Our Inaugural Recipe: Ultimate Veggie Chili

I thought this one would be the perfect recipe to kick off our fabulously frugal blog. This was featured in our cookbook “101 Things to Do With Tofu” (see our bios for more information on that and other projects we’ve done), and was also featured last year on the Food Network’s Ultimate Recipe Showdown! I was one of three finalists in the chili division on the “Comfort Foods” episode, and it wound up coming in 2nd place. Not bad for a ridiculously easy vegan chili!

Ultimate Veggie Chili

I’ll write more about the experience of filming Ultimate Recipe Showdown in a future entry if readers are interested. Now that their second season has started airing (just the other night), it’s interesting to see what changes they’ve made.

Anyway, I’ve worked on this recipe literally for years, fine tuning it and trying different ingredients and approaches. This version is the one that includes all of my favorite variations over the years. I love the combination of diced and crushed tomatoes, and I am partial to black beans and corn as a pair. I like this amount of spice, and the smokiness of the chipotle powder – but it goes without saying that you should adjust it as you please.

The cashews are probably the most unusual ingredient – I got that idea from a chili I used to eat regularly back in college, when I was a dance major at the Boston Conservatory. The Trident Bookstore & Café on Newbury Street had a very tasty veggie chili that included cashews – I loved both the texture and how they added a kind of additional meaty texture.


  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon each chipotle chili powder and red pepper flakes
  • 14 ounces extra-firm tofu, frozen and thawed
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (4-ounce) can diced jalapenos, drained
  • 1 (4-ounce) can green chiles, drained
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14-ounce) can dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen corn*
  • 1 cup whole roasted cashews*
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, sauté onion, bell pepper, and garlic in the olive oil over medium-high heat until onions are starting to soften. Stir in cumin, chipotle, and red pepper flakes. Crumble the thawed tofu into the mixture and sauté 5 minutes more.

Reduce heat to medium. Add all tomatoes, jalapenos, green chiles, black beans, kidney beans, corn and cashews; mix well. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper, to taste.


As the recipe stands, it’s an effortlessly vegan recipe. I personally prefer to add a little sour cream and grated sharp cheddar, but it stands alone perfectly well too, or you could use a vegan sour cream and/or cheese.

This is a great pantry recipe – only a few fresh produce items are called for, and as I said before, it really couldn’t be much easier. The one technique that might be new to a lot of people is the freezing, thawing and crumbling of the tofu. This is a crucial step! The freezing process causes the moisture within the tofu to separate from the soybean curd, which results in a denser, chewier texture, which is perfect for crumbling into any recipe you would normally use ground beef, turkey, sausage, etc. If you tried to crumble the tofu without freezing it first, the texture is much more like scrambled egg than ground meat.

My favorite way to do this is, after defrosting the tofu, placing it in a clean dishtowel and wringing it out (this was demoed on camera in the Showdown), thus squeezing the water out and crumbling the tofu at the same time. I usually crumble it a bit more by hand after I open the towel, just to make sure it’s even – and then right into the pot it goes!

*As the recipe appeared on the Showdown (and still appears on the Food Network site), I used only ½ cup each of the corn and the cashews, but I found that I was ALWAYS adding more, so I went ahead and changed it. Such is the constantly evolving nature of my recipes.

— posted by Anne


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