So tasty, you’ll never miss the meat
(updated December 2018) Quinoa recipes are everywhere these days—for good reason. Quinoa is loaded with nutrition, and it’s a great source of protein. People are putting it into salads, soups, you name it.
So why not chili? It may sound strange, but it works really well. So if you’re looking for a dish that can feed a crowd—with appeal to vegans and carnivores alike—look no further.
Recipe: Quinoa and Sweet Potato Chili
This recipe originally appeared as a guest post at Wendy’s Cooking Quinoa back in 2014. We're adding the recipe here, now (2018), for reader convenience.
The major flavor in this dish comes from chile powder (which is made from nothing but dried, powdered red chilies). Chile (with an “e”) powder differs from chili powder, which is a mix of chile powder, plus cumin, coriander, and other flavorings. See Notes below for a discussion of chile powder possibilities for this recipe.
Prep time for this dish depends on how fast you work—it’s probably 20 to 30 minutes on average. Cooking time is a bit more than an hour (see Notes for one strategy to reduce it).
This recipe yields a lot—at least 4 quarts. So it will feed a crowd. Leftovers freeze well if stored in airtight containers. And it’s quite easy to cut this recipe in half by reducing ingredient quantities appropriately.
- 2 large onions (2 cups—maybe a bit more—when diced)
- 3 - 5 garlic cloves (to taste)
- 2 - 3 jalapeño peppers (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt (if using regular table salt, use about half this amount; see Notes)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 sweet potatoes (2 - 3 pounds)
- 3 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or substitute other beans of your choice)
- 2 - 3 tablespoons mild or medium chile powder, or a mix of the two (I like Hatch chile powders; see Notes for discussion and alternatives)
- 1 - 2 teaspoons dried chipotle chile powder (optional; see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- water (at least one 28-ounce canful)
- jalapeño pepper slices for garnish (optional)
- Peel and dice the onions. Peel the garlic cloves and dice them finely.
- Wash the jalapeño peppers and cut them lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful, the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Chop the peppers into very small dice (or use a mini food processor). Place the peppers in a bowl until you’re ready to use them, then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin. You may want to reserve a slice or two of the pepper for garnish.
- Place a Dutch oven or a large cooking pot on the stove and turn the heat to medium. When heated, add the oil.
- When the oil is hot (it will shimmer; this takes just a few seconds), add the onion, garlic, and jalapeno pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to medium-low and sauté the mixture until the onions are soft and translucent (about 8 minutes).
- Meanwhile, wash and peel the sweet potatoes; then dice them into cubes of about ½ inch.
- Drain the beans in a strainer and rinse them off.
- When the onion is soft (5 - 7 minutes), add the sweet potato cubes to the mixture and stir to combine.
- Add the chile powder(s), cumin, and coriander. Stir to coat the sweet potatoes, then sauté for about a minute. (Note: If you’re concerned that the chili may be too hot for your taste, add half the recommended amount of chile powder in this step, then see Step 10).
- Add the tomatoes, beans, and quinoa. Using one of the empty tomato cans, add a 28-ounce can of water (increase if you prefer a more liquid chili). Bring the chili to a simmer, then reduce the heat so the mixture just continues to simmer.
- After 10 minutes, taste the chili. If you added only half the recommended amount of chile powder in Step 8, add more chile powder at this point if the chili isn’t spicy enough for your taste.
- Simmer the chili for a total of 1 hour (or longer if you wish; this recipe also holds well on low heat for an hour or two). By the end of an hour, the quinoa and sweet potatoes should be tender—and the chili should be tasty. Adjust the seasoning and serve, adding a garnish if desired (see Notes).
- Tomatoes are acidic, so they tend to increase the cooking time of both sweet potatoes and quinoa. If you want to speed up the cooking process, you can partially pre-cook both these ingredients before adding them to the chili. Here’s how: After dicing the sweet potatoes, place them in a covered microwave-safe bowl, then nuke for 5 minutes (this will soften them, but won’t cook them through). Likewise, prepare the quinoa separately according to package directions, then add it to the cooking pot in Step 9. If you precook both the sweet potatoes and the quinoa, you’ll need to cook the chili for only half an hour or so, rather than a full hour.
- Chile powders: As noted in the ingredient list, I like to use Hatch chile powders, along with chipotle powder, in this recipe. But feel free to vary the type and amount of chile powder you use. For example, you don’t need to use both mild and medium Hatch powders; you can use one or the other if you don’t want to buy both. Or if you’d like to try something less spicy, you can find ancho chile powder in most supermarkets; it has great taste and is fairly mild. You may have trouble finding chipotle powder; if so, you can substitute cayenne—but use only half as much (or just leave it out). Chipotle powder has a nice smoky flavor that adds an interesting dimension to this dish, but it’s not essential.
