Hearty Vegetarian Chili with Polenta Cakes

Vegetarian Chili Polenta Cake

One of my favorite meals to make on winter weekends is a warm and cozy, and usually very meaty, chili. However, I figured I’d try something new this time around and trick our tastebuds with a three-bean vegetarian chili that would be just as filling, hearty and lick-the-bowl-clean delicious as what I usually make. And hey, why not add a soft and crispy polenta cake to the mix, too? Polenta had been something I’d always wanted to try, and since it has a taste and texture similar to cornbread, it pairs wonderfully with a big bowl of piping hot chili!

Vegetable Chili

The best part of this recipe is that though the ingredient list is a little lengthy, the process only requires three sentences of directions – that’s it! Just sauté your onions, bell peppers and garlic, and in go the spices – brown sugar, chili powder, cumin and oregano – along with stewed tomatoes, kidney beans, cannellini beans and black beans. Simmer for half an hour, and you’re done!

Polenta Recipe

Now, for the polenta, which is delicious just in its creamy consistency but I loved to make it into little “cakes”. You need a medium- to coarse-grind cornmeal; I used Bob’s Red Mill Cornmeal. Following Alton Brown’s basic polenta recipe, it took just about 10 minutes of stovetop stirring and 40 minutes in the oven.

Polenta Cake

After cooling in a round cake pan for a few hours, mini polenta cakes were cut out, sautéed in olive oil and plopped atop the chili for a delicious dinner! Remember: If you’re going to make polenta cakes, make the polenta in the afternoon and give it time to cool in the fridge. Then, when your chili is almost done, cut out the cakes and sauté them then.

Vegetable Chili Recipe

Even for meat-lovers like my husband and me, this was an absolutely scrumptious meatless meal and one I look forward to making for many weekends to come. I know you would enjoy it just as much as we did, and hopefully go back for seconds and thirds like we did, too!

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PrintPrint Recipe

Hearty Vegetarian Chili with Polenta Cakes

Yield: Both serve 8


Vegetarian Chili

1  tablespoon  vegetable oil

2  cups  chopped onion

1/2  cup  chopped yellow bell pepper

1/2  cup  chopped green bell pepper

2  garlic cloves, minced

1  tablespoon  brown sugar

1 1/2  tablespoons  chili powder

1  teaspoon  ground cumin

1  teaspoon  dried oregano

1/2  teaspoon  salt

1/2  teaspoon  black pepper

2  (16-ounce) cans stewed tomatoes, undrained

2  (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1  (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1  (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Basic Polenta

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for grilling or sautéing if desired

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 quart chicken stock or broth

1 cup coarse ground cornmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill Medium-Grind cornmeal)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces Parmesan, grated


Vegetarian Chili

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell peppers, and
garlic; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add sugar and remaining ingredients,
and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.

Basic Polenta

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large, oven-safe saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn.

Turn the heat up to high, add the chicken stock, bring to a boil. Gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking. Once you have added all of the cornmeal, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps. Once the mixture is creamy, remove from the oven and add the butter, salt, and pepper. Once they are incorporated, gradually add the Parmesan.

Serve as is, or pour the polenta into 9-inch round cake pan lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator to cool completely, about 2-3 hours.

Once set, turn the polenta out onto a cutting board and cut into squares, rounds, or triangles. Brush each side with olive oil and sauté in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill.


Chili adapted from My Recipes
Polenta adapted from Alton Brown via FoodNetwork.com


43 Responses to “Hearty Vegetarian Chili with Polenta Cakes”

  1. #
    Ang — February 25, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

    Okay this popped up in my inbox and I just couldn’t resist a peek at your vegetarian version. I make one that’s so completely different and I’m thinking after reviewing your ingredient list and that lovely polenta cake on top, I’m pretty sure I have a new favorite. I can’t wait to try this!

    Hope you enjoy your weekend!

