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Best Southern Vegetarian Main Dish Recipe

Updated on August 1, 2012
3.7 stars from 3 ratings of Lowcountry Okra-Bean Vegetarian Chili

Lowcountry Okra Bean Vegetarian Chili Recipe

Vidalia onions
Vidalia onions | Source

Chili in the South

Though the exact origin of chili is debatable, there is no question that chili is celebrated in the South. Texans claim chili as their official state food, and you will find Chili Cook-offs in every US Southern state, including my own - South Carolina. As a vegetarian, you won't be able to do much chili sampling at the cook-offs, since chili is traditionally made with meat. Ground beef is actually the main ingredient. But, as vegetarianism has become more popular, many meatless variations have been created.

My vegetarian chili recipe includes a variety of tasty beans and vegetables to blend with the spicy chili seasonings. My bonus vegetable is okra, which is added towards the end so that it does not fall apart. Another secret ingredient is the Vidalia onion which comes from Georgia. If you can't get a Vidalia, use any kind of sweet onion.

A bowl of chili is the perfect comfort food, and even more so if it is served in a hollowed-out bread bowl. The bread bowl makes for excellent presentation, and the extra bread chunks are great for dunking.

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What is Okra?

Okra is an interesting and flavorful vegetable, commonly found in Southern dishes including stewed okra and tomatoes; okra gumbo; and my favorite, fried okra. Small and green are key for selecting tasty okra. Okra too long will be tough and bitter, so look for ones that are less than 4 inches long. The okra we eat is actually the immature vegetable, and fully mature okra is used to make rope! Okra is best if consumed on the day of purchase, since it does not keep well. Okra's peak season is summer, but you can usually find frozen whole and cut okra.

When okra is cooked, it releases a substance that is excellent for thickening soups. Add your okra in about 10-15 minutes before the soup is done. If you want to steam okra, but don't enjoy the "slimy" substance, just steam it for about 6-8 minutes with a dash of salt and eat it right away. Even my picky children will eat fresh okra cooked this way.

Garbanzo, lima, cannellini, red kidney beans
Garbanzo, lima, cannellini, red kidney beans

Protein-Packed Beans

The variety of beans in this recipe provides a beautiful color, texture and taste. Red kidney beans are firm, while the white kidney beans have a wonderful creamy texture. The garbanzo beans, or chick peas, give a slight crunch and help to pack in the protein. Rinsing the canned beans gets rid of excess sodium.

For this recipe, you can use any four of the following:

  • garbanzo beans, or chick peas
  • kidney beans, red or white
  • lima beans
  • black beans
  • pinto beans
  • navy beans

Saute onion, pepper and garlic in olive oil for 10 minutes
Saute onion, pepper and garlic in olive oil for 10 minutes
Simmer ingredients for 20 minutes, then add okra for 15 additional minutes
Simmer ingredients for 20 minutes, then add okra for 15 additional minutes


  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, or chick peas
  • 1 can red kidney beans
  • 1 can white kidney beans (cannellini)
  • 1 can lima beans
  • 1 can yellow or white corn
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 sweet (Vidalia) onion, diced
  • 1 sweet red or yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 Tbs. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • dash hot sauce
  • dash cayenne
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lb. fresh okra, cut in 1/2 inch slices
  • black pepper to taste


  1. Rinse and drain the beans and corn. Add to tomatoes in a large pot.
  2. Cook onion, pepper and garlic in olive oil until tender, about 10 minutes. Add to pot.
  3. Add seasonings and bay leaves to pot.
  4. Heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
  5. Add okra and cook for 15 more minutes.
  6. Remove bay leaves and mix black pepper in right before serving.
  7. Serve in soup bowls or hollowed-out bread bowls.
  8. *Optional: top with a dab of sour cream and a sprinkle of shredded cheese.

*Omit the cheese and sour cream for a vegan dish.

Cook Time

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 45 min
Ready in: 1 hour
Yields: 8-10 servings

Fruit and Nut Salad

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dried cherries, walnuts, pear, Gorgonzola cheese
dried cherries, walnuts, pear, Gorgonzola cheese
dried cherries, walnuts, pear, Gorgonzola cheese

Select One From Each Group for Your Salad

Fresh Fruit

  • apple
  • pear
  • strawberries
  • raspberries

Dried Fruit

  • cherry
  • cranberry
  • blueberries


  • pecan
  • walnut
  • pine nuts


  • feta
  • blue cheese
  • Gorgonzola

Add a Salad to the Meal

You may choose to pair a simple salad with this chili, but if you want to continue with another blend of tastes and textures, try my Fruit and Nut Salad recipe. I start with either a bag of lettuce or a romaine lettuce heart I can chop for a crispy base. Then, I add one fresh fruit, one dried fruit, one type of nut, and a cheese. To make your own version, pick one from each group to the right and add to your lettuce. To make it vegan, leave out the cheese.

For a dressing, I choose a low-fat bottled version. Sometimes I keep it simple with an oil and vinegar, or balsamic vinegar version, but I will occasionally use a fruity-nut mix like raspberry-walnut. Mix it all up in a bowl and serve on small salad plates.



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