Comfort Food: Chili Beans with Vegan Ground Beef

Since I was raised on a mostly vegetarian diet, I grew up having Worthington Vegetarian Chili once in while.  For example, one time when my older brother and I were quite young, my mom had stepped out of the house for a few minutes and my sibling and I had a conversation of what we wanted for dinner.  After firmly deciding on (Worthington) chili and rice, we used up a whole stack of sticky notes writing “chili and rice” on each one and plastered them all over the kitchen while giggling like, well, children the whole time.  (Needless to say, my mom wasn’t thrilled when she came back.)

What further solidified my love for Worthington Chili is when a friend and I went to Romania as student missionaries to help out at a children’s home.  Every couple of months, family and friends would send us care packages.  While they were all so very much appreciated, it was always extra special when a box included a can or two of Worthington Chili.

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Now times have changed.  Even though we still eat low/no fat whole foods vegan at home, we occasionally dive into a can of Worthington chili for familiarity’s sake (and for those times when we get home past 7:30 pm and are dead tired).  When these weak moments occur, I do my best to add things to increase the health factor — chopped spinach, onions, green onions, fresh bell peppers — because, let me tell you, Worthington Chili isn’t really what one would call health food with it being highly processed and its significant fat and salt content.

A month ago, we went on a trip to some classes in a more eastern time zone.  Since I had been eating super clean for the previous few weeks, I thought it would be reasonable to let a few things lightly slide since it’s difficult to eat purely low-fat vegan while traveling.  In hindsight, I realized that I hardly consumed as many antioxidants as I usually do and that every meal I ate on this trip actually contained some sort of animal product — a little bit of butter, cheese, milk, eggs, I even caved and had a small piece of salmon — and, while being low-fat to the average American, everything was still much more oil-laden than what I’m used to eating.

We got back from our trip, I slept poorly due to the time change, and then — BAM — in two days, I had a fever, horribly stuffed sinus, and a productive cough.

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It’s been a while since I’ve been sick so it was extra miserable.  As I lay around the house for a couple of days in a stupor where I hardly ate anything, I realized I should eat something and, compared to what I ate on our trip, it should be something starchy with no added fat.  Oh, and it should be comfort food!  I really wanted Worthington Chili but I knew that wouldn’t be good for my sickness, so I turned back to an old chili beans recipe that I’ve made before that’s a little reminiscent of the Worthington brand but much healthier.

The only catch: what should I use for the “ground beef”?  My husband is slightly more lax about his vegan-ness and would’ve caved in to using Worthington Vegetarian Burger but I didn’t want to go that route for my tired body.  I saw a few recipes online that used cauliflower and nuts to make “ground beef” but, not having that vegetable, I substituted with portobello mushrooms and it worked wonderfully.

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It worked so well and smelled amazing to boot.  I was quite pleased with my efforts and felt slightly more revived after finally eating a proper meal.

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Vegan Ground Beef

Slightly adapted from One Green Planet, makes about 3 cups


  • 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and washed, broken into florets (about 1 pound after trimming) OR approximately 16-20 ounces of mushrooms
  • 2 cups raw walnut halves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sage OR thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika OR regular paprika
  • 1/2-3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons Bragg’s liquid aminos OR soy sauce


Preheat oven to 350 deg F.  Line a large rimmed cookie sheet or rectangular pan with parchment paper.

In a food processor, blend the cauliflower OR mushrooms to a fine meal, place into a large mixing bowl.  Repeat with the nuts.  Depending on how grainy you like your “meat,” it can be more or less fine; I made mine like a coarse cornmeal.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl.  Using a mixing spoon, mix everything together thoroughly until the grounds are uniformly coated.

Turn the mixture into the pan and spread out evenly.  Bake for 45 minutes and up to 1 hour 15 minutes (it will depend on the size of the pan and how thick the mixture is when you first begin to bake it), stirring after 30 minutes and then every 15 minutes after that, until the meat is dry and brown.  The grounds will begin to separate and intensify in color as they roast.

