A Chili for Vegans and Carnivores


Back when this household was vegetarian, my poor mother-in-law struggled to figure out what to cook for us. “I don’t know what you fellas eat,” she’d say. It didn’t seem to help when we’d say, “Anything except meat.” In those days, the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, vegetables were strictly a side, and of course she was baffled about the center of the plate.

Veganism, of course ups the ante by eliminating dairy products (no mac and cheese, or lasagna) and eggs. I’m a pretty decent vegetarian cook when needed and fortunately, Toby happily eats just about anything I give him, so the once or twice-weekly all vegetable-based meal works perfectly well here. This chili, which is more of a strategy than recipe, will help you navigate the vegan/vegetarian/carnivore divide if you need to.

The secret is to end with meat instead of starting with it.

Consider your average chili: brown the meat, add onions and garlic, then tomatoes and beans if you use beans at all. Instead, consider starting with onions softened in a little oil, then grated carrots, chopped celery, broken florets of cauliflower, some cooked corn, a large can of tomatoes, cooked beans, all simmered together generously seasoned with chili powder, cumin, coriander. If there is a carnivore peering anxiously into you pot, provide a little reassurance by cooking the ground beef in a separate pan, and spooning some vegetable-based chili into it and cooking that together for a while. In fact, I’ll bet some of you already figured this out.

It might just be that the chili fortified with extra vegetables may be sufficiently hearty that meat will be a little superfluous. In fact, cauliflower gives vegetarian chili a meaty texture. You can add cashews to chili to provide a little protein heft.

I’m a real believer in shared meals, and making a separate meal for the odd man out—either the vegan or carnivore—is a pain. This is about as easy an accommodation as I can think of, and the strategy can be extended to other dishes, too.

The recipe below will make quite a lot of chili, but you can adjust it for more or fewer. The large cans of tomatoes and kidney beans run about twenty-eight ounces, but if you want a more tomato-ey chili, add more tomatoes or a can of tomato sauce. Consider all the vegetable additions as optional.

Vegetarian Chili for Meat Eaters
Serves: six to eight
  • Olive or other vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic minced
  • 2 medium carrots coarsely grated
  • 2 ribs of celery chopped
  • Quarter to half a head of cauliflower, broken up into bites size pieces
  • Large can (28 ounce) of crushed tomatoes
  • Cooked corn to taste
  • Large can of kidney beans or soaked and cooked dried beans.
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons of ground coriander, or to taste
  • Dried oregano to taste
  • Salt and pepper
  • Ground beef (or other meat) optional
  • Cilantro for garnish
  1. Put the oil in a heavy bottomed pot and heat.
  2. Add the onions and cook about five minutes until theya re sof.
  3. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery, and cook briefly.
  4. Then add the cauliflower, tomatoes, corn, and beans, and the spices and herbs, and simmer all together until the cauliflower is tender.
  5. Cook the optional ground meat in a separate pan, and add some of the chili to it to make enough for the carnivore(s). Simmer.
  6. Add salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasonings to taste.
  7. Serve with chopped cilantro.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.