Lentil Chili is wholesome, hearty, delicious, and made with lentils instead of the traditional ground beef for a meatless version the whole family will devour!
A good hearty bowl of classic chili will always have my heart but what’s incredible about chili is you can customize ingredients to make it your own! White chicken chili or butternut squash chili are two others I make that are so different from each other and yet they’re all so easy, and perfect for dinner any day of the week!
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Meatless Chili with Lentils
Chili has always been one of my favorite easy comfort meals to make, especially during the winter months. It’s basically a one-pot meal where anything goes! I mean, what other dish can use such a variety of ingredients, flavors, and spices and be so unique to whoever makes it, and still be delicious every time?!
This meatless version is one I whip up not only for when I’m serving vegan/vegetarian guests but also when I’m looking for a healthy, lighter alternative to red meat or when I just don’t have any in the fridge. Lentils are a great substitution for beef in chili. They’re inexpensive, packed with nutrients, and hearty texture, no one will think twice about a meatless game-day chili!
Why we love this recipe
- This chili doesn’t have a long-simmering time so it’s quick and easy and ready in under 1 hour.
- It’s a one-pot meal which means easy cleanup and layering of all the flavors!
- Chili is so versatile, in its ingredients and its uses. Play around with the types of beans, veggies, and spices. Then use the chili as a meal on its own or top your nachos, your chili cheese dog, and more!
- This protein-packed, high fiber chili is brimming with incredible flavor.
- Perfect for any occasion whether a potluck, Mexican night, a game day party, a cozy weekend, or a quick weeknight dinner.
- Olive oil – Used to cook down the bell peppers and onions to soften them and release their flavors.
- Aromatics – Diced onion and minced garlic clove are the base of all the flavors that are layered on top of it. I use yellow onion but a red onion is perfect too!
- Water – The liquid component. Some might choose to use chicken stock / broth or vegetable stock / broth or even add a little beer, but with all of the other seasoning, water works just as well.
- Tomato paste & Canned diced tomatoes – The tomato component of any classic chili. The paste thickens it a bit and gives it a deep color.
- Bell peppers – Use red or green, whichever you prefer. Red is sweeter while green is savory (almost bitter).
- Beans – I use a combination of red kidney beans and great northern beans. I like the contrasting colors and textures. Great northern beans are nice and buttery.
- Lentils – Use dry lentils. Stick with green or brown as they are heartier and will hold their shape better than red or yellow lentils. The latter tend to become thicker and mushier when cooked.
- Seasoning – Chili powder, cumin, kosher salt, dried oregano, paprika, and the option of red pepper flakes for a kick!
How to Make this Chili Recipe
Enjoy lentils in chili just once and they may become your new favorite way to enjoy meatless meals!
(Slow cooker and instant pot instructions are included below).
Step 1: Using a large Dutch oven or stockpot, cook the bell pepper and onions in a little olive oil on medium-high heat until soft and translucent before adding in the garlic and cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
Step 2: Add the water and tomato paste and stir it. You want to make sure the paste is fully incorporated and not clumpy.
Step 3: Pour in the diced tomatoes, lentils, chili powder, cumin, salt, paprika, oregano (and red pepper flakes if you’re using them). Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Step 4: Add the beans and continue simmering for another 15 minutes or until the lentils are nice and tender (but not mushy!).
Step 5: Garnish with your favorite toppings. We love using shredded cheese, sour cream or plain yogurt, diced avocado, fresh cilantro, green onions, sliced jalapenos, and tortilla chips. If you love it extra spicy, add your favorite hot sauce.
Set up a chili bar and have everyone serve themselves with their favorite fixings!
How to Make Lentil Chili in a Slow Cooker
You can easily make lentil chili in a crockpot. Just simply add all the ingredients to the pot and stir to combine well. Then cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. It’s the perfect meal to have ready for you at the end of a busy day.
How to Make Lentil Chili in an Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker
Turn the Instant Pot onto sauté mode and add the olive oil, onions and peppers to the bottom of the pot and for about 2-3 minutes. (If adding ground beef or ground turkey, add it now and brown with the vegetables). Then, add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute.
Add all of the remaining ingredients to the Instant Pot and stir to combine well. Place the lid on and turn to pressurize. Cook on Manual – high pressure for 10 minutes. Then let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes. Stir in additional water or broth if too thick after cooking.
- Substitute shallots or leeks for the onion, if preferred.
- If you like a more spicy lentil chili, add a diced jalapeno pepper. It’s up to you whether you want to remove all the seeds (where the heat comes from) or keep some for extra spice.
- Substitute 1 teaspoon garlic powder for the fresh garlic.
- Use vegetable broth or chicken broth instead of the water if desired.
- Feel free to add ground beef or turkey if you prefer a non-vegan/vegetarian chili.
- Green lentils or brown lentils work best in this recipe, orange or red lentils tend to cook quicker and may become mushier.
- Add more water or broth if chili seems too thick.
- Use plain or fire-roasted diced tomatoes for flavor.
- A packet of chili seasoning comes in handy instead of using all the separate spices.
- Use all kidney beans or all great northern beans instead of a blend of each.
- Substitute black beans if you prefer.
Keep leftover chili stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Make a big batch and portion it out for lunches for the week!
It may thicken over time so you may find you need to add a bit of water or broth to thin it out when reheating.
You can reheat small portions in the microwave for a quick lunch or dinner. If you’ve got lots to heat up, you can use the “warm” function on the Instant Pot, you can keep it warm in a slow cooker, or simmer on the stove top over low heat until warmed through.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 bell pepper green or red, diced
- 1 small onion diced
- 2-3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 cups water
- 1 15 ounce cans diced tomatoes
- 1 15 ounce can red kidney beans
- 1 15 ounce can great northern beans
- ¾ cup dry lentils
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- In a dutch oven or stock pot, add the olive oil, bell pepper and onions and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until onions become soft and translucent.
- Add in the garlic and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Then, add the water and tomato paste and stir until the tomato paste is incorporated.
- Add the diced tomatoes, lentils, chili powder, cumin, salt, paprika, oregano, and red pepper flakes.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes. If your soup begins to look too dry, feel free to add more water as needed.
- Add the red kidney beans and great northern beans.
- Simmer for another 15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
- Garnish with traditional toppings! Shredded cheese, sour cream or plain yogurt, diced avocado, sliced jalapenos, tortilla chips.