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 21 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 21 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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47 comments on Smoky Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili

  1. Jillian

    Wow – what fantastic flavors! This is a must try dish and will be going in our meal rotation for sure! I bought your cookbook the same day I got my Instant Pot and couldn’t be happier! For this recipe I did add a diced red bell pepper as my onion was on the small side. My curiosity is about the size of the diced sweet potato. I found that after cooking the potato turned fairly mushy and evaporated into the chili. I think I expected them to remain a bit more on the chunky side. Would you recommend a larger dice next time I make this? Also, I borrowed a note from your cookbook – I stirred everything together in the Instant Pot and then topped the mixture with the canned tomatoes (didn’t stir them in) before sealing the pot and cooking so as not to activite the burn warning. This worked perfectly.

  2. jessica

    5 stars
    This is so flavorful! I left out the jalapeños so it wouldn’t be as spicy for the little one and added two extra cans of beans because why not. Made this on the stove top. Next time I will serve it with cornbread (too hot to turn the oven on where we live right now). Thanks again for another great meal!!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Tasty, Jessica! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. Esther

    5 stars
    I made this recipe and I was surprised with how much my 16 months old twins had: it was a huge hit with them! As much as I like internet, I love to have good cookbooks with the recipes I like on hand (I have a nice collection). Are the blog recipes in the book too or are just new creations? I am sure it will be great any way, but I would like to know in advance :) Thanks!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      There are a few recipes on the blog that are also in the Instant Pot cookbook but you’ll find a lot of unique recipes in the cookbook! Nisha is also writing another cookbook as we speak :)

  4. Subir

    5 stars
    10/10 recipe. I served this over a bed of brown rice as described in the recipe. Very easy to make. Great smoky flavor. Highly recommend!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Subir. Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to review. So glad you loved the recipe :)

  5. David

    5 stars
    Just made this as my inaugural Instant Pot recipe and man did it deliver. Just the right amount of spice, excellent flavor (can’t wait to see what it tastes like after it’s rested in the fridge for a day!). Definitely the best vegan chili I’ve had. Made some cornbread with it (https://simpleveganblog.com/vegan-cornbread/ not to advertise for a competitor but this cornbread is fantastic) and they went together better than I could’ve imagined. Seriously, what a combo. Thanks for the awesome recipe and thanks for having a whole Instant Pot section on your website :D

    1. Nisha

      Hi David, I’m so glad this was the first recipe you tried in your instant pot and you enjoyed it so much! Chili and cornbread is such a fantastic combination, so I’m sure it was even better :) Hope you’ll get to try some more instant pot recipes!

  6. Spencer

    5 stars
    Sitting in my kitchen waiting while this Chili’s simmers and thought I’d leave a review to say that my boyfriend and I love this recipe. We’ve probably made it about 10 times and it got us through the cold Chicago winter and is a great rent week recipe :)

  7. Janet

    5 stars
    Delicious, and good reminder I need to buy some oregano:)

  8. Carrie Sawdey

    I enjoyed reading this recipe. I like the fact that you wrote about the ingredients and what they add to the dish. I am going to try this dish

  9. Greg Willis

    5 stars
    It look delicious. Can’t wait to try 😋

  10. Candy

    5 stars
    I made this in the Dutch oven, but instead of letting it cook on the stove I put it in the oven on 350 for an hour to an hour and a half, so flavors can mingle.
    Also I did not use the chili’s and halved the chili powder, we are whimps, but did add two cans of del monte tomatoes with hatch chilies.

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