  2. #
    Megan — February 25, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

    Oooh, I love this vegetarian version. I am not a fan of ground beef, so I always alter my chili recipes (chicken makes a good showing around here). This looks very yummy, def. going to give it a try!

  3. #
    Christina — February 25, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

    I love the idea of polenta cakes! I’ve only had polenta a few times and regret that I don’t eat it often. This looks so very good and perfect for these cold winter days.

  4. #
    Jennifurla — February 25, 2011 @ 9:23 pm

    that little cake on top has me swooning…and thinking of make all sorts of polenta cakes..yum

  5. #
    Faith — February 25, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

    I’m a fan of all kinds of chili and I think your vegetarian version looks amazing! So rich and hearty…and topped with that polenta cake it really is the perfect meal!

  6. #
    Lindsey @ Gingerbread Bagels — February 25, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

    I love all of the different beans you put in the chili. It looks sooo good and flavorful. And I just adore polenta. The polenta cakes on top of the chili are the perfect addition! :)

  7. #
    UrMomCooks — February 25, 2011 @ 10:57 pm

    What mouthwatering pictures!!! We eat a lot of veggie chili at our house (don’t tell my fellow Texans…), and I am a recent convert to polenta! This is an awesome combination when the usual cornbread just won’t due!!! Making a note…

  8. #
    Pam — February 25, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

    All I can say is YUM, YUM, YUM. Perfect for these COLD days.

  9. #
    WizzyTheStick — February 25, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

    Oh what fun we both posted similar recipes….your chili looks amazing!

  10. #
    Rhondi — February 26, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    This looks incredibly comforting! I’ve never had polenta cakes, but they look really good.

  11. #
    Shanon — February 26, 2011 @ 12:54 am


    Once again, your pictures blow me away. They are incredible-I love vegetarian chili, but I have never tried polenta. I have always wanted to give it a try. You have totally inspired me.

  12. #
    Yasmin — February 26, 2011 @ 6:59 am

    Yum! I can practically taste and smell it! Please serve me a plate!

  13. #
    Natasha — February 26, 2011 @ 9:24 am

    Yum, this sounds really tasty. I had polenta only once before, and it wasn’t well made, so i always mean to try it again.. maybe now is the time!

  14. #
    warmvanillasugar — February 26, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

    The polenta cakes in this sound amazing! Great chili recipe!

  15. #
    Ashley — February 26, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

    This looks great, and I love your photography!

  16. #
    Angie's Recipes — February 26, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

    I love this hearty vegetarian treat! I don’t make often enough polenta. Looks so delish!

  17. #
    Victor — February 26, 2011 @ 6:07 pm

    Your chili sound so delicious. I never had polenta before, I tasted it recently in a restaurant and I really enjoy the texture of it.

  18. #
    baking.serendipity — February 26, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

    This looks so warm and comforting :) I’m a big fan of vegetarian chilis and my husband likes his filled to the brim with meat. Your rave review makes me think this would please us both!

  19. #
    Maria — February 26, 2011 @ 8:57 pm

    Those polenta cakes look perfect! This sounds delicious :-)

  20. #
    Georgia (The Comfort of Cooking) — February 26, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

    Sarah (baking.serendipity) – Your comment reminds me that my husband, at first, piled his bowl of this chili with steak, but the second time he had it he preferred it without, haha! Thanks for your sweet comment. I think you both would enjoy this so much!

  21. #
    Pretty. Good. Food. — February 26, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

    I love the idea of turning the polenta into little cakes. Sounds (and looks!) delish! Happy weekend!

  22. #
    Chef Dennis — February 27, 2011 @ 2:00 am

    your veggie chili looks awesome!! I love the colours of the veggies and all the different beans in it. Those polenta cakes are a perfect accompaniment for them!

