Red Lentil (Vegetarian) Chili

This red lentil chili is simple and a classic. A very quick and easy meal to make, and I personally LOVE chili this time of year (almost as much as this curried lentil soup) so much I tend to double recipes like this so I can eat the leftovers as lunches for days. Viva la chili!

If you are looking for a vegetarian chili that feels traditional and still packs a decent protein punch (not to mention fiber), then look no further than this red lentil chili. It’s a good one.

You can certainly use canned (already cooked) lentils if you find them. But I usually only see dry red lentils at the grocery stores I frequent most often. You do not need to be intimated by cooking dry lentils. There is no soaking needed, and it is as simple as boiling water and waiting 15 minutes—honestly!

This red lentil chili almost looks meaty, doesn’t it? And all those little chopped cilantro bits make me so excited. Ha.

For toppings, I am a big fan of shredded cheese, sour cream, and Fritos. In a pinch, I substitute sour cream for Greek yogurt sometimes and it’s almost just as good. Enjoy! xo. Emma

5 from 6 votes

Red Lentil (Vegetarian) Chili

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword chili
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Author Emma Chapman


  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups water or vegetable stock (or a mix)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ yellow onion
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • salt and pepper


  1. Prepare the lentils. Rinse well. In a medium to large pot, boil the liquid. Add the lentils and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 12 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook for 3-8 more minutes, until the lentils are splitting and very tender.

  2. Chop or mince the ingredients that need this including garlic, onion, cilantro, and jalapeno. I remove the seeds and veins from the jalapeno to reduce the heat some, but this is up to you and the level of heat you prefer.

  3. In a small to medium saute pan or skillet, add the oil over medium heat and saute the onion and jalapeno for 2-3 minutes until tender. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.

  4. Once the lentils are done cooking, assess the remaining liquid before adding the tomato sauce. If your lentils still seem very soupy, you may want to drain some of the liquid off, but this may not be necessary.

  5. Stir in the tomato sauce, sauteed vegetables, cilantro, chili powder, cayenne, and season well with salt and pepper. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Recipe Notes

Serve alongside chips, crackers, shredded cheese, and sour cream. 

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • 5 stars
    Amazing! My husband eats meat and even he said it was the best thing we’ve made in a long time! Will be adding this into the rotation.

  • 5 stars
    Loved it, thank you! I used Passata, and decided using two pots was too much effort, so let the lentils boil with everything else (added after onions) – worked really well 🙂

  • 5 stars
    Hello, thank you for this recipe. I like to prepare veggie chillies but had never tried with red lentils and it was delicious! I had red splited lentils so I used those and doubled the quantities (although I forgot to add more tomatoes, it didn’t matter anyways, the taste of the lentil was prominent and delicious). I also like it spice so added more dried chillies and Chipotle salt that give it a nice smokey taste. I am definitely making this one again. Thank you!! 🙂

  • 5 stars
    Tried and loved this recipe! Will be doing it often this winter. Please share if you have some delicious vegan or easily veganisable SOUP recipe! 🙂

    Greetings from Italy,

  • Made this last night. We get creative in the pantry towards the end of the month. Had everything on hand and added a meatless patty we had in the fridge that needed to be consumed to the veggie saute. I have two teenage boys that love a hearty chili and this recipe was an absolute winner! You’re 30-minute veggie white chili is also so, so, good! Thank you for your delicious contributions to some of our favorite quick meals we keep in rotation <3

  • Made the for dinner tonight and it was SO good! Easy and quick too. I was already a big fan of the white bean chilli you guys shared a while back, and this is just as yummy 🙂 A great weekend meal for the colder months!

  • Don’t know what you mean by tomato sauce.

    Heinz ketchup? Or passata? Or . . . . . . . . ..what?

    Maybe something American that we Brits don’t use so much?
    Or just a different name for something?

    • It could be an American thing, I’m not sure. I believe the brand I used was Hunt’s. It’s a plain tomato sauce, like a very plain pasta sauce. It is not like ketchup which is much thicker and usually sweetened.

      • 5 stars
        Hi Pete,

        I just used the quantity listed of Passata + 2 tablespoons of tomato puree to thicken it up a bit. Worked out delicious 🙂

        Cheers from London,

    • I’m with you Carol neither my husband nor I care for cilantro but I have been learning to put a little bit of cilantro and then parsley and that’s been working for us

  • My BF and I still laugh about our fave episode of the podcast (the food one!) where you guys get so passionate about fritos on top of chili! Love people that love food so hard!

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