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!

Hearty Vegetarian Chili with Polenta Cakes

Hearty Vegetarian Chili with Polenta Cakes

Yield: 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


  1. Vegetarian Chili
  2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell peppers, and
  3. garlic; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add sugar and remaining ingredients,
  4. and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.
  5. Basic Polenta
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Enjoy!

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Join the Conversation

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

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

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

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

  11. Georgia-

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

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

  15. This looks great, and I love your photography!

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

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

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

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

  27. 5 stars
    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.

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

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

  30. 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. 5 stars
    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. 5 stars
    I am loving this! I can’t wait to try it!

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

  35. 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. 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. 5 stars
    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. 5 stars
    Really looking delicious and yummy. Even my all friends love it. i’ll definitely recommend this site to my friends and i have also bookmarked it.

  39. 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. 5 stars
    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….

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