Texas Tofu Chili

December 16, 2007 at 12:59 pm (A (4 stars, love, favorite), Beans, frozen tofu, Isa C. Moskowitz, Mexican & S. American, Mom’s recipes, Tofu)

Every vegetarian cookbook has a chili recipe. Some are interesting, some are bland, some are just weird. I’ve tried recipes with exotic ingredients like dried peaches, cinnamon, and peanuts. This recipe, however, makes a very traditional chili (ignoring the fact that it has tofu instead of meat). Maybe I’m biased because this is based on my mom’s recipe, but I like it better than any of the other chili recipes I’ve tried, including various recipes claiming to be the “best ever vegetarian chili.”

This is a large recipe, but I’d encourage everyone to make at least half the recipe. Chili freezes well, and it is way more versatile than one would think at first. One pot of chili can create so many different lunches and dinners. One of my favorite winter lunches is a quarter of a roasted butternut squash, topped with a cup of chili. The sweet squash and salty, spicy, slightly acidic chili make a great flavor combination in which the squash seems sweeter and the chili more rich and savory than either does alone. Plus, the red and brown and oranges together look beautiful. Another tasty lunch is to spread 1/2 cup of chili on a toasted whole-wheat tortilla, and combine with a cup of a vegetable-based soup, a salad, or a bowl of steamed vegetables with a tasty sauce. Chili can also be baked under cornbread for a delicious tamale pie or used as an enchilada filling (it goes great with a green sauce).

For the tofu (makes about 3.5-4 cups, but the extras are very tasty!):

  • 1.75 – 2 pounds tofu, frozen, thawed, and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 Tbs. peanut butter
  • 3 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce (from a 14 ounce can)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

For the chili:

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, chopped (about 2 cups) [my mom only uses 1/2 an onion]
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (about 4 tsp.)
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 jalepeno or other hot chili, minced (seeds and ribs removed if very spicy)
  • 3 Tbs. chili powder (may need more depending on brand)
  • 3/8 tsp. chipotle powder (optional)
  • 1 Tbs. cumin
  • 3 cups of lightly salted pinto beans, in their own juice (i.e. almost all beans with juice just filling in the spaces)
  • 1.5 cups tomato sauce (this will be the rest of a 14 ounce can, after using some for the tofu)
  • 3-4 cups bean cooking liquid (supplement with vegetable broth or water if you don’t have enough bean liquid left)
  • 3 cups whole tomatoes with juice (1 large can, break tomatoes up with hands)
  • 3/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2-1 1/4 tsp. salt (depending on how salty your beans and tomatoes are)
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 3 cups of frozen tofu, prepared as above (from about 1.5 pounds of tofu)


  1. Soak and then cook the beans.  If you want to get exactly 3 cups of beans you should start with about 1.33 cup dry pintos, 6 cups of water, and 1 1/4 tsp. salt.  But then you will only get out about 2 cups of bean broth.  Instead, I suggest cooking 1 pound of dry pintos (2 1/3 cups) with 10 cups of water and 2 tsp. fine salt.  You should get about 3 cups of bean broth.  You can freeze the extra beans (about 2.25 cups extra).
  2. Mix together peanut butter, garlic powder, soy sauce, and tomato sauce. Work the marinade mixture thoroughly into the tofu crumbles, using your hands.
  3. Heat 1 Tbs. of oil in a 5- to 6-quart stockpot or dutch oven. Sauté green pepper, onions, jalepeno, and garlic together. Add another 2 Tbs. of oil and add the tofu. Stir occasionally, sautéing until crispy. Add the chili powder, cumin, and chipotle powder, toasting briefly.
  4. Next add the pinto beans, the tomatoes, the rest of the tomato sauce, and the bean cooking liquid. Season with salt, garlic powder, and oregano. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the frozen corn. For the best flavor let sit overnight.
  5. See serving suggestions above.  You may want to garnish with a little sharp cheddar, feta, creme fraiche or avocado.

Makes about 15 cups.  Serves 8 as a main dish.

This recipe is still not quite right: it seems I always have to fiddle with it to get the chili tasting how I want it. I’ll get it there eventually though.

The key seems to be getting the right ratio of tomato products to non-tomato liquid (bean broth or water) to chili powder.  If you have too much tomato in relation to bean broth the chili tastes too much like Italian pasta sauce.  Adding the water doesn’t just thin it down — it radically changes the flavor. Too little tomato, however, and the chili doesn’t have enough acidity and it doesn’t taste right.  Even with the right ratio of tomato to broth, though, if you don’t have enough chili powder, it just tastes like tomato-y beans.  Use too much chili powder, however, and it’s too bitter and sometimes too spicy.

Update Nov 13, 2013:

I’ve made this recipe several times now adding finely chopped mushrooms (button or crimini) along with the onion. I can’t detect them at all in the final chili but it’s an easy way to use up leftover mushrooms and it adds a bit of extra nutrition, so if you have mushrooms lying around feel free to throw them in.

Last time I made the chili I added in some pumpkin seed butter and although I couldn’t pick it out I think it added an extra bit of complexity.

The instructions say to saute the tofu in the pot you’re going to make the chili in, but I usually do it on an oiled cookie sheet in the oven.  One cookie sheet fits about 3 blocks of tofu very well.  So last time I used 3 blocks of tofu and ended up filling my 5-liter pot full of chili. I froze a bit but Derek and I polished off the rest of it in under a week. Normally Derek complains when I make chili but for some reason he loved this batch!

Here are some other chili recipes that I’ve blogged:


  1. austingardener said,

    It is good if the liquid is bean juice or vegetable broth.
    And I like to add fresh cilantro to the bowl of chili.

  2. Brandon said,

    I made this last night and simmered it overnight for our office chili cookoff.

    Not only did it win most original, but it also got quite a few comments on its heat.

    Thanks for the post!


  3. captious said,

    I’m glad you liked the chili, but heat? This recipe? Where I come from this would not be considered spicy, unless you used a habanero instead of a jalepeno.

  4. An Honest Day’s Work « Forks and Needles said,

    […] dinner tonight, I made two options: a tofu chili loosely based on this recipe and yellow tofu curry. Since we don’t have time to cook dinner during the week, we have to […]

  5. nikki said,

    So amazing. We make this recipe once a fortnight. So glad I stumbled on it.

  6. TV Deals said,

    Thank goodness some bloggers can still write. Thanks for this writing

  7. Vegetarian Chili, Serious Eats Style « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] black bean soup reasonably well.) In the end I’ve always remained loyal to my mom’s chili recipe.  The addition of the frozen, marinated, baked tofu raises it several notches above any purely […]

  8. What I’ve been eating lately « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] mom’s tofu chili recipe, except the last time I made it I didn’t have any corn and instead added about a pound […]

  9. My time-saving kitchen tips | The captious vegetarian said,

    […] Other dishes I make extra of and freeze: lentil soup, caulitots, banana pancakes, hummus, baked oatmeal, black bean and sweet potato burritos, my Mom’s tofu chili. […]

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