Slow Cooker Two Lentil Chili
5 from 2 votes

This slow cooker two lentil chili features both red and brown lentils for a great combination of textures—not to mention tons of plant protein. This is a “set it and forget it” recipe that comes together entirely through slow cooking, so it’s the perfect easy make-ahead meal. One batch of the chili will give you nearly a week’s worth of flavorful, healthy, hearty dinners!

An angled image of a shallow white bowl, which is being used to hold a plant-based lentil chili and garnishes.

Gosh, I love a slow cooker meal.

No matter how consistent I try to be with my vegan meal prep, I get into so many panicked moments of thinking, “I have no time to cook this week.”

What to do in such moments? Of course I can rely on convenient, store-bought products—and there’s a lot of wisdom in doing so.

I also live in a city that is thankfully full of options for takeout.

No solution, however, will be as economical or satisfying as finding a recipe that:

  • Requires minimal cooking effort
  • Features inexpensive ingredients
  • Yields a lot of food (read: multiple dinners and plenty left over to freeze)
  • Tastes delicious

This vegan two lentil chili is just such a recipe. I can’t think of too many meals that come together with so little work as this one. Beyond that, it’s flavorful and super nutritious.

In other words, the chili can be your lifesaver during a busy week! And if you don’t keep it all to yourself for meal prep, you can share it with friends. It’s great for big gatherings.

The benefits of slow cooking

I get so many reader requests for recipes that fall into the category of 30 minutes or less.

While I try to provide options along those lines, like my cozy vegan tortellini soup or easy chickpea scramble, I’ve learned that sometimes the solution isn’t a recipe that’s faster.

Actually, it’s a recipe that’s slower.

Use of a slow cooker will allow you to create a meal in an almost or entirely hands-off fashion. No stirring, simmering, or roasting. No babysitting the dish or checking multiple times for doneness. The machine does the work for you.

Slow cookers are electric kitchen appliances that cook food slowly, over low heat for a long period of time. Most slow cookers have a “high” and a “low” setting.

In general, the “low” setting is for recipes that will cook for eight hours or more. The “high” setting can have food ready in four hours or so.

With most of the slow cookers that I’ve used, both settings will get your food to the same place. In other words, you can use whichever one of them fits your schedule better, with similar results.

I like the flavor development that happens over eight or more hours of cooking. I think that’s especially true for this lentil chili, as well as for soups. More time in the slow cooker = more time for flavors to mingle.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with the high setting if you’re in a rush, relatively speaking.

“Set it and forget it”

This expression is often used to describe the value of slow cooking. You add your ingredients to the slow cooker, set a cooking time and temperature, and go about your day.

The truth is that it can be a little more involved than that. Some vegan slow cooker recipes call for sautéing ingredients, such as onions, carrots, or celery, prior to adding them to the slow cooker.

Why? Once again, for flavor development.

Sautéing over high heat will lend deep, savory and sweet notes to onion. It will help to bring out more flavor from the famous “trinity” of onion, pepper, and celery before using it as a base for recipes.

For me, this step can feel like a barrier. When I’m inclined to use my slow cooker, it’s nearly always because I’m especially busy or stressed or short on time.

In other words, I’m probably in the midst of a moment in which any amount of sautéing will feel like more work than I want to be doing.

For this reason, I usually just dump my ingredients into the slow cooker, set a time and temperature, and hope for the best.

It’s possible that this prevents me from building as much flavor as I would with an initial sautéing step. But I think the psychological comfort and ease of not having to do any active cooking is worthwhile.

I’ve also found that my food doesn’t suffer too much as a result. This two lentil chili, for example, tastes great—in spite of the fact that I don’t begin with sautéing the onions and peppers.

What type of slow cooker do you recommend?

Currently, I use the Wolf multicooker as my slow cooker.

It is a very high-end appliance that was gifted to me by the brand, and I’ll admit that I don’t use all of its functions (such as the searing setting for meat, or the sous vide setting).

However, this is not the only slow cooker that I’ve worked with. For years, I used a Hamilton Beach slow cooker with simple settings (“keep warm,” “low,” and “high”).

The machine was totally adequate for my needs. In general, I think that slow cookers are appliances that can be had at a really good value.

Yes, there are multicookers that offer more functionality, but if slow cooking specifically is what you want, then an economical model will probably suit you well.

As a side note, I’m often asked about Instant Pot conversions for my recipes, including slow cooker recipes. I’ve never had an Instant Pot, so unfortunately, I can’t comment from firsthand cooking experience.

Why a two lentil chili?

Evidently, this isn’t just a recipe for lentil chili. It’s a chili made with two types of lentils, red and brown (or green).

This is an idea that was inspired by this post from Susan and also by a recipe in Robin Robertson’s book Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker, a terrific resource for vegan slow cooker recipes.

