Willie Nelson’s Vegan Chile

by:  Farrah Shaikh

After wanting to create healthy recipes for himself and his wife, a certain red-headed stranger, Willie Nelson reached out to James Beard award winning chef and founder of the green market expansion efforts Wholesome Wave, Michel Nischan. Although Nelson is a meat-eater, his health-conscious wife enjoys vegan food so Nischan created two recipes for the pair. He shipped them a meat chili and vegan version with the recipes attached and the couple loved them.  In fact the Nelsons exclaimed: ‘Oh my God, this is the best f***ing chili we’ve ever tasted.’  Since then the couple has consistently requested the recipe.  In conjunction with SXSW Nischan and Nelson are hosting a potluck- style dinner benefiting Wholesome Wave at Willie’s Texas ranch and the signature dish: Nischan’s vegan chili.

A Texas-style chili is made with a ton of onions and beef or beans (depending on your dietary preference).  But Nischan’s vegan version emphasizes the chilies. “The key to this recipe is cooking the chile peppers Mexican style – toasting, blooming, rehydrating, pureeing and the long-cooking process. And any dry spices go and get hard toasted.”

Active Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours 45 minutes

Servings: 8 to 12


  • 2 cups dried posole, soaked at least 2 hours or overnight
  • 8 poblano chile peppers (2 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 dried New Mexico or pasilla chilies (about 1/4 ounce)
  • 1 pound carrots (6 medium), peeled and medium-diced
  • 1 pound parsnips (4 large), peeled and medium-diced
  • 3 pounds Spanish onions (5 medium), peeled and medium diced
  • 2 tablespoons organic raw sugar
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon New Mexico chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon salt, more as needed
  • 1/4 cup dried garlic flakes
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste (4 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, rinsed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans organic whole, fire-roasted tomatoes, with juices
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained, liquid reserved
  • 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • *Dairy-free or regular sour cream, for serving
  • *Dairy-free cheese, such as Daiya, or aged cheddar cheese, grated, for serving
  • Thinly sliced scallions, for serving
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving

* For vegetarian version, use sour cream and cheddar. For vegan, use vegan sour cream and Daiya cheese


1. Place posole in a large bowl and cover with plenty of cold water. Cover with plastic wrap and let soak at least 2 hours or overnight; drain. Place posole in a large pot and cover with fresh water by several inches; season lightly with salt. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the posole “blooms” or splits open, but is not quite tender, about 90 minutes. Drain, reserving all liquid.

2. While the posole cooks, roast poblanos on the open flame of a stovetop burner (alternatively, you can roast them under the broiler), turning occasionally, until uniformly blistered, 3 to 5 minutes per pepper. Place peppers in a paper bag or tightly covered bowl for 10 minutes. Remove and discard skin and seeds; dice peppers.3. Place a medium cast iron skillet over high heat. When pan is hot, drop in dried chilies and toast until slightly blackened, about 15 seconds per side. Remove stems and knock out inner seeds. Place chilies in a small bowl with enough boiling water to just cover the peppers. Cool to room temperature. Transfer chilies and liquid to a blender and puree until it forms a smooth sauce.

4. In a large bowl, combine carrots, parsnips, 3 cups diced onion, sugar, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon cumin, 2 teaspoons coriander, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Drizzle in 3 tablespoons oil and toss well. Spread vegetables onto two large rimmed baking sheets. Roast, tossing occasionally, until vegetables are deeply caramelized (edges should blacken slightly), 45 to 50 minutes.5. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over moderately high heat in the bottom of a large pot. Stir in remaining onion and 1 tablespoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in poblanos, dried garlic, 2 tablespoons cumin, 1 tablespoon coriander, and black pepper. Reduce to moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until spices are fragrant, darkened in color, and sticking to the bottom of the pot, about 5 minutes. Scrape bits from bottom of pot and stir into vegetables. Add 1 tablespoon oil and the remaining 1/2 cup chili powder. Continue cooking until spices are well toasted, about 10 minutes. If spices appear to be burning, reduce heat slightly and stir well.

6. Stir in 1/4 cup dried chile sauce (reserve any extra for another use), tomato paste, and chipotle peppers. Add tomatoes with juices, 3 cups reserved posole liquid (add water to equal 3 cups if you don’t have enough liquid), 3/4 cup reserved bean juice (discard any leftover), and cider vinegar. Stir well, making sure to scrape bottom and sides of pot. Bring mixture to a simmer over moderately low heat and cook gently, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Add posole and cook, uncovered, 30 minutes. Stir in roasted vegetables and cook, uncovered, 30 more minutes. Stir in beans and cook until warmed through. Stir in nutritional yeast to finished chili.

7. Ladle chili into bowls. Top with sour cream, shredded cheese, scallion, and cilantro. Serve immediately.

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