Smoky Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili

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This Smoky Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili is pantry-friendly, budget-friendly, meal prep-friendly, and freezer friendly! It’s hearty, velvety, and sticks to your ribs but is healthy, vegan, and gluten-free. Includes Instant Pot directions!
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 50 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 10 mins
5 from 8 votes

A good bean chili is the perfect hearty meal so let’s say hello to this Smoky Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili!

It sticks to your ribs in the best possible way and is packed with wholesome ingredients. Plus, its a great option for meal prep, as the leftovers are excellent. And you can either freeze half of it or stretch the meal out even further by serving it over pasta (hello, chili mac!), rice, or quinoa.

pinto bean chili

Here’s why you’ll love this recipe.

Easy to make. Nothing fancy or complicated.

Pantry-friendly. This recipe features simple, everyday ingredients like onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, canned tomatoes, canned beans, along with some spices and vegetable broth. The only non-pantry ingredients called for in this recipe are jalapeño peppers, lime juice, and cilantro (and the latter is optional).

Budget-friendly. Given the simple ingredients used, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this meal is budget-friendly! No expensive or exotic ingredients required.

Hearty yet healthy. This chili is rich, hearty, and velvety in texture and sticks to your ribs. But it’s also entirely wholesome, vegan, and gluten-free.

Smoky, spicy, and well balanced. Smoky and spicy from chipotle peppers and warming spices and rich in flavor thanks to sticky browned onions, this is a vegan chili that doesn’t skimp on flavor. The natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes nicely balances both the spice and acidity from the tomatoes.

Meal prep and freezer friendly. As I mentioned, the leftovers taste better the next day and this chili stays good in the fridge for five days, so it’s a great meal prep option. Or, you can make it las longer by easily freezing it!

Ingredient Rundown

Spices

To keep this meal easy and straightforward, I rely on ground spices—chili powder, cumin, paprika, and oregano.

Onions

One of the keys to imparting a lot of flavor into this chili is to really brown those onions at the start. This recipe calls for nearly but not quite caramelizing the onions (takes about 10 minutes). I use this technique a lot in my savory recipes and it always makes for incredibly flavorful savory recipes.

Sweet Potatoes

The ingredient that makes this chili perfectly balanced in flavors. Be sure to finely dice up your potatoes into very small pieces. If they’re just chopped (not diced), they won’t fully soften in the allotted 30 minutes cook time.

Cocoa Powder

Does adding chocolate to chili sound weird? Maybe, but I promise it helps! Adding cocoa powder adds a rich warmth and depth of flavor without tasting like chocolate, as well as intensifies the warmth of the spices.

Canned Pinto Beans

This is a versatile, easy-to-customize chili. If you don’t have pinto beans, substitute with black beans, cannellini beans, or kidney beans, or use three different varieties of beans.

Chipotle Peppers in Adobo

This is the main source of smokiness and spiciness in the chili, and I personally love it. If you are very sensitive to spicy food or can’t find them, omit and substitute the regular paprika with smoked paprika for a slightly smoky taste. Or, if you have chipotle chili powder, you can use that instead of the regular chili powder.

If you can tolerate a moderate amount of heat, use just 1 chipotle pepper.

Similar to the cocoa powder, the chipotle peppers also create layer of richness and warmth in this chili.

chili in a bowl with some chives and cilantro scattered nearby.

Tips for making this recipe

Dice those sweet potatoes finely! If you just chop them (instead of finely dicing), they won’t fully soften in the allotted 30 minutes cook time.

When you add the tomato paste or spices, if the mixture appears to dry out, add a few spoons of water and scrape up any browned bits to prevent burning.

Let the chili rest before serving. As with any chili recipe, it is better the next day. Even allowing the recipe to rest for just 15-20 minutes will make it taste better. Resting helps the spices mellow out in their heat but also deepen in flavor. The result is a deep, rich, spicy yet balanced flavor, and a thicker texture.

Finishings and toppings. I like to finish my chili with fresh lime juice (it helps balance the spicy and bitter flavors, as well as enhance the savory flavors) and chopped cilantro for flavor. Feel free to top with your favorite chili toppings, such as vegan sour cream or cheese, sliced jalapeño peppers, diced red onions or tomatoes, or chopped avocado.

If you want to stretch this meal out further, serve it over rice, quinoa, or pasta. Being a chili mac lover myself, I prefer it served over pasta :)

Want to make this recipe in the Instant Pot? The recipe below has a modification!

I hope you enjoy this hearty and delicious Smoky Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili. If you give this recipe a try, be sure to tag me on Instagram with your recreations and please comment with your feedback below!

If you want a visual idea of what the chili should look like and I how incorporate it into a an easy healthy meal prep that’s perfect for staying at home and pantry cooking, check out the Youtube video below!

