During the 2002 winter Olympics I had the opportunity to help a very prominent caterer (or so he told me he was) out of Phillidelphia yet I don’t remember his name. We cooked for a rather large group of bankers and yet I don’t remember where they worked either. Since I hadn’t done any catering at this point but thought it was a business I thought I’d like to get into, I jumped at the chance to get my hands dirty and in the kitchen. I worked something like 200 hours over the course of a few weeks. (No wonder I don’t remember anything.) Looking back, I’m confident those couple weeks were what made me become a caterer myself. I really fell in love with the work. I didn’t like the actual guy I worked for (he was bossy and a jerk) but none the less, I learned a lot from him and those few weeks cemented in my mind that I was most definitely meant to cook for people.

I cooked more than I’d ever done in my life and walked thinking about food differently than I ever had before. One of the best things made that week was a vat (yes, vat. We were cooking for hundreds) of vegetarian chili. Hardly anything to get excited about. But this was truly the best veggie chili I’d ever had and quite possibly the best any kind of chili I’d ever had. I don’t remember the recipe exactly but I remember that he added a jar of Heinz chili sauce and a crazy amount of dried spices. For years, I tried to duplicate it and for years I got close but not quite right. I finally gave up and stared to make it my own. Replacing his barley for quinoa and one time I added curry instead of cumin (by mistake) and you know what? It was perfect. Curry is a weird ingredient for chili but trust me when I tell you it works.

So almost 10 years later, here is my version: a meal-in-a-bowl loaded with vegetables, beans and quinoa.
This chili can be made ahead as it just gets better over the course of a few days. It also freezes really well. Now that I’m a “real” caterer (what ever that means), I make it all the time for my clients getting rave reviews every time. So thank you, man who’s name I can’t remember, for the amazing opportunity to cook for a bunch of bankers who I can’t remember where they worked, your chili was awesome.

Happy Cooking!

Vegetarian Chili with Quinoa

This award winning (yes, it is!) chili is warming, filling and meat eaters alike will be satisfied. It truly is one of the best veggie chilis I've ever had!


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced white onion (1 small)
  • 1 cup diced celery (4 stalks)
  • 1 cup diced carrots (3 medium)
  • 1 cup diced zucchini (2 small)
  • 8 oz mushrooms, stemmed, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup corn, frozen or fresh
  • 1 teaspoon ground curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1- 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1- 15 oz can lentils, drained
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 12 oz jar chili or cocktail sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup COOKED quinoa


  1. In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add onion, carrot and celery. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add zucchini and mushrooms. Cook 2-3 minutes longer. Add garlic and corn and cook 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add curry, cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper. Stirring constantly, cook vegetables another 5 minutes or so.
  4. Add drained garbanzo beans, drained lentils, chili sauce, crushed tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes.
  5. Add cooked quinoa and cook another 10 minutes.
  6. Serve as is or top with shredded cheese, sour cream and minced red onion.
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17 Responses to Vegetarian Chili with Quinoa

  1. Oh yes, this looks like a vegetarian chili I would love. All my favorites – mushrooms, corn, carrots, onions, quinoa – mixed together and simmered with tomatoes and chili powder. I will definitely cook this very soon.

    Happy Super Bowl Sunday!

  2. donna says:

    my friend and yours, Mel, just sent me this link…can’t wait to make it – heading out to the grocery store for supplies now!

  3. Jen says:

    A friend made this back in February and I loved it. Can’t wait to make it at home!

  4. Heather says:

    Going to make this today! Looking forward to trying it. 😀 It looks amazing!

  5. Staci says:

    This recipe sounds great. If it’s the main meal – how many people do you think it will serve?

    Thank you.

  6. gaylene says:

    Absolutely loved it.Wondered about curry powder in chili but found it really added to the overall taste. Used kidney beans instead of lentils + mashed 1/2 cup of the beans. mmmmm

  7. Jamie says:

    Hi Kelley! I’m on the hook for dinner on 12/26 (of all horrible days to have people for dinner). What’s your opinion on making this one 2-3 days ahead of time and reheating?

  8. Jennifer says:

    Made this yesterday while being snowed in ATL. Knew it would be good but this chili is BEYOND good. Love the curry. Even my caveman carnivore husband loved it!

  9. […] that gets us mamas crazy. So once again, all I want to do is bring on the leisure ware, big bowl of vegetarian chili and watch a marathon of Elf! (After a few runs on the mountain or a nice hike that […]

  10. […] love with this chili. Admittedly I’m not a huge chili fan- the only one I thought I liked was this one- BUT I really, really dug this. It’s smokey but not too smokey. Not really spicy either. […]

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