Tempeh Black Bean Chili


November 5, 2012 by Meg G.

Heather and I were in Northampton for the weekend – one of our favorite places in New England. While she was over at Zea May’s taking a print-making class, I cozied up in my natural habitat (warm coffeehouses) in NoHo’s picturesque downtown.

At The Roost with a local maple latté and the “Itty Bitty” – an egg sandwich with pesto, tomato, and goat cheese on a homemade roll

Cup of house coffee with an oatmeal raisin blondie at Haymarket

It’s officially chilly outside, so last week we decided to cook up some chili inside. (See what I did there? Sometimes I can’t help myself.)

Where to turn for a new spin on an old classic? Why Mark Bittman, of course! The recipe comes from his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and opens with this description: “This is the smokiest, most deeply flavored chili in the book, rich with the combination of tempeh, roasted garlic, black beans, and chipotle chilies. For balance, a little honey helps each bite to end on a slightly sweet note (use sugar to make the chili vegan).”  You had me at smokiest… Here goes!


  • 2 heads of garlic (we only had one on hand)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for coating garlic
  • 12 oz crumbled tempeh (most tempeh comes in an 8oz pkg so we did 8oz)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup honey or 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder (we’re out, so we didn’t use it)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp dry (we didn’t have any on hand)
  • 2 to 5 canned chipotle chilies, chopped with some of their adobo, to taste (we opted for 3 – that was spicy enough to tickle the back of your throat, but not destroy your tastebuds)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups chopped ripe tomato (we used canned with the juice)
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or water (we used water with a few veggie bullion cubes)
  • 1 cup dried black beans, preferably pre-soaked
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Our cutting board is now red. Should have seen that one coming.


  1. Pre-soak your beans according to whatever method you prefer. We used Bittman’s “quick soak method” of boiling them for 2 minutes and then covering the pot and letting it sit for 2 hours.
  2. Roast the garlic; we opted for the quick method (do you see a pattern here?) of separating the individual cloves (leave the paper on); drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt; roast at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes; set aside and let cool
  3. Meanwhile, put 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the tempeh and cook, stirring frequently and scraping up any browned bits, until it is deeply colored and crisp on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a shallow bowl. Return the pot to the stove over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the last tablespoon of oil to the pot along with the onions and cook stirring frequently, until soft, 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in the honey and turn the heat down to medium-low. cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized and deeply colored, about 20 minutes. (Warning – this will stink up your kitchen in the best way. For days.)
  5. Add the carrots, chili powder, and sage; cook for a minute or two, until fragrant. Stir in the chipotles and adobo, followed by the tomato paste, tomato, stock, beans, and tempeh. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the mixture bubbles gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid thickens and the beans are tender, about an hour.* Add water if it becomes too dry. Taste, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and partially cover.
  6. By now the garlic should be done and cooled enough to handle. Squeeze the flesh into the pot and stir well. Taste again and adjust the seasoning if necessary, adding more chipotle or honey if you like. Serve, garnished with cilantro.

*This took longer than an hour, despite the fact that we did a quick-soak on the beans. After about an hour and 20 minutes, we got impatient and decided we’d be okay with some slightly underdone beans.

After all was said and done, I think canned beans will be in order next time. There are so many steps in this recipe already – roasting garlic, cooking tempeh, caramelizing onions, and then cooking everything else – that I could have done without the extra hassle of from-scratch (and yet undercooked) beans. If you opt for canned beans, rinse them and add at the very end to heat them through.

But other than that little snafu, this is a great dish! It really is smoky (chipotle), a bit nutty (tempeh), spicy (chili and adobo), and hearty (lots of protein) with a hint of sweet (carmelized onions).

Next up: vegan pumpkin cornbread muffins!


One thought on “Tempeh Black Bean Chili

  1. […] in the fridge I wanted to use up, so I browsed the section on vegetarian proteins and picked out a black bean and tempeh chili, which was described as “the smokiest, deepest flavored chili” in the book. I used canned […]

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