 

Smoky Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili

5 from 8 votes
This Smoky Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili is pantry-friendly, budget-friendly, meal prep-friendly, and freezer friendly! It’s hearty, velvety, and sticks to your ribs but is healthy, vegan, and gluten-free. Includes Instant Pot directions!
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 50 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 10 mins
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: Mexican-inspired, Southwestern
Diet Vegan
Keyword: chili, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, sweet potato
Serving size: 5 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil (more as needed, if not using nonstick pan)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, diced (omit seeds and membranes for mild heat)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika*
  • 2 cups (480 mL) vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (or raw cacao powder)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 3 (15-ounce/425g) cans pinto beans**, drained and rinsed
  • 1 pound (454g / about 3) medium sweet potatoes, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce from 1 can (optional, but this is what makes the chili smoky and spicy; NOTE – this is not 2 cans, but just 2 peppers from 1 can; omit entirely if you are very sensitive to spicy food; or use just 1 chipotle pepper for a moderate heat)
  • 1 (28-ounce / 800g) diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons masa harina (optional)*
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, optional but recommended
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice, plus more to taste

Instructions

Stove-Top Directions

  • Heat a large saucepan or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and once it’s shimmering, add the onions and season with salt. Stir frequently and cook the onions until a light brown fond starts form on the surface of the pan, about 5 minutes. Add a few spoons of water to deglaze the pan. Continue cooking the onions, adding more water every few minutes and stirring frequently to prevent burning, until they’re browned and fully softened, 8- 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, jalapeño peppers, and tomato paste, and cook for 2-3 minutes or until tomato paste is darker in color. If the mixture appears to dry out, add a bit more water and scrape up any browned bits.
  • Stir in the Spices (chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika) and stir vigorously for 30 seconds, again adding a spoon of water as needed to prevent drying out.
  • Pour in the vegetable broth to deglaze the pot, stirring up any browned bits. Add the cocoa powder, bay leaf, 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, black pepper to taste, pinto beans, diced sweet potatoes, chipotle peppers (if using), and diced tomatoes. Stir well.
  • Bring the chili to a simmer and maintain a rapid simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and reducing the heat as needed, until the sweet potatoes are fully tender and the chili is thick and almost velvety.
  • Discard the bay leaf. Stir in the masa harina, if using. Whisk to combine and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the texture has further thickened.
    Stir in the cilantro (if using) and the lime juice. Taste for seasonings.
    1. NOTE: keep in mind that chili always tastes better after it has rested for some time, as the spices will have a chance to mellow out and meld together.

Instant Pot Directions

  • Use the Sauté setting on the Instant Pot for steps 1-3. You might need to add more oil and or water as you go, as the Instant Pot stainless steel inner pot requires more liquid than a standard pot.
  • Select the Cancel setting once you deglaze the pot with the broth (step 4).
  • Secure the lid and set the Pressure Release to Sealing. Select the Pressure Cook setting at high pressure and set the cook time to 6 minutes.
  • Once the timer has completed and beeps, allow a natural pressure release for 10 minutes and then switch the Pressure Release knob from Sealing to Venting to release any remaining steam.
  • Discard the bay leaf. Stir in the masa harina, if using, and turn on the Sauté setting. Whisk to combine and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the texture has further thickened.
  • Turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro and the lime juice. Taste for seasonings.
    1. NOTE: keep in mind that chili always tastes better after it has rested for some time, as the spices will have a chance to mellow out and meld together.

Notes

* If you aren’t using chipotle peppers but still want a smoky flavor, use smoked paprika instead of regular paprika. Or, if you have chipotle chili powder, you can use that instead of the regular chili powder.
** If you don’t have pinto beans, substitute with black beans, kidney beans or cannellini beans, or use a mix of any of these beans.
*** Masa harina (Mexican corn flour) is optional but delightful if you have it. It gives chili an even more velvety, thick texture and a subtle corn flavor. 

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28 comments on Smoky Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili

  1. Ian

    I really want to make this recipe but we cant get fresh jalapeño peppers in local/standard stores in the UK. does it matter? Should i use regular green/red chillies? or canned sliced jalapeños. obviously they are pickled though so i dont think that would be ideal? I dont own any bayleaves either so could be convenient if i can skip those too. I do say though, your recipes look amazing. really looking forward to trying them out and using them as an example that you can become vegan and enjoy the same flavours without meat. Thanks!

  2. Nicole

    Love this! Hearty, delicious, and so easy. Thanks, Nisha!

  3. Shwetha

    Hi Nisha, is there anything I can substitute for the cocoa powder? I only have the sweetened kind at home :(
    Thanks!

  4. Beth

    At what point in the recipe (I am making it on the stove) do you add the masa harina?

    1. Nisha

      whoops, forgot to include that. i’ve updated the recipe, but you add it at the end, after the chili is done. whisk to combine and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

  5. Sherry

    This chili is next level beyond delicious! I can’t imagine how it will taste tomorrow if it gets better with time! So easy to make. It’s a must try!!

  6. Lindsay Luttrell

    Absolutely delicious!!!!!!!

  7. Chris

    Delicious meal for snowy February night! Found some San Marco crushed chipotles and used two teaspoons for family members that don’t like a lot of smoke or heat and they’re raving about it. Your suggestion to put it over pasta like Chili Mac was also a winner. They want to make more pasta tomorrow when they eat the leftovers for lunch.