- The amount/strength of chile powder specified in the ingredient list produces a batch of chili that I regard as reasonably mild in flavor, with just a slight ping of heat to it. But that’s my palate—your taste will differ. You may know from experience that the quantity of chile powder I call for is too much or too little for you. As noted above, if you’re concerned about the heat level, start with half the amount specified, then taste after the chili has been simmering for about 10 minutes; this is a good point to adjust the chile powder level. Don’t wait until the end to adjust, because chile powders need time to simmer in order to develop the full depth of their flavor.
- You can substitute chili powder for the chile powder(s) in this recipe. If you go that route, use 3 to 5 tablespoons of chili powder. Reduce the cumin and coriander by about half, or eliminate them altogether (since these flavors are already incorporated into chili powder). The taste of the finished dish won’t be as crisp if you use chili powder, but you’ll still be pleased with it.
- Kosher salt is more coarse than regular table salt, so it’s less salty by volume. If you’re substituting table salt for Kosher, always use less—about half as much. If the dish isn’t salty enough, you can always add more to taste.
- If you like thick chili, cook it a bit longer to evaporate more of the liquid. If you prefer a thinner, soupier mix, you can add some water at the end to achieve the consistency you prefer.
- There are many garnishes for chili that not only look great, but add a flavor boost. A slice or two of jalapeño pepper, a handful of oyster crackers, some grated cheddar cheese, a sprinkle of diced raw onion, or a dollop of sour cream all work well.
Sounds Strange, Tastes Terrific
“At first I thought the idea of using quinoa in chili was weird,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, spooning a mouthful. “But this really works.”
“And quinoa is a great source of protein,” I said. “So this chili is not only tasty, but nutritionally good stuff.”
“Of course, lots of people don’t think protein is protein unless it’s delivered in the form of meat,” said Mrs K R.
“No worries,” I said. “Our next post, this coming Sunday, will be on Meat and Potatoes Chili.”
“Sounds like an instant classic,” said Mrs K R.
“Yeah, when I was a kid, I thought meat and potatoes were the two main food groups,” I said.
“Well, there’s also dessert,” she noted.
Count on Mrs K R to put things in perspective.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Kale, Quinoa, and White Bean Soup
Lentil, Quinoa, and Zucchini Salad
Summer White Bean and Quinoa Salad
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans
Pulled Pork and Green Chile Chili
Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork
Or check out the index for more recipes
You can never have too many chili recipes, John! I love how quinoa can take the place of meat in certain dishes - quite amazing how satisfying it can be, actually.
I've had chili on my mind lately, so this is perfectly timed! Quinoa and sweet potato sound great here. Love that jalapeno garnish too.
Hi Donalyn, I agree about never having enough chili recipes -- we eat it almost every week during cool/cold weather! And quinoa is good stuff. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lisa, it's not a traditional chili, but it's awfully good. Worth trying! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Good Morning John , What a delicious dish , love all the ingredients , putting sweet potato and Quinoa was a great idea , yeah , it will be on serve at our super-bowl in-house tail gate .It's also a great comfort food . Thanks for sharing .
P.S. My kids gave you a new name ;That Man Sure Can Cook :-D
It is so chili out there in blogland! So many great chili recipes floating around. This looks like another superduper one. Perfect for a fresh start in the new year!
I make all sorts of non traditional chilies and agree they can please crowds of folks. In fact I've considering a pork and butter bean chili and your experiment here has inspired me to move forward. GREG
What a great idea with the sweet potato. I can't wait to try this one!!
Leave it to the blogging community to come up with amazing ways to use Quinoa. I even saw a recipe for Quinoa Cookies the other day. I have been to Wendy's blog many times. She has some innovating Quinoa recipes on her blog. I'll be popping over for a visit when I leave here:)
Thank you so much for sharing, John...
I thought sweet potato and tomato sounded unappealing, but turns out it is delicious so I need to give this a try.
I love the addition of quinoa AND sweet potato. ULTRA healthy and it sounds delicious. I'm personally tired of the "normal" chili and love the chili twists out there!
Hi Nee, your kids are so sweet! And this is really something worth trying. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, 'tis one of the big season for chili -- the Superbowl! And since the sweet potatoes are orange, I'd think you'd find this particularly appealing (since your team's color is orange, too!). Thanks for the comment.
