Vegetarian chili mac is a classic comfort food recipe that's made in one pot in just 30 minutes. This recipe is like a plant-based combination of chili and mac and cheese, and it is super easy to make!
Chili mac is a dinner recipe that I find myself making more than any other recipe on the blog. It's flavorful, cheesy, family-friendly and one of those recipes that even the pickiest non-vegetarians love!
This recipe is inspired by the chili mac that I grew up eating. My family sometimes calls this goulash, though technically it isn't goulash. It's actually inspired by Steak n Shake chili mac, which uses spaghetti instead of elbow pasta.
Why make this recipe
- Healthy comfort food: Cheesy and comforting but filled with plant-based protein and veggies.
- Quick and easy: Made in one pot in just 30 minutes! This is a fuss-free meal that only requires 10 minutes of active time.
- Vegan and gluten-free optional: You can make chili mac vegan by omitting the cheese or replacing it with vegan shreds. Make it gluten-free using gluten-free pasta.
- Kidney beans: I use a mix of light red and dark red kidney beans. Pinto beans, red beans, and even black beans work well. Choose cans labeled “no added salt” or use beans cooked from dry to limit added salt.
- Tomatoes: Crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce make the chili base. Tomato sauce usually comes in 4-ounce, 8-ounce, or 16-ounce containers.
- Pasta: Elbow macaroni is my go-to pasta for chili mac because it’s what is usually used in mac and cheese. However, any short or medium-grain pasta works. Try using whole wheat pasta or protein pasta for a healthy swap.
- Cumin, chili powder, and oregano are used for classic chili flavors.
- Cheese: Shredded cheddar is my go-to, but you can also use Monterrey jack.
Step by step instructions
Vegetarian chili mac is a great weeknight meal because it's as simple as chopping a handful of vegetables, sauteing them, then simmering.
- Saute veggies: Heat a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle in the olive oil. Once hot, sauté onions and mushrooms until softened.
- Add garlic and sauté until aromatic. Stir in the spices, stirring frequently, and cook for 30 seconds to bloom the spices.
- Add the liquids: Pour in the vegetable broth, crushed tomatoes with their juices, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil over high heat.
- Simmer: Once boiling, add the pasta and beans. Stir to prevent pasta from sticking to itself. Reduce to a rapid simmer and simmer until pasta is cooked.
- Finishing touches: Stir in the cheese, taste for seasonings, and serve.
- Gluten-free: Simply use gluten-free pasta to make this recipe gluten-free.
- For a more traditional and "meatier" chili mac texture, vegetarian/vegan "meatless grounds" (AKA meatless ground beef) can be added after cooking. Or try adding vegan tempeh taco meat.
- Spice: Add finely diced jalapeno or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper for a spicier result.
- Vegan option: This recipe is easy to make dairy-free/vegan by using vegan shreds in place of cheddar cheese. My go-to is Chao cheese shreds but I also like Miyoko's cheddar.
- Mushrooms: Several readers have noted that they don't like adding mushrooms to their chili mac. I chop them very finely and add them for their "meaty" texture. Omit them if desired.
- Toppings: Sour cream, extra shredded cheddar, sliced green onions, cilantro and a dash of hot sauce are my go-to toppings.
- Consistency: If your chili mac is still too liquidy when the pasta is finished cooking, keep the pot uncovered and continue to simmer the pot over medium-low heat. Simmering will evaporate excess liquid and continue thickening the sauce. The sauce becomes much thicker after refrigerating because the pasta continues to absorb the sauce.
- Pasta cook times: Cook times for pasta will vary based on brand. Cook until the pasta is al dente, or fork tender, for best results.
- Stir often: To ensure even cooking, stir the pasta occasionally while cooking.
- Bring the liquids to a boil before adding pasta and leave the pot uncovered while cooking the pasta.
Storage and reheating
- Leftovers: Refrigerate leftovers in a closed container for 3-4 days.
- Reheating: Reheat in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, or until warmed through. Add an extra splash of vegetable broth as needed.
- Freezing: Let the chili mac cool before transferring it to a freezer-safe container. I like to freeze it in individual portions for quick meals. Let thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
More vegetarian dinner ideas
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One Pot Vegetarian Chili Mac
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces white mushrooms finely chopped
- 1 medium white onion finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 10 ounces dry elbow pasta
- 2 15 ounce cans kidney beans drained and rinsed
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- chopped green onions for topping
- chopped fresh cilantro for topping
- sour cream for topping (optional)
- Heat a 6 quart pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Once hot, drizzle in the olive oil and let heat. Add the chopped mushrooms and diced onions. Sprinkle with salt. Sauté for 6-8 minutes, or until the onions and mushrooms have softened an released their juices.
- Add the garlic and sauté a minute more, or until golden and aromatic.
- Add chili powder, cumin, oregano and black pepper. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring continuously to prevent burning.
- Pour in the crushed tomatoes (with juices), tomato sauce, and vegetable broth. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add the elbow noodles and kidney beans. Stir to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Boil uncovered until pasta is tender (see note 1).
- Once the pasta is cooked, turn off heat and stir in cheddar cheese. Serve topped with fresh cilantro, sour cream and sliced green onions. Enjoy!
- Pasta: Pasta cook time will vary based on brand. Cook pasta until al dente, or fork tender.
- Beans: I use light red kidney beans and dark red kidney beans. Alternately, you can use whatever bean you have on hand, like black beans or white beans.
- To keep the sodium down, choose cans labeled "reduced sodium" or "no added salt". Choose low sodium vegetable broth and add salt to taste at the end.
- This meal can be portioned into large or individual containers and frozen for up to 3 months. These are the containers I use. It will need to thaw in the fridge for up to 24 hours before enjoying.
- You can watch the full step-by-step recipe video on my YouTube.