    1. Nisha

      Thanks for sharing, Chris! So nice to hear that your family enjoyed it, and yes, it’s extra delicious over pasta :)

  8. Newly Vegan

    Do you cut up the chipotle chilis in adobo? Or do you remove them before serving?

    1. Nisha

      I personally don’t chop them up because they get cooked down for quite some time and kind meld into the chili, but you can definitely chop them up beforehand if you prefer.

  9. Nicole

    Wow, what a delicious chili! I scaled back on the peppers since I have a bad case of baby mouth (lol) but it was still so flavorful and yummy. Definitely making it part of my rotation!

  10. Melissa

    Really delicious and satisfying!

  11. Makeaweli

    I saw this in the book and instantly cross-referenced it with the blog. I do this often to combine both versions. I did add in the different beans from the book and corn The kids could not believe that cocoa powder is in it and had no idea about the uala! We have been cooking at least one recipe each week since quarantine. We love the recipes, they’re all ono!

  12. Allison

    I am making this now and my sweet potatoes have gone bad!! :( subbing in regular russet potatoes and hoping it turns out well!

  13. Mihaela

    Hi Nisha, I just made this chilli, and I want to make it again. Here is my caveat, though: it’s so spicy I can’t eat it. My house and likes it, and the kitchen smells dreamy from preparing it. And I’ve tried some of your other dishes, which all adds up to – I’m sure it’s a good dish, but I need to adjust it to my not-so-spicy chilli palate ;) I’ve already adjusted it by not including any jalapeno peppers, and by using only 1 rablespoon of chilli powder. What should I do differently next time: skip chilli powder altogether? Use only 1 can of the Chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce – with chilli powder or not? Thanks for your input.

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Mihaela, sorry to hear it’s too spicy for you! Have you let it rest overnight? Usually chili mellows out so you might want to try it tomorrow. To clarify, did you use 2 whole cans of chipotle peppers??? If so, that would make it VERY spicy lol. The recipe says 2 chipotle peppers – so you only use two peppers from one can (there are probably 4-6 peppers per can). If you only used 2 peppers, as the recipe states, then use just 1 pepper next time – most of the heat comes from those peppers, not the chili powder (unless you have a specific chili powder that’s quite spicy and different from the standard store-bought chili powder).

      1. Mihaela

        Oh dear, I did use 2 cans of the Chipotle peppers;) Big LOL! I’ll try this again with the right amount. Thanks for getting back to me so fast.

        1. Ian

          OMG IM DYING THATS SO FUNNY!

      2. Chris Cameron

        Hi Nisha, I also made the same mistake (it’s soooo spicy). I already added some extra diced tomatoes to dilute the spice a bit, but any other ideas to calm it down a bit? I made so much of it (double batch) and I hate wasting food!

        1. Nisha Vora

          Hi Chris, oh no! I’m sorry to hear, I can imagine it’s very spicy. A few options. You can add more liquid to dilute it. The chili should be quite thick so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to add more liquid. You can also try adding more lime juice, as acidic ingredients help balance spiciness. You could also mix in a cooked grain such as quinoa or rice, to diffuse the intensity of the spiciness across the food. If you have vegan sour cream or yogurt, you can serve with a generous dollop of that as a nice cooling balance. I’ve heard that adding a spoon or two of nut butter can help, but haven’t tried it myself. Also, the chili will mellow out somewhat once it rests in the fridge overnight. I hope some of these techniques will be useful for you!

  14. Denise

    Just made this today and it was so good! I added finely chopped carrot. Yum!

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Denise, glad you enjoyed this chili and adding carrots sounds like a great addition :) Thank you for sharing!

  15. Luna

    Oh my…. i tried making this Smoky Sweet potato , Pinto beans chilli and i can’t believe it turned out soooo good! We ate it with toasted garlic bread and put vegan cheese on top and some nutritional yeast . Very rich flavour! Thank you very much for sharing this recipe Nisha. I used Insta pot to cook this and used 2 jalapeno 😋 More power to you😊

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Luna, thank you for your lovely feedback. I am so happy you loved this recipe so much :) Serving this with garlic bread sounds AMAZING. I need to try that myself. And great to hear you used your instant pot – this recipe is such a good way to use it!

  16. Alexis Gross

    This was a great change of pace from our usual chili recipe! Made it in the pressure cooker and gave it a little mash to thicken it. Thanks for a quick and delicious recipe!I checked out your book from the library right before quarantine and it’s been a great companion in these trying times!

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Alexis, I’m so glad you enjoyed this chili recipe and it was a nice variation from the usual. I love making chili in my Instnat Pot and I bet that, with the mash, made the texture amazing :) So nice to hear you have my cookbook to give you some inspiration during quarantine cooking!

  17. Maneesha

    YUM!! I just made this and love it!! You’re absolutely right! It does taste so much richer after sitting for at least 20 mins!

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