Can the world ever have too much chili? We think not. Especially during these long, cold winter months.
Chili is often heavy on meat, but it doesn’t need to be. Much of its rich flavor actually comes from dried chile powder or fresh chile peppers. So it’s well suited to vegetarian or vegan variations. Meaning everyone can enjoy it.
So when it’s chilly out, you need chili in (your bowl).
We’ve made numerous versions of chili over the years. If chili making is new to you, see our Chili Basics primer.
This dish features wheat berries, which are husked whole-wheat kernels. You can soak them overnight to make them a bit quicker to cook, but we usually don’t bother. Unsoaked, they’ll usually take anywhere from 30 to (more typically) 60 minutes to cook, depending on how dry and old they are (sometimes they’ll take a bit longer, although that’s rare). For this dish, we put the wheat berries on to cook, then prepare the chili base. Finally, we add the wheat berries to the chili base when they’re done.
Cooked wheat berries have a somewhat nutty flavor. They also have a lot of texture and “chew,” which is pleasant in chili.
Prep time for this dish is about 15 minutes. Total cooking time is about 1 to 1¼ hours (much of it unattended).
This dish yields about 6 hearty servings. Leftovers will keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container. Or you can freeze them for up to 2 months.
- 1 cup uncooked wheat berries (or to taste; see Notes)
- 3 cups water (for cooking the wheat berries)
- ~3 pinches kosher salt (or to taste; see Notes)
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 to 2 jalapeños, finely diced (to taste)
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely minced or thinly sliced (to taste)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- additional salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon mild or medium chile powder (see Notes)
- 2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander (or more to taste)
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (can substitute crushed tomatoes)
- 2 15-ounce cans kidney beans (can substitute pinto or black beans)
- water if necessary to thin the chili (we usually add a cup or 2)
- garnish of jalapeño slices (optional)
- garnish of grated cheddar cheese (optional; use cheese substitute for vegan)
- Add the wheat berries to 2-quart saucepan (for extra flavor, you may want to toast the wheat berries first; see Notes). Add water and salt to taste. Bring the water to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook until the wheat berries are done (start checking after 30 minutes; they’ll probably be soft, but still quite chewy, at about 45 minutes – total cooking time could be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes). As the wheat berries cook, check the pot from time to time and add water if necessary.
- Meanwhile, prep the onion, jalapeños, and garlic.
- Place a 4-quart soup pot or Dutch oven on medium stovetop heat. When it’s hot, add the oil. When the oil is heated (it’ll shimmer), add the chopped onion and jalapeños. Add salt to taste, then sauté until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). Then add the garlic and sauté for another minute.
- Add the chile powders and other spices (cumin, coriander, and oregano), then stir into the onion mixture. Cook for a minute. Then add the tomatoes and kidney beans. If the mixture is too thick for your taste, add a cup or two of water. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then simmer while the wheat berries finish cooking.
- Pour the cooked wheat berries (and any remaining cooking liquid) into the chili pot. Stir to combine, then taste the chili. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so to combine the flavors.
- Serve the chili. Garnish, if you wish, with slices of jalapeño or some grated cheddar cheese (see Notes).
- This dish is all vegan except for the cheddar-cheese garnish. If you want to stay strictly vegan, skip the cheese garnish or use a vegan substitute.
- Need more garnish ideas? Diced raw onions would work well. Or add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt (Greek yogurt is particularly nice). Crackers, especially oyster crackers, are classic.
- And you can never go wrong serving cornbread on the side.
- When we make this dish, we cook the wheat berries and make the chili base at the same time. But you could cook the wheat berries a day or two ahead of time, then refrigerate them until ready to use. Or you could cook a big batch of wheat berries and freeze them in containers.
- We usually don’t rinse wheat berries before cooking, but do so if you prefer.
- How much water to use when cooking wheat berries? Our general rule is 3 measures of water for each measure of wheat berries (plus a bit of salt to season the water).
- You can adjust the quantity of wheat berries to taste in this dish. For chili, we find 1 cup of uncooked wheat berries (which makes 2 to 3 cups cooked) is the perfect amount for each 28-ounce can of tomatoes. But you may prefer to use a bit less (we suggest ¾ cup uncooked, but even ½ cup uncooked will add lots of texture).
- Wheat berries can be either red or white. Cooking methods are the same for both.
