Grandma’s Chili: Traditional or Vegetarian

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Grandma's Chili_Traditional and Vegetarian Version

You may have noticed that we have a section called Heirloom Recipes.  These are old family recipes that have been passed down to us to continue the tradition.  Most of time, we grow up knowing when a recipe has been passed down.  I have fond memories of trips to California, where I would watch my dad’s father pick lemons right off his tree and then make the best lemon meringue pie ever.  But that’s a recipe for another day!

Today, I’m talking about chili.  The chili my mom made all through my childhood.  I never questioned or even thought about the origin of that chili recipe until my brother got married.  That first Christmas, I made my new sister-in-law a cookbook that included some of the family recipes that I had.  When I mentioned this project to my mother, she replied, “Well, you’ll include your grandmother’s chili, of course.”  So, apparently I had an heirloom chili recipe all along and didn’t know it!

Grandma's Chili, Traditional Recipe

Now I had to adapt this recipe a bit.  As you know, I cook vegetarian at home, so this meaty chili recipe sat gathering dust for awhile.  I made it once early on in our marriage with those soy crumbles and Tim loved it, but we try to avoid the fake meat most of the time, so it went back on the shelf. 

Earlier this year, I pulled it back out.  As I’ve gained experience, I have made vegetarian versions of lots of other recipes and felt certain that this would be an easy recipe to convert.  Sure enough, I just added some sauteed mushrooms instead of the meat.  I love mushrooms, so I actually like the vegetarian version better!  Of course, you can make this the traditional way, or substitute ground turkey for the ground beef if you prefer.  I’ve got both recipes below.


Grandma's Chili, Vegetarian Version

Grandma’s Chili: Traditional or Vegetarian

Yield: 4-6 servings

Grandma’s Chili: Traditional or Vegetarian


  • Traditional: 3 lbs. ground beef or turkey
  • Vegetarian: 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced, and 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes
  • 1 can (11-12 oz) tomato juice
  • 1 can (15 oz) chile beans—hot
  • 1 can (15 oz) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3-4 tbs. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • Dash or two of hot pepper sauce (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 oz spaghetti noodles


  1. Traditional version: Brown ground beef in a large skillet with onions. Drain well and transfer to a large soup pan over medium high heat. Add chili powder and stir to combine.
  2. Vegetarian version: Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add sliced mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid and are soft, about 10-15 minutes. At the same time, heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a soup pan over medium high heat, and add the onions and chili powder. Cook until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the soup pan.
  3. Both versions: Add the tomato juice, both cans of beans, the garlic powder, and the hot pepper sauce. Add the can of whole tomatoes, juice and all, chopping up the tomatoes as you go.
  4. Simmer on low for 30-45 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Bring a separate pot of water to a rolling boil. Break the spaghetti noodles into thirds, and then add to the boiling water. Cook, stirring frequently until the noodles are barely done, about 8-9 minutes. They will continue to soften in the chili, so don’t overcook.
  6. Add noodles to the chili, stir to combine and serve. Also great topped with grated cheddar cheese or crushed crackers.