Hi Greg, I'm fond of traditional chili, but it's so much fun to experiment! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Squishy Monster, isn't this nice? You'll enjoy. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Louise, I could see quinoa cookies! Although I think most of the time it works better in savory dishes. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Madonna, sweet potatoes and tomato does sound a bit odd, but they work well together. And this recipe is wonderful! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Laura, normal chili is good stuff, but I agree it's so nice to change it up! Thanks for the comment.
I cannot wait to check out the recipe. Quinoa in chilli sounds really healthy and loved the closeup shot.
I just came home with a new bag of quinoa! Wow you put quinoa in chilli! Now I want to try that! Congrats on the guest post. I'll jump and take a look now!
I like the idea of Quinoa Chili, do you think this would also be good as a soup?
Sounds like a delicious recipe, John. I like quinoa, but it doesn't like my digestive system. What a pity, I would have loved to try this one!
The Hotly Spiced Kitchen loves chilli too. And we love quinoa. Like you say, it's not only terrific for you it also has protein. I would love this dish xx
Hi Shibi, it's such a fun recipe! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nami, quinoa in chili works really well! You'll like. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Yes, you are right, I never thought adding quinoa to chili, but after reading the ingredients in it, I can imagine how I would not miss the meat...looks delicious John!
Thanks for the recipe and hope you are having a nice week :D
Hi Peachy, isn't this a fun idea? Quinoa works well in soup, too -- right at the end of the post I have some links to other recipes, and the first one is for a soup that uses quinoa. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lizzy, too bad quinoa doesn't agree with you, but if it doesn't you don't want to fight it! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, isn't quinoa good stuff? And chili is terrific stuff! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Juliana, this is such a great recipe -- I think you'd enjoy it. Thanks for the comment, and I hope your week is wonderful, too.
I stopped eating meat a while back. Just like that one day I decided that it will be interesting to see what all can I cook without meat. Quinoa invariably is one thing I fall back on, time and again followed by beans, lentils and eggs.
I have made a lot of chillis with quinoa and I am adding this recipe to the bunch. It will be so filling with the sweet potatoes and love that you used the chilE :)
Can't say sweet potato chill isn't perfect, but I love the idea of quinoa! How delicious :D
Hi Anshi, I could probably do quite nicely without meat, although I like it enough I'm not going to try! But you'll never miss it in this dish. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Uru, isn't quinoa a fun ingredient in chili? It really adds a lot! Thanks for the comment.
LOVE chili and I'm always looking for new recipes, especially vegetarian recipes for the spicy stuff. ;)
Quinoa and sweet potato chili?! Already look and sounds amazing :)
I love quinoa and have had it in many different ways - but this chili is unique and sounds totally delish! I was reading your recipe and do have a question - it might be a stupid one - but what is "neutral oil" ?
Hi Pamela, the spicier the better! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kiran, it's really a nice combo -- work very well. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Shashi, a neutral oil means one without any flavor -- like canola oil, for example. You could definitely use a non-neutral (flavored) oil like corn oil if you'd like -- this dish is flavorful enough I doubt if you'd really taste any oil! Thanks for the comment.
Yum, always loved quinoa, this looks delish and impressive for a lunch.
Hi Candy, this is a terrific dish, and the quinoa add a lot. Thanks for the comment.
Back in the late 80's I worked for a caterer who loved quinoa. She put the stuff in everything. She was way ahead of her time. My favorite dish of hers was her tabouleh made with half bulgur and half quinoa. It was really good. This looks like a delicious way of using it too. Thanks for this delicious recipe.
Hi Karen, boy, she really was ahead of her time! I forget when I first learned about quinoa, but I don't think it was much more than 10 years ago or so, and I really never started using it until about 5 years ago. Or maybe I'm just behind! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
All I can say is Yum! I can just taste it with your ingredient list. Perfectly healthy and lots of spice. Super Bowl or for any day you just need a little filling warmth in your life!
i LOVE this chili! I'm quite fond of vegetarian chili, if only because to me, chili is "heavy" anyway, so it seems lovely to have one that's not overly so. I'll take anything packed with sweet potatoes, and i love quinoa for all it can do (and it can do so many things!) so this one is going on the Pinterest board for a future date. Great recipe!
Fantastic chili recipe, you have here and so alluring on these cold days of winter. Great post!
Hi Bam, it's really a fun chili -- all the flavor you want, and just a bit healthier. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Shannon, I really like veggie chili too -- the chile flavor seems to shine more. Although I'm not going to abandon the meat versions -- you know, variety is the spice of life etc etc. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dan, it's gotten really cold here again (not as cold as the weather you get, but unusually cold for St. Louis), so chili is definitely on the dinner menu! Thanks for the comment.
Congrats on the guest post.
I love quinoa and this chili sounds delicious. A nice way to make a vegetarian and a healthier version.
