Vegetarian Chilli with Cornbread Topping



Published by Hyperion

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

I know it must be irritating for vegetarians to have me commend this by saying it tastes wonderful to meat-eaters too, but that happens to be the case.

Cooking Methodbaking



Total Timeunder 2 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together, game day

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationvegetarian


Taste and Texturehot & spicy


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large red bell peppers,deseeded and finely diced, yields 3 cups
  • 2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1½ cups red lentils
  • 3 cups tomato pulp or thick puree
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups canned red kidney beans
  • ¼ cup tomato ketchup
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 4 ripe avocados
  • 4 scallions
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • Paprika to dust over
  • 3¾ cups Cheddar cheese, grated


  1. In a large pan – one that will take everything later and that has a lid – heat the oil and fry the onion, garlic and bell peppers until everything softens, about 10 minutes. Add the chilli, coriander, cumin and cardamom pods, stirring everything around in the spices. Tip in the lentils and stir again.

  2. Stir in the canned chopped tomatoes, water, kidney beans, ketchup, tomato paste and cocoa and bring the mixture to the boil. Simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes stirring frequently. If the mixture is too liquid – check every now and again – uncover the pan slightly as it cooks.

  3. The best way to approach this is as with the chilli con carne, so cook the above ahead of time and then transfer to an ovenproof dish – I use an old Pyrex one which is about 9 x 13 inches and about 3 inches deep – and keep, once cooled, in the fridge until you’re ready to top with cornbread and bake.

  4. For the cornbread topping: Combine the salt, cornmeal, flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, honey and oil in a glass measuring cup, and then stir into the dry ingredients, mixing to make a vivid yellow batter.

  5. Pour the cornmeal topping over the chilli con carne, or blob it over to cover the top as evenly as possible. Don’t worry if some of the chilli seeps through as this won’t matter one tiny bit.

  6. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the cornbread and then bake in the oven until the cornbread topping is risen and golden and the chilli underneath is bubbling. How long this precisely takes depends on how cold or hot the chilli was when it went into the oven. I find in a dish of about these dimensions, the veggie-chilli needs about 25 minutes at 425°F.

  7. Let the chilli stand for about 5 minutes once out of the oven before cutting the top into squares or slices to serve with a helping of chilli underneath.

  8. Alongside this chilli, you should dollop out an un-chillied guacamole, some cool sour cream and a mounded pile of strong grated Cheddar. So, mash the ripe avocados with the finely chopped scallions and add the lime juice and some salt to taste. Stir in most of the chopped cilantro and turn into two bowls, sprinkling each with the remaining cilantro.

  9. Divide the sour cream into another two bowls, and dust with a little paprika and, into yet another pair of bowls, grate the Cheddar so that people can take clumps and add the tangy cheese to their plates of guacamole and sour-cream splodged chilli.


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This chili was hearty and tasty, even without the meat. I made it without the cornbread topping and substituted a couple of tablespoons of chili powder for the chili flakes. As with any soup or stew, it tasted even better a day or two after making it.

I prepared and served this dish this evening and we found it superb. I used cannellini beans instead of kidney beans, but otherwise followed the recipe. I've prepared many chili variations over the years, and this is my first not to use any chili powder, only the chili flakes, but it was still recognizably chili. My husband is a true carnivore, but didn't miss the meat in this one at all. I'll easily get three meals for the two of us out of this, as well. A keeper.


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