- The flavor of wheat berries is understated, but they absorb other flavors beautifully. If you want to give wheat berries more flavor of their own, you can toast them: Just spread the wheat berries out on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven at 350° F for about 10 minutes before cooking.
- Wheat berries are quite versatile. They’re often used in salads or side dishes. We don’t always have them in our kitchen, but some good friends recently bought a large quantity and shared some with us (thanks Carol and Bob!). So we’ve been playing with them lately. Another wheat berry dish or 2 is on the horizon.
- Wheat berries are a great, healthy whole grain (millers grind them to make whole-wheat flour). But they contain gluten, and thus are not appropriate for a gluten-free diet.
- When we make this dish, we use a medium New Mexico chile powder (chile powder is made from dried red chile peppers). But use any chile powder you like. If you want a relatively mild dish, we recommend using ancho chile powder – it has great flavor and is quite mild. And we’d skip the chipotle chile powder if you want a mild dish – it’s on the hot and spicy side.
- Chili (with an i) powder in North America is usually a blend of dried chile powder, oregano, cumin, coriander, and salt. It’s intended to season chili (the dish). You can substitute chili powder in this recipe if you want. Use about 2 tablespoons (or to taste) and omit the chile powders and other spices.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you’re using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“Golly, wheat berries make terrific chili,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Who knew?”
“Took some time to develop this recipe, though,” I said. “Had to separate the wheat from the chaff.”
“That joke went a-rye,” said Mrs K R.
“I like to go against the grain,” I said.
“Not sure why I put up with this,” said Mrs K R. “Guess I’m just a gluten for punishment.”
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What a great idea! I've never worked with wheat berries before but they look appetizing. I imagine that making chili with just the beans would be sufficient for making something tasty. Sometimes I get confused with all the word derivations: chili, chile, or chilly! Thanks for your post.
Hi Fran, wheat berries are definitely worth seeking out. Although you're right about the beans -- they alone make a terrific chili. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I've never tried wheat berries in my chili. Terrific & tasty idea.
I have never thought of using wheat berries in chili before! Great idea and I always have some on hand. I am definitely going to try this.
Looks really good. I had not made chili in ages and then I made some for Super Bowl Sunday. Nothing like a good pot of chili
Hi Pam, they're good! And have a lot of chew. A lot. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Anne, it really makes a great bowl of red. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Judee, we love chili! One of our favorite things to make. And eat. :-) Thanks for the comment.
We have not used wheat berries in a recipe in a very long time. Thanks for the reminder about the package we have in the cabinet. Can't wait to try your recipe.
Hi Bobbi, it's been ages since we've used them, too. So good -- will be using them much more in the future. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Like Bobbi, I haven't use wheat berries in ages...and I can't remember if it was in a soup or salad. But you've inspired me to try them in chili!
I love chili with and without meat, but I agree that it can be quite hearty and rich without meat. I really love the wheat berries in this. I've never seen that before, and it makes the chili even more of a bowl of comfort. Delicious. :-) ~Valentina
Hi Liz, you'll love this! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Valentina, we love meat but we also love veggie chili. And wheat berries are wonderful in that role! Thanks for the comment.
Finding another way to go meatless is great. I've used wheat berries in salads, and in stuffed squash or pumpkin, but this is another good idea.
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, we always like to find new ways to use ingredients. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Its getting cold now from where I am so this will be perfect dish to whip up soon. Love the recipe
Hi Raymund, sounds like good timing for you! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Chili always is a great idea during the cold and dark winter months. But wheat berries? How interesting - I never would have thought of using it. Loving it.
Hi Ben, wheat berries aren't usual in chili, of course, but work really well. :-) Thanks for the comment.
A big slice of buttery cornbread is all I need with this dinner!
Hi Pat and Dahn, cornbread is wonderful with chili, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Wow I have never cooked much less eaten wheat berries! Dynamic and its wonderful you've combined this with legumes, tomato and chilli. I'll be looking fir wheat berries thanks John.
HI Merryn, wheat berries are terrific in chili! Really a nice dish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I've said this before but I'll say it again. You know chili. GREG
Hi Greg, :-) We certainly eat a lot of it! Thanks for the comment.
This recipe is going to bring back the wheat berry.like many of the others, it's been a while since I made wheat berries. What a great reason to change that. This chili has everything but the meat. Great textures, seasoning and flavor. Very nice chili John!
