Vegan tempeh and bean chili 

I rarely ever get sick – and when I do I am often in denial, trying to work through it and continue with work, training and other activities. It always seems as if I get sick during my busiest times as well – in December 2015 I got sick right before my birthday and around the time of a planned training run up Mt Climbie (not one for the faint hearted). Last week, I got sick during a very stressful and busy time at work, working to a court deadline to file evidence for a case. It was also the week I had planned to ‘get back into it’ – I had a training schedule sorted out, and was FINALLY going to get back into Monday night intervals and run group.

That didn’t quite go to plan. Instead I woke up with a terrible cough, a sore throat and a fuzzy brain. I went to work but by 4pm I knew that running was going to be one of the worst ideas ever. So I finished at 5, headed home and felt sorry for myself. I also spent that last hour at work day dreaming about what comforting meal I would cook for dinner, to work magic on my immune system and make everything better. I settled on chili – in NZ it is ‘chili con carne’, though mine is a vegetarian version so without the ‘carne’.

Growing up, chili was one of my favorite meals. Mom would make a huge amount of it at the start of the week, we would have it as is, on white rice or on a baked potato (just like at Wendy’s!). I have never been able to do it the same – not only because of the lack of ground beef, but I just never get the flavors the same. Part of that is probably due to my lack of patience – mom would let hers simmer for over an hour – I struggle to let it simmer for 20 minutes! But honestly that wait is worth it, giving the flavors time to truly develop and also giving it time so that the broth can thicken.

As a vegetarian, bean chili can be a bit boring – so I like to make it a bit more exciting and add a different texture by adding tempeh. Tempeh is an awesome source of protein, used mainly in Asian cuisines and stir fries (being of Indonesian origin), but I love using it as a mince substitute. There is only one brand in NZ – Tonzu – a local organic non-GMO company. Tempeh is fermented and less processed than tofu, and also packs much more fiber than tofu. It has a chewy texture that I love, and marinated in BBQ sauce then put on the grill it is much more of a crowd pleaser than tofu. But I’m getting side tracked…back to dinner.

Because I wasn’t well, left work at 5 and got home at about 5:10 (thanks to recently moving back to the city and living very close to work!) I managed to get onto dinner early enough that I had time for the chili to simmer for a full hour! And it was worth it – it ended up being less soupy and more suited for serving on rice, which was fine as we had cooked rice in any event.  But if you want it to remain soupy I would recommend adding some more water or stock to allow it to simmer without losing all the moisture.  I would generally use black beans in my chili, but we didn’t have any so used kidney beans instead. I love spice so often add more cumin than other people to their dishes and I also would add more chili to it than normal – but my other half can’t handle as much chili as me so I added Tabasco to my meal after we had plated up.  Again, adjust to your own preferences.  I love the flavor that liquid smoke adds to the chili, particularly as it is a vegan version that needs some extra oomph.  In NZ, you can buy it from most organic stores, or online.


  • 1/2 package of Tonzu tempeh (1 package = 250g/8 oz, so 125g/4 oz), finely chopped or crumbled (*see note below on crumbling/chopping)
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (we like our garlic!)
  • 1/2 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp chilli powder (I add more personally)
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 can kidney or black beans (400g/15 oz)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/2 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp chilli powder (I add more personally)
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp liquid smoke (to taste)
  • Handful of fresh cilantro/coriander – chopped
  • Rice or baked potato to serve, if want

In a large pot, cook the onion and garlic cloves over medium high heat until starting to brown (about 5 minutes).  Add the tempeh and continue to cook until the tempeh is also browned (another 10 to 15).  Lower the temperature to medium, add the spices, the bell pepper and the carrot and stir a bit more so that it becomes fragrant.  Add the beans, tomatoes and vegetable stock.  If you want it to be quite liquidy at the end, add more stock or water so you have about 1 1/2-2 inches of liquid on top.

Bring to a boil and then simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.  Add the liquid smoke, taste it and add more salt and pepper or any other spices necessary.  Partially cover and simmer for another 30 minutes.

This can cook for as long or short as you’d like. The longer it cooks, the more the flavors absorb, so add more cumin & chili powder to taste. Once done, add cilantro as garnish and serve! We had it with short grain brown rice, topped with cilantro – nice and simple. You can also top it with cheese, sour cream and chives and also on a baked potato.

Note: For the tempeh, I like to chop it finely rather than crumb it, because the NZ tempeh we get doesn’t crumb very nicely. I will slice it into smaller strips then chop into pieces about the size of an eraser at the end of a pencil. You don’t want them too small, but also not too big. See below!

Also – feel free to mix in different beans, add more tempeh, more beans, different veges (corn is a good addition to chili).  This made 3 to 4 servings for us – so if you are feeding more, definitely up the ingredients!

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