  23. #
    Cake Duchess — February 27, 2011 @ 2:17 am

    Loving your vibrant vegetarian chili!I will have to share it with my sis in law as they’re vegetarians. I could eat polenta every day. That first photo is so pretty Georgia:)

  24. #
    Monet — February 27, 2011 @ 6:12 am

    What a wonderful meatless meal! I love trying new variations of chili…and I love how you made this meal even more special with those polenta cakes. Thank you for sharing and for the kind words you left on my own blog. I hope you have a restful Sunday full of love and laughter!

  25. #
    foodblogandthedog — February 27, 2011 @ 10:13 am

    I love the fact that you put a polenta cake on top, genius! I eat a lot of veggie chillis but this one really caught my eye! Congats on Top 9 happy to have found you!!

  26. #
    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen — February 27, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

    Polenta cakes are a recent favorite of mine, I love that they can be made ahead of time and just finished when you are ready to eat. I usually top mine like crostini, but I like the idea of using it as a garnish for the chili.

  27. #
    Paula {Salad in a Jar} — February 27, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

    My first attempt at polenta was a dismal failure. Going to try again your way.

  28. #
    alyce — February 27, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

    This recipe sounds amazing. Like the idea of the polenta cake.

  29. #
    Melissa @IWasBornToCook — February 27, 2011 @ 7:38 pm

    Looks delicious. Love the addition of polenta…we use it often here.

  30. #
    Linn @ Swedish Home Cooking — February 27, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

    I’m definitely gonna make polenta cakes tonight! I’ve had a package at home for a long time but I just didn’t know what to do with it. Thanks for sharing!

  31. #
    Spicie Foodie — February 27, 2011 @ 10:57 pm

    Mouthwatering recipe and photos. I love chili and do agree that even a meatless version is a hearty meal. The polenta cakes make a great addition. I like to eat my chili with cornbread, very similar.

  32. #
    Tracy — February 27, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

    I am loving this! I can’t wait to try it!

  33. #
    Jenn — February 28, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    Ok…what I just said about the mussels…well the same goes for this :) Delicious even without the meat. I have still yet to try making polenta…must do that soon!

  34. #
    Jeanette — February 28, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

    What a great idea, love the polenta cakes, a nice alternative to the more traditional cornbread served with chili. Gorgeous photos!

  35. #
    Erica — February 28, 2011 @ 9:54 pm

    I saw this post on FoodBuzz and was drooling! SUCH a gorgeous dish! This should be served in a restaurant! Thanks for your sweet comment on my blog ;)

  36. #
    A Canadian Foodie — March 3, 2011 @ 1:04 am

    I love the idea of polenta cakes and I cannot eat meat though am married to an UBER carnivore… so this should be perfect for both of us!

  37. #
    Sally the Saint — July 24, 2011 @ 6:04 am

    Wao! yummy dish. my all friends like it. even when we think to throw a party, we simply go to jim’s home . His mother make it for us from chili and spicy dishes .

  38. #
    adam tylor — July 31, 2011 @ 10:00 am

    Really looking delicious and yummy this dish with chili . Even my all friends love it. i’ll definitely recommend this site to my friends and i have also bookmarked it.

  39. #
    Cara — October 11, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

    I love love love polenta for so many reasons – but never thought to use it as a big crouton on top of chili. Fabulous!

  40. #
    Ingrid — March 18, 2013 @ 11:27 pm

    Hi! I made this recipe a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it! I came back to the site today to reference the recipe for tomorrow. It looks like something happened. The ingredient list is the same for the chili and the polenta! So are the instructions….

    • Georgia — March 19th, 2013 @ 10:29 pm

      In my website re-design, we changed up the printable recipe format. It should still be easy to follow, but let me know if you’re having trouble with something.

  41. #
    Monique — April 27, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

    Hi Georgia, I’m not sure if someone else pointed this out, but the ingredient list for the chili is not there. There are two copies of the polenta cake ingredients instead. Would love to see your version of veggie chili.

    • Georgia — April 27th, 2013 @ 7:39 pm

      Thanks for letting me know, Monique! It’s been fixed and should appear correct now.

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