Hi MJ, the "chew" of wheat berries is perfect for chili! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hmmm. Think I'll be able to get this in Manservant? I think so because of course, it is still chili. And he can never stay away from chili. Good recipe, John!
Hi Abbe, bet Manservant would like this! Not meat, of course, but a meaty chew. :-) Thanks for the comment.
We love chilli, even during the Aussie summer, and now you have challenged me to not only find wheat berries but to make a whole grain chilli. I always use all vegetables or some meat. I've never seen wheat berries here, but must carefully check the Health Food shops one day, or the aisle where I buy my bulgur wheat and freekah, which are all just variations on the wheat theme. I love the way you always bring some different ingredient to your cooking John. Thanks so much. An interesting post.
Hi Pauline, health food stores would be a great source for wheat berries. I can often find them at Whole Foods in the US. Or they're pretty available mail order. Whole grains are great in chili -- enjoy experimenting! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Yes, well - the moment I read 'wheat berries' I was off to Mr Google, wasn't I !!! Actually no problems - specialist on-line grocers do keep - (hope you note Pauline !) and supermarkets suggest one uses 'farro' available everywhere ! So, the chillies as usual may cause more problems here in the country . . . but shall persist and try ! Not because of diets but just sheer good fun !!!
Hi Eha, farro is a bit different, although it'd be an excellent substitute. Enjoy hunting for the ingredients! :-) Thanks for the comment.
It looks like a really comforting and warming meal. Simply perfect for this time of the year, John.
No, the world can never have too much chili! And I've never had a wheat berry in my life. I'd love to try this recipe and soon.
Hi Angie, it's been really cold and snowy lately, so chili is really welcome. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lea Ann, you owe it to yourself to try wheat berries! And they're great in this dish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a great alternative to meat! I love ideas like this.
Hi Jeff, this is really tasty stuff! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love the chewy texture of wheat berries in salad, so I'm sure to love it in chili too! Great recipe idea, John.
Hi Judy, chili that's a bit chewy works. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I don't think I have ever used whaet berries, bulgur is close? I wish I had a bowl right now with the frigid temps outside.
What a nice twist to chili, I've been trying to eat less beef so this is a great alternative. Perfect for these snowy days too.
Hi Evelyne, bulgur is kinda close, but much more refined than wheat berries. And wheat berries need long cooking, which bulgur doesn't. But bulgur definitely would be a workable substitute, and a good one. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eva, the nice thing about wheat berries is their chew -- great mouthfeel. Very satisfying. Thanks for the comment.
I have never eaten wheat berries, I would love to try them. I agree chili is perfect for the chilly weather. This recipe sound wonderful.
you and Mrs KR are hilarious! Yes chilli is always a winner on a cold night. i've never had wheat berries tho, so I'll have to check them out. Hubby makes vego chilli with lots of zucchini, and green rice. Delish!
Hi Dawn, wheat berries are definitely worth trying! And they're great in chili. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sherry, Mr P's chili sounds terrific! :-) Thanks for the comment.
The best meal for chilly days!
Hi Denise, it really is. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a novel ingredient to use in chili. I love how it adds not only more fiber, but more texture, too. Genius idea!
Hi Carolyn, the texture -- and chew! -- of this is terrific. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I have two bags of wheatberries that I bought in Santiago to Chillia a couple years ago… They have been in the freezer ever since, and I’ve been looking for some we to use them. And you just gave me a great way to use some of my stash! Thanks, John - looks absolutely fantastic.
Hi David, you'll enjoy using them in chili, I'll bet. Because, well, chili. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Never enough chili in the world! This looks so yummy!
Our evenings are quite chilly and this would be a perfect chili dinner (sorry, couldn't resist). What a beautiful dish.
Hi Ashley, we agree -- never enough chili! We love the stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Amalia, yeah, we love word play with chilly/chili too. Impossible to resist! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Love this! The chew of the wheat berries is perfect for chili. And, I can never resist adding a heaping helping of garnishes.
Hi Lisa, we can never resist those garnishes either. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I would never have thought of adding wheatberries. I do like a good vegetarian chili but usually only using three or four bean types. You spice mix is spot on!
Hi Debra, wheat berries are great in chili! And yeah, we've played with that spice mix until we found one we thought was perfect. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a unique take on vegan chili! I always thought I should keep wheat berries around for making heartier bread. This would make two reasons to do that!
H Inger, we have another wheat berry recipe coming up later this week. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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