This smoky-tasting Red Lentil Chili cooks fairly quickly and can be used as a topping or sauce as well. (Renee Comet/For The Washington Post; styling by Bonnie S. Benwick)

With this warming recipe comes the realization that, yes, a meatless chili that takes less than an hour to make can offer a satisfying chew and deep flavor. Make a batch on the stove top or in the slow cooker on a Sunday, and I bet you’ll find various ways to eat it during the week — with roasted butternut squash or spooned atop a tostada.

4 servings (makes 9 cups)

Serve with warm corn bread or crisp tortilla chips. To serve this in a slow cooker, see the VARIATION, below.


2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

1 medium white onion, diced

1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced

½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

1 jalapeño pepper (not seeded), minced, plus fresh slices for serving

4 cloves garlic, minced and mashed with the flat side of a knife

3 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (sweet pimenton)

Two 15-ounce cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes and their juices

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1¾ cups water, or more as needed

¾ cup dried red lentils, rinsed and drained

One 15-ounce can no-salt-added kidney beans, drained

One 15-ounce can no-salt-added black beans, drained

Chopped cilantro, for serving

Diced avocado, for serving


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion and red bell pepper. Season with ¼ teaspoon each of the salt and pepper; cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring often, until softened.

Stir in the minced jalapeño and garlic, then add 2 tablespoons of the chili powder, half the cumin, the smoked paprika, the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste and water, stirring to incorporate. Increase the heat to medium-high; once the liquid begins to boil, stir in the lentils.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, so the mixture is barely bubbling; cook for 15 minutes or until the lentils are mostly tender (they will look plumped). Add more water, as needed.

Add the kidney beans, black beans, the remaining ¼ teaspoon each of the salt and pepper, the remaining tablespoon each of cumin and chili powder, stirring to incorporate. Once the beans have heated through, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring a few times. Taste and add salt and/or pepper, as needed.

Serve with cilantro, avocado and sliced jalapeño.

VARIATION: To make this in a slow cooker, add all the ingredients at once and cook on HIGH for 3 hours.

NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS | Per serving (Healthy) 270 calories, 15 g protein, 42 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 13 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar

Adapted from a recipe at

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; email questions to

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This chili can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. If it seems too spicy upon reheating, stir in a tablespoon or two of maple syrup. To make it in a slow cooker, add all the ingredients at once and cook on HIGH for 3 hours.