Mole Poblano Chili brings the rich, complex flavors of classic mole sauce to a streamlined, weeknight chili. Leaning on pantry staples with BIG flavor impact, this award-worthy vegetarian chili will become a household staple.
Why You’ll Love this Mole Poblano Chili
Firstly, it’s hands down THE BEST vegetarian chili I’ve had and one of my favorite meatless recipes to date. Filled with plant-based protein and fiber, alive with smoky spices, and incredibly rich and hearty. Trust me, this mole-style chili will please even the staunchest of carnivores.
While some of the ingredients may seem like wildcards, trust that they come together to make this chili truly unforgettable. The flavor dimension is unlike any other vegetarian chili I have tasted.
What is Mole Sauce?
Mole poblano is a traditional deep-colored, richly textured sauce from certain parts of Mexico that may date back as far as 500 years. “Mole” comes from the generic Nahuatl word for “sauce”, and is a cornerstone of Mexican cooking.
When people think of mole, they tend to think of chicken or turkey. But in Mexico, it’s just as likely to be served with vegetables or seafood. Most versions feature an intricate blends of dried chiles, spices, fruits, and seasonings.
Properly made, it’s a bold combination of subtle flavors that is so expertly balanced it’s nearly impossible to identify a single taste. A classic case of the sum being greater than the whole, with each ingredient playing a key role in the final symphony of flavor.
Recipe Ingredients and Substitutions:
- Beans: I use a classic combination of black beans and pinto beans, which add creamy texture and heartiness to the chili.
- Veggies: Cremini mushrooms, red bell pepper, onion, and poblano pepper create the aromatic, umami-rich foundation. Poblano peppers are more earthy than spicy, so you don’t have to worry about them adding too much heat. The sweetness of red bell pepper helps balance the smoky spices.
- Canned Tomatoes: A mix of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce bulk up the chili with bright strokes of umami. If you prefer, you can use fire-roasted diced tomatoes here, which will play off the spices to add more smoky dimension.
- Spices: Ancho chili powder, dried oregano, cumin, and cinnamon create the quintessential spice profile of this chili. While you can use classic chili powder in place of ancho, ancho chiles are a staple in mole sauce, so you’ll just lose a little authenticity. (Though, fear not, it will still be absolutely delicious.)
- Almond Butter: In place of the blanched almonds that you often find in mole sauce, this chili leans on almond butter for convenience. Not only does almond butter add rich depth of flavor, but it also helps create a thicker, heartier chili.
- Cocoa Powder: One of the staple ingredients in mole sauce is Mexican chocolate, which is a paste made from cacao nibs, sugar and cinnamon. However since we’re already including sugar and cinnamon, using cocoa powder adds the quintessential cocoa notes.
Step 1: Sauté the Vegetables
In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add mushrooms, red bell pepper, poblano pepper, and onion. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened.
Step 2: Bloom Spices
Add garlic, almond butter, chipotle chile, cocoa powder, chili powder, oregano, cumin, sugar, and cinnamon; stir well to combine. Cook 2 minutes, until the spices and garlic are aromatic.
Step 3: Add Remaining Chili Ingredients
Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, pinto beans, and black beans; stir to combine. Season mixture with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer.
Step 4: Simmer Mole Poblano Chili
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and gently simmer chili for 40 to 45 minutes, removing the lid to stir every 10 or 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Ladle chili into bowls and add toppings of choice!
What to Serve with Vegetarian Chili:
- Chili Toppings: In my book, the more toppings, the better! I love adding something crunchy like tortilla chips, as well as something creamy and cooling. (Think avocado slices, a dollop of sour cream, or Greek yogurt.) This chili is also fantastic with a fresh garnish, such as shaved radish and cilantro.
- Chili Side Dishes: You can’t go wrong with a veggie side such as Summer Squash and Corn Fiesta Salad or Perfect Sautéed Broccoli. This chili is also delicious with a side of cornbread or Creamed Corn.
How to Store and Reheat:
- To Store: Once chili comes close to room temperature, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat: For best results, rewarm leftovers in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Alternatively, you can reheat individual portions in the microwave in 30-second increments until warm.
- To Freeze: Freeze leftover chili in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe:
- Dutch Oven. I love my Lodge 6-quart Dutch oven, which is a staple stovetop piece. It’s sturdy, affordable, and big enough to fit big batches of soups and stews.
- Ladle. My go-to for serving soups and chilis, and the best $7 you can spend.
- Extra Large Cutting Board. The ideal size for all the slicing and dicing of veggies! Plus, it’s non-slip, meaning less potential for knife mishaps.
More Easy Vegetarian Chili Recipes to Try:
If you give this recipe a try, snap a pic and tag #dishingouthealth so I can see your beautiful creations. I also LOVE hearing what you think of my recipes, so be sure to leave a rating + review.
Mole Poblano Chili
- Large Stock Pot or Dutch Oven
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 (8-oz.) pack sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 poblano pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbsp. creamy almond butter
- 1 chipotle chiles in adobo (minced), plus 1 tsp. adobo sauce
- 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 Tbsp. ancho chili powder* (sub classic chili powder)
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (15-oz.) can tomato sauce
- 1 (15.5-oz.) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 (15.5-oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
- Optional toppings: Cilantro, cotija cheese, shaved radish, avocado, tortilla chips, sour cream, etc.
- In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add mushrooms, red bell pepper, poblano pepper, and onion. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking the mushrooms with the back of a wooden spoon, until softened.
- Add garlic, almond butter, chipotle chiles, cocoa powder, chili powder, oregano, cumin, sugar, and cinnamon; stir well to combine. Cook 2 minutes, until the spices and garlic are aromatic.
- Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, pinto beans, and black beans; stir to combine. Season mixture with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and gently simmer for 40 to 45 minutes, removing the lid to stir every 15 minutes, until chili has reduced slightly and flavors have melded. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Ladle chili into bowls and serve with toppings of choice.