scrape the sides of the processor down.

Saute the minced vegetables in the oil slowly adding salt, pepper, oregano and cumin as it cooks.

When the vegetables are soft add the tomato mixture and all other ingredients, including the tvp.  Cook on medium to low heat for several hours, stirring every 30 minutes to an hour (depending on how low you want to go) Crock pots work great with chili and they cook so low you can check it less. Adjust the chili to your needs.  Top with vegan cheddar, pico de gallo and avocado.

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