Hi Asha, this really is delish chili. And one, as you point out, that vegetarians can eat! Thanks for the comment.
This sounds great, I love quinoa. Perfect for a cold grey January day.
Hi Caroline, this chili really has a lovely flavor. And we're having really cold weather at the moment, so it's so comforting! Thanks for the comment.
This looks like a great take on chili/chile. Now I'm curious - I have to check out that link and find the difference!
Hi Beth, it really is a great dish - tons of flavor. Thanks for the comment.
I'm off to go check out the recipe. Quinoa has replaced rice in my house. We love the stuff!
Your chili looks delicious. I never thought of putting quinoa in chili. What a healthy addition.
Hi Kristi, we're using quinoa a lot, too, although I still use rice. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dawn, the quinoa works really well -- instant protein! Thanks for the comment.
I am so behind on reading your lovely blog, I will catch up this weekend for sure! Hubby and I love football, and love enjoying chili on Super Bowl Sunday! Your addition of quinoa in chili has to be DELISH!!!! Fabulous, Take Care, Terra
Definitely a unique way to use quinoa! Never thought about putting into chilli, but it looks and sounds wonderful! I can't wait for the meat and potatoes chilli :)
A great idea! This wholesome chili must taste really good.
Hi Terra, quiona really is a fun addition to chili -- totally worth trying. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nazneen, the quinoa chili is a lot of fun, and the meat and potatoes chili even more so! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rosa, it really is a pretty healthy dish. Unless you eat too much, which is so easy to do because it tastes so good! Thanks for the comment.
This sounds wonderful and it's so colorful. I love that chili has a zillion varations.
Hi Chris, isn't it fun that we can do so much with chili? Such a versatile dish! Thanks for the comment.
My goodness, what a chili. I love quinoa but I'd never think about putting it in chili - I bet it tastes SO good! I'm off to visit the guest post now. :)
Hi Maureen, it's really a nice way to use quinoa. But anything in chili is nice! Thanks for the comment.
I love sweet potato, I think it is my favourite vegetable, so comforting and tasty. Add it to a chilli is such a good idea, I can't wait to try it.
Ooh, I love the idea of adding quinoa to chili! It's definitely chili weather around here! Off to read your guest post :)
Great idea of adding sweet potato! Great chili recipe!
Hi Julie, sweet potato is an outstanding addition to chili -- it just works. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, it's a bit different, but awfully tasty! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sarah & Arkadi, sweet potato and chile flavors really make each other even better! Thanks for the comment.
I love, love, love quinoa, but never thought about adding it to chili! What a great idea to add great consistency. And I also can't ever get enough of sweet potatoes, so I would truly enjoy this recipe!
Hi Kristi, quiona really works amazingly well in chili. Really worth trying! Thanks for the comment.
Love this recipe, John! I've been eating a lot of quinoa lately but not in my chili; this recipe will change that. That jalapeno was very well-placed and it's calling my name!
John this is brilliant. I love the idea of quinoa in chili. Plus this is just so darn pretty.
Hi Kristy, nothing better than a well-placed jalapeno. ;-) This really is a good dish -- very much worth making. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kim, isn't this pretty? I have to admit I do have a weakness for pretty and shinny. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Never tried Quinoa before but have heard it is very healthy for your body. Now with chili, I think this is a must try recipe. Thanks for the inspiration.
Hi Amira, quionoa is really good stuff - loads of nutrition, interesting flavor. The downside is it's rather expensive (difficult to grow in much of the world, so there's limited supply). Thanks for the comment.
Sorry, John. So behind in my reading. Disregard my sweet potato suggestion from your most recent chili post. LOL
Hi Debra, :-) Actually I like that idea! Although my Meat and Potatoes Chili uses white potatoes, sweet potatoes work so well in chili, I'll bet they'd be good in that one. They're certainly good in this one! Thanks for the comment.
What a great idea - I wouldn't have thought of adding it to Chili!
Hi Amanda, although certainly not traditional, quiona really adds a bunch to chili. Totally worth making. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I've been meaning to try quinoa for a while and I think you might have just finally convinced me that healthy food can be tasty! This is such a creative dish and I can totally have this and the other meat and potato chili any day this week :) Great recipe!
Hi Yi, this is really an interesting dish! Quinoa works well in this, and the flavor of sweet potatoes and chile powder is such a natural pairing. Thanks for the comment.
John, I love all your chili recipes here! And spicy quinoa chili sounds very appealing. What a terrific recipe. We are gearing up for our Super Bowl viewing here - lots of blue and green spirit!
Hi Hannah, this really has loads of wonderful flavor. Great for the Super Bowl -- hope it's a fun game! Thanks for the comment.
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