Gluten free chili

Ok, Boston–I’m finally giving up the ghost and admitting that winter is around the corner. Cold weather always makes me crave one thing: a big, heaping bowl of chili. Chili is the ultimate comfort food for me since it was one of our go-to recipes growing up. The thing I love most about chili is just how dang versatile it is–we used to eat ours vegetarian so that we could have cheese on top (ah the joys of keeping kosher) but now I love my chili with some lean ground meat or turkey. I’ll share the basic recipe we’ve used for years, and then offer up some ways to alter it.


Note: I like my chili to be pretty thick–there will be no watery or soupy chili up in my house. This recipe makes a sturdy, hearty chili, but if you like a thinner/more soup-like texture, feel free to cut down on the rice (or quinoa, whatever floats your boat).

The easiest chili ingredients!
The easiest chili ingredients!

Chili a la David (this is what my mom’s recipe card says)

1/2 cup rice, 1 cup water

1 tbsp. oil

1 onion, sliced

2 tbsp. chili powder (for medium, 1.5 for mild or 3 for hot)

1 dash garlic powder

1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

1 can kidney beans including the liquid

2 tbsp. white vinegar


Cook rice. Saute onions in oil and stir in cooked rice. Add spices and then beans and sauce. Put over low heat for 45 min or so, til it thickens up. Makes 3 small servings (we usually double it).


How easy AND affordable is that?? I bet you have most of the ingredients sitting in your pantry! This is the basic, vegetarian (and incidentally also free of gluten and dairy) version. Here are my tips, tricks, and additions if you want to get all fancy with it:

  1. Dress it up! Serve with chips, cornbread, or a green salad. My favorite toppings are cheddar cheese (family favorite: Cabot seriously sharp), chopped scallions/chives, greek yogurt, or sour cream. The sky’s the limit–go crazy here!!

    Topped with cheese and avo, and accompanied by cornbread, because YUM.
    Topped with cheese and avo, and accompanied by cornbread, because YUM.
  2. Add it in! If you’re cooking for kids or picky grown-ups, chili is a great way to sneak in some extra veggies. I’ve added sweet potato (pre-cooked), kale, peppers, butternut squash, zucchini, and spinach, but pretty much anything would work. Add them in close to the end of the cooking time so they don’t get too mushy.

    Sneaking some extra tomatoes in (shh don't tell)
    Sneaking some extra tomatoes in (shh don’t tell)
  3. Get spicy! The basic recipe tastes amazing, but I’ve tweaked it over the years to increase the depth of flavor and spice. I like to add a couple of shakes of red pepper flakes (perhaps my all-time favorite spice) while the onions are sauteeing. One of my GFFs suggested adding a couple of tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder–a definite “wow” factor if mole is your thing. Also, the brand of chili powder you use makes a big difference. To really treat yo self, try Penzey’s.
  4. Pump up the protein! Adding meat into the recipe is a great way to switch things up. I recommend half a pound or so of ground meat of your choice. You vegetarians can also use fake meat crumbles and never know the difference, but keep in mind most brands are not gluten free. Curse you, Morningstar!
  5. Get creative! Pretty much everything in this recipe is super replaceable. I’ve subbed the rice for brown rice or quinoa (or a mix) and used black beans, lentils, white beans, or light kidney beans as substitutes for the kidney beans.

Happy chili eating!

– Leah

2 thoughts on “Gluten free chili

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