Vegetarian Chili with Quinoa

This recipe was originally published in February of 2011. Photos updated 2019.

Vegetarian Chili with Quinoa |

During the 2002 winter Olympics I had the opportunity to help a prominent east coast caterer. This was before I’d started my own catering business and long before blogs were even a thing. Since I hadn’t done any catering at this point but thought it was a business I’d like to get into, I jumped at the chance to get my hands dirty and in the kitchen and learn from someone who knew what they were doing. I worked something like 200 hours over the course of a 15 days. It was crazy!

Vegetarian Chili with Quinoa |

Looking back, I’m pretty sure those couple of weeks were what made me become a caterer myself. I instantly fell in love with the fast paced work and the intensity you can only find in a kitchen. I didn’t like the actual guy I worked for (he was a bossy, condescending 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 will forever be grateful for the opportunity and work.

Vegetarian Chili with Quinoa |
Vegetarian Chili with Quinoa |

I was cooking new foods, given more responsibility that I was probably ready for, and the experience had me thinking about food differently than I ever had before. One of the best things I made that week was a gigantic vat of vegetarian chili. Hardly anything to get excited about- a humble pot of vegetables, beans and grains but this was truly the best chili I’d ever had. I don’t remember the recipe but I do remember adding a jar of Heinz chili sauce and a bunch of unexpected dried spices. For years, I tried to duplicate it and while I always got close, I never got it quite right. I finally gave up and stared to make it my own.

Vegetarian Chili with Quinoa |

So 17 years later, here is my version: a meal-in-a-bowl loaded with vegetables, beans and quinoa. It’s the perfect (to me) balance of savory, spice and sweet. The 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. 🙂

Vegetarian Chili with Quinoa |

Happy Cooking! xo, Kelley

recipe by Mountain Mama Cooks/ photos by Kelli Hatcher


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
  • 115 oz can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 115 oz can lentils, drained
  • 28 oz can diced 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.