Spiced chili and spicy chili peppers

Vegetarian chili

My mom’s chili was always one of my favorite meals growing up.  She kept it simple, and mild—just a pound of ground beef, an onion, a can of tomato sauce, and a can of dark red kidney beans.  Shake on some chili powder, and you’ve got a meal!

When I recently started experimenting with vegetarianism, though, I wanted to find a way to make chili just as hearty without the carne.  This recipe is rich in spices, and incorporates two kinds of beans.  You can always use more bean variety, and experiment with other veggies to keep it interesting.  I think soy chorizo would also be a great addition.

As for chili peppers, my recipe is mild, like my mom’s.  I added a bit of hot chili pepper sauce, but my tolerance for chilies is still embarrassingly low.  It’s something I’m working on.  Jalapeños still frighten me.  Once, when cutting one, I made the grave mistake of rubbing the skin underneath my nose.  Never again!  I must have scrubbed the skin with soap for 15 minutes until the pain finally subsided.

An article published earlier this week in the New York Times discusses why humans love to eat chili peppers when they cause us so much pain.  There are quite a few theories out there, but what’s more interesting is the fact that humans are the only animals known to enjoy eating painfully spicy foods.  Paul Bloom, a psychologist from Yale, thinks we may have finally discovered what sets us apart from other creatures.  “Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans – language, rationality, culture, and so on,” he says.  “I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.”

This chili recipe puts the emphasis on spice rather than capsicum-tinged heat.  But feel free to add hot sauce as needed, or desired.

Spiced (not spicy) vegetarian chili


  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • 4 cups cooked kidney beans
  • 2 cups cooked pinto beans
  • 2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 3 chopped medium zucchini
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp. hot sauce


  1. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot until sizzling. Add diced onion and green pepper; saute until onion becomes translucent.
  2. Add cumin, cook until aromatic.
  3. Add tomatoes and beans. If the mixture is too thick, add 1/2 can of water (using one of the cans from the tomatoes.  [Side note: I used dry beans to make this, but you could also use cans. For dry beans - they double in size, so keep that in mind for cooking. If using cans - there are about 2 cups of beans in one regular-sized can.]
  4. Add the rest of the spices—chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and hot sauce. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn down to low heat and allow to simmer, covered, for about 20-30 minutes. Taste, adjust spices as needed.  Add zucchini 10 minutes before done (so it doesn’t get overcooked).
  5. We enjoyed this recipe topped with plain nonfat yogurt, shredded cheddar cheese, and corn chips. The nonfat yogurt is a healthier alternative to sour cream, and the corn chips are perfect for dipping.

The weather’s just now getting colder here in southern Indiana.  We were having a strange bout of Indian (ha!) summer for most of September, but now as the month comes to a close the nights are pretty nippy.  A warm bowl of chili was just what I needed to fight the fall chill—I think you’ll like it, too!

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