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 41 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 41 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. 

Calories: 405kcal | Carbohydrates: 75g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Sodium: 1081mg | Potassium: 1573mg | Fiber: 20g | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin A: 14611IU | Vitamin C: 34mg | Calcium: 250mg | Iron: 8mg

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76 comments on Smoky Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili

  1. Randy

    5 stars
    I just finished making and eating this Smoky Sweet Potato Chili. I made the Instant Pot version. My wife and I loved it. My jalapeños were hot so I only added one. I did add two Chipotle peppers in Adobe sauce and that was a real kicker! A lot of heat and very nice smokiness. I cut some of the heat by drizzling some of my homemade soy yogurt on top. It was a real nice way to finish the recipe off. This recipe will go in my frequent rotation list.
    Thanks

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Randy!

  2. Randy

    How do I modify for dry pinto beans in the instant pot?

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi there Randy, we suggest using the Instant Pot to cook the beans ahead of time. Here’s a blog post detailing how to do so!: https://rainbowplantlife.com/how-to-cook-beans-in-the-instant-pot/.

  3. Pixie

    5 stars
    This Chili was so good. I added chopped celery and mushrooms and only used 1/2 Tbsp of cumin(not my favorite spice) and it was absolutely one of the best recipe chili’s (I usually just wing it ) I have ever had. Hubby loved it too! It’s defiantly going into the favorites rotation. I will be trying more recipes soon. Thank you

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Pixie!

  4. Lisa

    5 stars
    This is now one of my “go to” recipes. I have made it several times, and it is incredibly delicious!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Lisa, So glad to hear you love this recipe! :) Thanks for sharing!

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