Why the two legumes, rather than one?

An overhead, close-up image of an orange-hued lentil chili that's being eaten with a spoon.
Use of two types of lentils, red and brown, gives this chili some interesting texture contrast, as well as heartiness.

The answer is texture! Red lentils and brown lentils have two separate cooking times. Red lentils cook in about 12-15 minutes, while brown lentils need about 25-35 minutes.

Thanks in part to their fast cooking time, red lentils seem to “melt” into dishes with a fair amount of liquid, such as soups, stews, and chilis (like this one). They help to thicken the dish.

On the other hand, brown lentils hold their shape through the cooking process. As a result, they provide a “meaty” texture.

I always have a lot of different lentils at home for the many vegan lentil recipes that are a regular part of my routine.

Lentils are one of my favorite sources of plant protein, so it takes no convincing for me to maximize how many of them I use in a recipe.

Slow cooker two lentil chili ingredients

This lentil chili features ingredients that you may have at home, in your pantry and fridge. I’ll say a few words about the main ones.

Vegetables

The chili features onion, peppers, garlic, and sweet potato. They lend lots of flavor and color to the recipe, not to mention great nutrition!

Sweet potatoes, in particular, are one of my favorite means of enriching a recipe with fiber, complex carbs, Beta carotene, and Vitamin C.

Spices

Chili powder, cumin, oregano, and smoked paprika are the spices that give the lentil chili its flavor and character.

Smoked paprika, in particular, helps to impart a “smoky” flavor that is often provided by meat in conventional chili recipes.

Molasses

The recipe calls for one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. You can certainly omit this, if you don’t have the molasses at home. But I think it’s a good addition.

The blackstrap molasses will help to accentuate the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. It adds a depth to the chili that’s subtle, but very much there.

As well, blackstrap molasses is a great source of vegan iron (though in fairness, it doesn’t do much heavy lifting when there’s only a tablespoon present in a voluminous recipe like this one).

Tomatoes

Fire roasted, diced tomatoes and tomato paste will be give flavor, color, and the phytonutrient lycopene to the lentil chili.

I also love using tomatoes in hearty, savory recipes like this one because they’re a source of umami. Umami is often described as savoriness. Nutritionally, it’s the taste perception of protein.

In other words, umami can contribute to a vegan recipe some of the qualities that people pick up on in omnivorous recipes.

I think that’s good news when it comes to authentic plant-based versions of classic comfort food dishes.

Lentils

Lentils are, of course, the primary ingredient in this lentil chili.

Both red and brown lentils can be found in most grocery stores, as well as health food stores and co-ops.

If you need to replace the red lentils, you can use yellow lentils (not to be confused with yellow split peas), which have a similarly fast cooking time.

The brown lentils can be regular brown or pardina lentils. It’s fine to replace them with green lentils, if that’s what you have.

Broth or water

You can use vegan chicken-stye broth, vegetable broth, or water as the liquid for simmering your lentil chili.

I think chicken-style broth is especially good in this recipe, but either of the other two options will work nicely.

How to make chili in the slow cooker

While I can’t speak for every slow cooker chili recipe, I can tell you that there are essentially only three steps to making this two lentil chili.

Step 1: Prep your ingredients

There’s some amount of chopping required to make the chili: onions, bell and jalapeño pepper, minced garlic.

Fortunately, that chopping and mincing is the most labor-intensive step in the whole recipe.

Step 2: Add all ingredients to your slow cooker

This is a fun step! Just dump everything into the slow cooker. No special order, no pre-sautéing, and nothing ceremonious required.

Step 3: Set it and forget it

The chili will cook on low heat for eight hours or high heat for four.

I prefer a longer slow cooking time for this particular recipe, so it’s a good one to make overnight. However, the shorter cook time on higher heat is a fine option of that fits your schedule.

Can I make the chili on the stovetop?

The answer is yes!

Much as I intend for this to be a slow cooker chili recipe, I understand that not everyone has, or wants to purchase, a slow cooker.

That is totally OK. I include instructions for stovetop cooking in the recipe card, so you’ll be able to convert for that cooking method.

The Vegan Week

Embrace the joy of eating homemade food every day with the hearty and wholesome recipes in The Vegan Week.

Whether you have three, two, or even just one hour of time to spare, The Vegan Week will show you how to batch cook varied, colorful, and comforting dishes over the weekend.

Meal prep & storage

The lentil chili can be a wonderful option for weekly vegan meal prep dinners and lunches.

Store the chili in an airtight container in the fridge. Once prepared, it can keep for up to five days in the fridge, and it can also be frozen for up to eight weeks.

How to serve two lentil chili (garnishes and accompaniments)

You can serve the lentil chili over brown rice (my usual chili accompaniment) or my simple, whole grain vegan cornbread.

