Bulgur Vegetarian Chili

One of the very first recipes I created was a variation on bulgur vegetarian chili. I remember chatting with my mother about one of her favorite recipes, a bulgur chili, that she had made a couple decades ago but since, lost the recipe. She knew it had chocolate and a few other ingredients but other than that, the recipe was lost (and as far as I know, continues to remain lost). My first attempts at bulgur chili were born out of a desire to create a version for her. The recipe has morphed quite a bit since then for a few reasons, first and foremost, texture. I don’t like big chunks of anything in my chili and while I’ve made sweet potato/butternut squash version, they aren’t my favorite. I keep my chili simple and let the bulgur be the star.

4.5 from 2 reviews
Bulgur Vegetarian Chili
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4 servings
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 parsnip (roughly ¼ pound)
  • ½ cup bulgur
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
  • Pinch of cloves
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1, 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 2½ to 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  1. Chop the onion, garlic, and jalapeno (seeds removed if desired) into large chunks. Place in a food processor and pulse until everything is minced. Drain any liquid that might have formed.
  2. Heat a stock pot over medium heat. Add olive oil, followed by the onion mixture and cook until onions are fragrant and transparent, 5 to 6 minutes. While this is happening, chop the parsnip into large chunks and pulse in the food processor until the pieces are the same size as the bulgur. Transfer to the pot with the onions.
  3. Stir in the bulgur and spices, cooking for 1 to 2 minutes or until you can smell the spices. Add in the tomatoes, chocolate, and 2½ cups of the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 10 minutes.
  4. After 10 minutes, stir in the kidney beans, cover, and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Bulgur should be tender. Taste and adjust the salt/seasoning and add more vegetable broth if a thinner texture is desired.
+ This recipe makes quite a bit of chili but the leftovers freeze well. I like to make a double batch, freeze, and eat for a month.

+ The spices can be played with a bit. I'll add extra as I like a lot of seasoning but the most import thing here is the salt. Add enough that it bolsters the spices. Too little and I feel like it just taste like tomato soup.

+ I like my chili to have a thicker consistency so I err on the side of less broth. It's usually best to start with the 2½ cups and check occasionally to make sure the mixture isn't too thick.


Variations for the Vegetarian Chili

One of the main reasons I like this recipe is because it serves as a hearty base. There’s no “main” ingredient because the bulgur isn’t big on flavor (it’s really all about texture). Also, the parsnip/chocolate might seem a bit off but the parsnip helps to offset the heat while the chocolate is more about adding one more layer.

Vegetables: While I don’t like larger chunks in my chili, I have added sweet potato or butternut squash to this recipe. Add 1/4″ cubes with the bulgur and cook until tender or roast ahead of time and toss in with the beans.

Spices: Occasionally I’ll add, in place of the smoked paprika, a teaspoon or so of chipotle powder. It adds just a bit of smokiness and a slight kick.

Toppings: Less of a variation and more of a must: chopped onions, parsley or cilantro, greek yogurt, cheese, and if I’m making chili for my husband and I, hot sauce.

uncooked bulgur

Featured Ingredient: Bulgur

Most bulgur is sold with no choice of variety but there are golden and red varieties (made from the different varieties of wheat- red and white).

Use as stuffing: Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur and Yogurt
Tabbouleh: traditional or a nice spring variation.
Fritters: Bulgur and Spinach with Eggs and Tomato Chutney.

Bulgur Vegetarian Chili with Kidney Beans