freezer-emptying hot 3-bean vegetarian chili

Vegetarian 3-bean chili with bulgurVEGETABLES WILL WANT ‘IN’ SOON—into the kitchen, then into the freezer in sauces and soups and pestos and such. But my freezers are still pretty well-stocked; it’s time to anticipate coming harvests, and make room. The first space-creating step: “Chili,” I said to garden helper and friend Susan during a recent monsoon that curtailed outdoor chores. “Let’s make chili.” Into the pot went bags of frozen whole paste tomatoes, frozen peppers both hot and sweet—even frozen garlic cloves from the 2012 garden. Maybe you have some such leftover ingredients–or just want a vegetarian chili recipe for when your 2013 produce ripens?

freezer-emptying 3-bean vegetarian chili


  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Vidalia onions, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped (more if the cloves aren’t hefty)
  • 3 Tbsp. red chili powder (I used Rancho Gordo’s)
  • 1-½ teaspoon anise seed (optional)
  • 1-½ cups cooked, drained black beans
  • 1-½ cups cooked, drained pinto beans
  • 1-½ cups cooked, drained garbanzo beans
  • 4-½ cups quartered paste tomatoes
  • 2 medium-size sweet peppers, chopped (we used one orange and one yellow)
  • 1 Poblano pepper, chopped (we used one that had aged to red, but wasn’t dried, when it would be called an Ancho; not hot, but adds a rich flavor)
  • 2 or 3 medium-hot small peppers, seeds removed, such as 3 Japaleno, or 1 Jalapeno and 1 Cayenne (Cayenne are much hotter than Jalapeno). Remember: You can always add more later, so start conservatively, and adjust “heat” with more peppers or even powdered Cayenne later.
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup slightly undercooked bulgur (optional; adds “tooth,” or texture, as ground beef might, but it is wheat, so not for those skipping gluten).


  • Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil in a large “spaghetti pot,” about 5 minutes.
  • Add the spices (chili powder and anise seed—again: the latter is optional, and we waited, and used it in only half the batch later in the process).
  • Add the chopped peppers; sauté about 5 minutes more.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook down. (Note: Frozen tomatoes will be very watery as they cook, so let the mix simmer, uncovered, to reduce liquid and thicken a bit.)
  • Add cooked beans, and continue to simmer, covered, about a half-hour.
  • Add almost-cooked bulgur. (Optionally, you can add the ½ cup bulgur, uncooked, after the tomatoes release their watery juices, instead of cooking it down; the grain will use the liquid as it cooks.)
  • Add chopped cilantro. Cook another 15 minutes.
  • Best served after a day, when the flavors meld (but we didn’t wait for the first bowl).


  • If it were corn season, we would have swapped out a cup or so of the beans for fresh-cut kernels.
  • Sometimes toward the end I stir in greens, such as kale, that has been chopped fine into a chiffonade.

serve with:

  • chopped raw onion or scallions
  • chopped avocado
  • more cilantro chopped on top
  • sour cream or yogurt
  • grated cheddar
  • corn chips or tortillas
  1. Ileana says:

    What about replacing the bulgur with quinoa?
    I wil try it.
    Thank you for the great idea of using the freezer suff and make room or the new crop.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Ileana. Good idea! I think with the quinoa, which cooks so fast, just put it in for the last few minutes of cooking, and don’t pre-cook, or pre-cook it only partway.

  2. Kristina says:

    I have a LOT of frozen shredded zuchinni left from last year. I think I will make large quantities of bread and distribute it to our friends and neighbors. I don’t know why I froze so much last year!

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