It’s also really nice to scoop the chili over a baked sweet potato or regular potato.

Many simple vegetable side dishes could work as an accompaniment. My quick steamed green beans with Dijon vinaigrette, butter lettuce side salad, spice roasted cabbage steak wedges, and grilled corn avocado salad would all be great.

As far as toppings go, here are a few suggestions:

No matter how you serve it, I hope you’ll love this fiber-rich, protein-packed, comforting bowl of goodness.

An angled image of a shallow white bowl, which is being used to hold a plant-based lentil chili and garnishes.
An angled image of a shallow white bowl, which is being used to hold a plant-based lentil chili and garnishes.
5 from 2 votes

Slow Cooker Two Lentil Chili

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 15 minutes
Yields: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, trimmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, trimmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, trimmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 sweet potato, cubed
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses (optional)
  • 3 cups fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (one 28-ounce / 400g can tomatoes, with their juices)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste (60g)
  • 1 cup red lentils (200g)
  • 1 cup brown or green lentils (200g)
  • 4 cups vegan chicken-style broth, vegetable broth, or water (1 qt; more as needed)

Optional topping suggestions:

Instructions

Slow cooker instructions

  • Place all ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker. Cook on the low heat setting for 8 hours or high heat for 4 hours.
  • When the chili is finished, check the consistency. Add additional broth or water if needed, to reach a consistency that you like. Taste the chili and adjust lime juice, salt, and crushed red pepper to taste. Serve with accompaniments of choice.

Stovetop cooking instructions

  • To prepare the chili over the stove, heat a tablespoon of avocado oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers. Sauté for five minutes, stirring often, or until the onions are translucent and all vegetables are tender.
  • Add the garlic to the pot. Sauté the ingredients for another minute, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant.
  • Add all remaining ingredients to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 35-40 minutes, or until all of the lentils are tender. Taste the chili and adjust lime juice, salt, and crushed red pepper to taste. Serve with accompaniments of choice.

Notes

Chili leftovers will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge. They can be frozen for up to 1 month.

There’s really nothing better than the feeling of having a huge, hearty batch of food in the fridge or freezer.

Yes, there are times when takeout is the best, most self-compassionate option. But strategic use of a slow cooker, ironically, turns comfort food into fast food.

An angled image of a shallow white bowl, which is being used to hold a plant-based lentil chili and garnishes.

Here’s hoping that you—and maybe a crew of family or friends—will enjoy the chili soon!

xo

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Categories: Main Dishes
Method: Slow Cooker
Ingredients: Lentils, Sweet Potato, Tomatoes
Dietary Preferences: Gluten Free, No Oil, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free, Vegan
Recipe Features: Meal Prep

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    16 Comments
  1. The photography on your recipes is so good, I always know what the food is supposed to look like at the end of the cooking process! I’m going to try this one next. Thanks!

  2. This recipe looks amazing! Chili is definitely one of my favorite dishes and I’m always finding new ways to re-create it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love the sound of this recipe! It is really motivational! Keep up the good work!

  4. Don’t know why I’ve never tried adding lentils to chilli before – but what a great idea to get that thickening texture – thanks! H

  5. I love the flavours in this recipe. Smoked paprika is also one of my fave spices, it just makes a dish pop! I really want to try this out, I’ve never actually made a slow cooker recipe but my mom has one so it is a good opportunity to try it out! 🙂

  6. This is a winner, Gena! I, too, have played with both Susan’s and Robin Robertson’s versions, and I like yours too. I am also a smoked paprika gal–I totally love it in just about everything! I really do like how the red lentils melt into this kind of chili and I bet the sweet potatoes accentuate that. Thanks for another inspiring version! xo

  7. What a great idea to pair the red and brown lentils together for this one! I always make sure to have both stocked in the pantry, but I’ve never tried them together. And thanks for reminding me to get my slow cooker out again. I actually love using it, but if often gets forgotten on a back shelf. Brown rice is always our favorite to go together with chili as well. 🙂

  8. Despite the hot weather, I’m totally into chili and other soup recipes right now. This one looks like a winner!

  9. Apart from the fact that this is my kind of food, I cannot get over how gorgeous these shots are. Did you take them. In LOVE!

    Thank you so much for inspiring with your lovely recipes. I’ve missed them.

  10. Weirdly enough I’ve also been on a soups/stews kick, even though it’s been super hot here in CT. So I have no objection to having chili in the summer heat! 😉

  11. Omg, lentil chili with sweet potatoes and avocado sounds like the best thing ever right now!

  12. I really love the idea to add Avocado on top. Never saw this before. I really love lentils because I am a vegetarian and I Need to find some healthy Protein Food. xoxo Janine

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