Vegan White Chili

True confession:  I have food dreams.  Sometimes they come at night, other times, they are daydreams that take me by surprise with their palpable force and clarity.  I dream of steaming soups, stews, chowders.  I dream of piles of delicate appetizers, light first courses, savory second courses, rich desserts.  Homey, hearty, exotic, erotic.  In these dreams, herbs, spices, fresh vegetables and very specific flavor combinations take root in my mind and I am unable to forget them until I make them a reality in my kitchen.  The chocolate dreams I shall keep to myself for now.  I will share this one instead.

Last week I started dreaming about white chili.  I have only had it one time in my life, and although it was pretty good, it was not what I thought it would be.   It was more like soup, it had chicken in it, and although I was not vegan at the time, somehow chicken just did not seem right.  The white chili dream pops into my mind all week as  I am driving,  folding clothes, or trying to focus on a client’s form as they lift weights.  I know I have to make it.

I am in a hurry to make dinner tonight.  I dig around in the refrigerator and the cupboards.  I find tempeh and white beans.  Immediately the details of my white chili food dream fill my head and I hurry to pull the rest of the ingredients out and assemble them on the counter.

I tell my friend Charlene about it  and her first question is, “You have all that stuff in your pantry?”  Of course I do!

Vegan White Chili

1 block tempeh, any kind

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 large sweet onion, cut into small dice

2 ribs celery, cut into small dice

1 red bell pepper, cut into small dice

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced, or more, to taste

2-3 tbsp olive oil

1 15 or 16 oz can small white beans, drained and rinsed

1 15-16 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 c corn of your choice, I used Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted frozen

3 c vegan vegetable stock

1 tsp Mesquite flavor liquid smoke

1 tsp South African smoke seasoning blend (also from Trader Joe’s)  or 1/2 tsp smoked salt

2 tbsp masa harina (fine corn meal) mixed with 1/2 c cold water

3 c washed baby spinach

For Garnish:

fresh lime juice

chopped fresh cilantro leaves

*toasted pepitas

tortilla chips

extra hot sauce—I am currently drinking Tabasco chipotle hot sauce with most of my meals, but use whatever you like for more heat.


In a medium nonstick skillet, crumble the tempeh into bite-sized chunks.  Add water until tempeh is just covered.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until water is absorbed, about 10-12 minutes.

While tempeh is cooking:  In a large skillet or stock pot, saute onions, celery and red bell pepper in the olive oil over medium heat until the vegetables are soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Add garlic and chipotle pepper and saute for 2 minutes more.  Add vegetable stock, drained beans,  corn,  liquid smoke,  South African smoke seasoning blend or smoked salt.  Turn heat to high.

When the tempeh is dry, stir in the cumin and coriander until incorporated.  Add the tempeh and spice mixture to the bean mixture.  Cook for about 3 minutes, or until bubbling.  Stir the masa harina and water together once more and add to the chili, stirring well.  Cook for about 5 more minutes, or until thick and bubbling.  If too thick, add more water, 1/4 cup or so, until you like the consistency.  Add baby spinach and fold gently until spinach just wilts.  Serve hot with a drizzle of fresh lime juice, a generous sprinkling of cilantro, and a couple of tablespoonfuls of toasted pepitas, with warm tortilla chips on the side.

*You can buy raw or already toasted pepitas.  I like to buy raw ones and toast them myself.  For this recipe, I toasted 1 c raw pepitas in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat until they started to darken.  I removed the pan from the heat, tossed them in 1 tsp garlic olive oil, and sprinkled them with 1/2 tsp each ground cumin and sweet Mexican chili powder.

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One Comment on “Vegan White Chili”

  1. videocreed Says:

    This is the new favorite dish at our house. I am so glad you make a large batch of this at a time. The leftovers are tremendous!

    Hmmmmm. What chocolate dreams?

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