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