Mexican-inspired vegan chilli (chilli sin carne)

Ever since I tried Mexican food on my first trip to the United States back in the 90s, I’ve loved it. At the time, it seemed exotic – there was nowhere in the UK that I knew of which served authentic Mexican fare.

It was only much later, as a student in central London, that I discovered a Mexican restaurant: Cafe Pacifico in Covent Garden. For a while, this was the only place where I could experience some of the same flavours that I had encountered on those trips to the USA.

Founded in 1982 as the first Mexican restaurant in the UK, I’m really glad to see it’s still going strong. I often make a special visit when I’m back in the capital for some fajitas washed down with a margarita or maybe even a tequila!

Vegetarian fajitas at Cafe Pacifico, London

Of course, these days, Mexican food is on virtually every high street – ranging from fast food to fine dining. But there’s nothing like learning to make it for yourself and customising it with the flavours you enjoy most. And now that I’m mostly vegan, doing it myself is a great way to enjoy real Mexican flavours with a 100% plant base.

This recipe for a vegan Mexican chilli (or a chili sin carne) is really simple, and you probably have most of the ingredients in your store cupboard already. I like to pair it with wild rice just for variety, but simple steamed white rice works just as well. Or go crazy and make Mexican rice (recipe to come!).

I like making this in a large saucepan so that there’s plenty leftover. It’s ideal for lunches, or meal prep, and the basic recipe can be adapted into many different variants – you can put it into tortilla wraps to make a burrito, serve it with nachos or as a filling for enchiladas.

You can also vary the ingredients. The only rule that I like to follow is that there must be some protein, so beans or some vegan mince are a must. I prefer to go traditional and use kidney beans because they hold their shape whilst simmering.

So read on to find out just how to make a vegan Mexican chilli!

Vegan Mexican chilli sin carne

A delicious, vegan take on the popular Mexican dish, chilli con corne.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: mexican, vegan
Servings: 4
Author: Mina Joshi


  • 4 tbsp flavourless oil (e.g. sunflower)
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 courgette (zucchini), diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 bell peppers (capsicum), diced
  • 400g can red kidney beans
  • 200g can sweetcorn
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 250ml tomato passata or use 4 tbsp tomato puree and make up to 250ml


  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika may be hot!
  • 1 tsp ancho chilli optional
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cube vegetable stock - Knorr Vegetable Stock Pots are ideal
  • salt & pepper


  • Wash, peel and prepare the vegetables as in the ingredients list. There's no need to peel the courgette.
  • Place a large saucepan on a medium heat, add the oil and cumin seeds.
  • When the cumin seeds start to darken, add the onions and a little salt. Cover for 2-3 minutes until the onions start to go soft & translucent.
  • Add the minced garlic and stir to release the aroma. Cover again for another 2-3 minutes until the garlic aroma reduces and before it turns brown.
  • Now add the ground cumin, coriander and paprika (including the smoked paprika) and stir for 1-2 minutes, until the spices combine.
  • It's time for the vegetables: add the courgette, carrots and peppers to the pot and stir to cover with the spices.
  • Now add the kidneys and sweetcorn, stirring to combine.
  • Pour in the can of chopped tomatoes and passata. The liquid should cover the vegetables and beans. If not, just add more passata or hot water. Add the stock cube and stir to help dissolve.
  • Finally, add the bay leaf and the ancho chile if you have it.
  • Cover and raise the heat until slightly bubbling, then reduce to a simmer for at least 20 minutes. You can simmer for up to an hour for an intense flavour.
  • When ready, serve with rice or quinoa.


Great additional side dishes include tomato salsa, guacamole and nachos.

Do you love Mexican food? If you’ve tried this recipe, and have your own suggestions, please drop a comment below!