Once the meat is cooked, you can cool, package, and freeze it for later use, or use it right away.  Keep up to 3 days covered in the refrigerator.  May be frozen.

Recipe Notes:

  • I used almost the whole pack of baby portobello mushrooms that you can get at Costco.  Just about any mushroom should work, I’m thinking.
  • I’ve made this with mushrooms and then another time with cauliflower. Both versions had different flavoring but turned out great. (Heck, I’m sure it’ll turn out fine if you used both cauliflower and mushrooms at the same time!)  I’ve even seen a version where bulgur wheat (it’s very coarse) is used in place of the cauliflower/mushrooms.
  • I know smoked paprika can bit strong to some people.  I’m wary about using it in most recipes but using the full amount of smoked paprika actually worked out quite nice here.  If you don’t have smoked, then regular paprika should work just fine.
  • When cooking with no oil, parchment paper is your friend!  Such a life saver.  I always have a couple of rolls in my kitchen in case one runs out.
  • The first time I made this, I baked it until it was completely dry (but not burnt) so that my ground “beef” ended up more like dried, tasty crumbles that were fantastic as a topping and worked really well in the chili (they rehydrated some with the beans, thus making the ground “beef” on the dry side for chili is more ideal).  The other time I made this, baked it till it was crumbly and dry but still moist enough to have the texture of ground beef.  The latter was fantastic on nachos.
  • When I made this so I ended up with dry crumbles, it lasted in a ziploc bag in the fridge for 1-2 weeks easily.  If you want to make it so it’s more moist like taco meat, then it probably will only last in the fridge for about 3 days or so.


— — —

Simple Chili Beans

Adapted from Elise at Simply Recipes, serves 4-5 with rice


  • 2 cups pinto beans, uncooked
  • 1 medium-sized onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 can of tomatoes (14 oz)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 1 teaspoon and 1 teaspoon of salt, separated
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1.5-2 cups vegan ground beef (see recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro leaves


Put the dry beans into a large pot and cover with at least 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours or until the beans are tender.

In a large skillet, sauté onions and garlic with a little water (keep adding water as needed) until translucent on medium high heat. Add chili powder to the onions and garlic, stir to coat; add more as needed to taste. Add chopped parsley, can of tomatoes, minced jalapeño pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Mix and set aside until the cooked beans are ready to be added.

Once the beans are cooked, drain them. Add the beans and another 1 teaspoon of salt to onion mixture.  Add vegan ground beef, mix.  Let simmer for 5-10 minutes, tasting and adding more salt as needed. Stir in cilantro leaves right before serving, or sprinkle on top.

Serve over rice or with warm corn tortillas.

Recipe Notes:

  • If you don’t have dry beans or want to take the time to cook some, you can use canned.  Generally speaking, beans double in size (usually a little more) after cooking: 2 cups dry beans = 4+ cups cooked beans.
  • It must depend on your chili powder, but I’ve found I hardly put in much more than the first tablespoon that the recipe calls for.
  • I like things warm so I don’t bother de-seeding my jalapeño.  If you prefer things more mild, then you should take out part or all of the seeds before mincing.
  • Sometimes I don’t have fresh parsley.  Sometimes I don’t have fresh cilantro.  If I had to choose between the two, I personally would want to make sure I have the cilantro.  If you don’t have either, I promise, the it will still taste good.  Maybe just top it with some chopped green onions.
  • I don’t like big chunks of tomatoes in my chili so I ended up using a stick blender to quickly whizz it up to a less chunky consistency.
  • I actually didn’t measure the amount of vegan ground beef I added to the recipe so the amount above is a guesstimation.  You can certainly add more or less to the chili beans, if you’d like.


Same Simple Chili Beans recipe although with “beef” crumbles made from bulgur wheat — very good!



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