This recipe, a vegetarian version of our regular beef chilli, started out life as a baby-friendly meal when my daughter was in the early days of weaning. It soon became obvious that she enjoyed lentils and beans and was happier when food had interesting flavours. She also wasn’t averse to a very small amount of chilli heat or to me clearing out the veg drawer and turning it into dinner. At 16 months, she can now tolerate a surprising amount of heat and still enjoys the chilli (long may it continue!), which is slightly different every time I make it as what goes in depends on what veg needs using up.

The chilli always smelled so good when I was making it for her that I began to deliberately make more than I knew I could freeze in little portions for her, that way I could have the rest for my lunch! Now I make it for us all.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients Equipment to have ready
2 tbsp olive oil Chopping board
1 onion, finely chopped Sharp knife
1 medium carrot, cut into small cubes Peeler
Other vegetables such as parsnip, celeriac, squash or sweet potato making up the equivalent amount of 2 medium carrots, cut into small cubes Teaspoon measure or teaspoon
1 pepper, or equivalent amount of several multi-coloured peppers, cut into small cubes Tablespoon measure or tablespoon
6 mushrooms, cut into similar size pieces as the other veg Large pan or casserole with a lid
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Fresh chillies, chopped (optional and amount to taste)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp paprika
Chilli powder (optional and amount to taste)
2 tbsp tomato puree
Splash of malt vinegar
75g green lentils
75g red lentils
400g tin of black beans or a mixture of beans
400g tin of chopped tomatoes or approximately 6 chopped over-ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp chipotle en adobo finely chopped or 1 tsp chipotle paste (optional)
1.5 tbsp cocoa powder
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp marmite
Water or vegetable stock


  1. Heat the pan over a medium heat and add the oil. Tip in the onion, carrot and chosen vegetables. Season with pepper and cook gently, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft and the other veg have started to soften.
  2. Add the pepper, mushrooms, garlic and mushrooms. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers start to soften.
  3. Stir in the dry spices, tomato puree and vinegar before tipping in the lentils and beans and coating in the veg and spice mixture.
  4. Pour in the tomatoes and mix well before washing out your tomato or bean can with two cans of water or vegetable stock and adding to the pan.
  5. Stir through the chipotle, cocoa and marmite. Bring to the boil then put on the lowest heat with a lid on for as long as you can (around 2 hours is ideal), checking on it and stirring it every so often and adding more water if needed. The sauce thickens and becomes much darker in colour, the veg breaks down and the lentils soften. The longer you leave it to cook, the more the flavours develop.
  6. Serve with your choice of accompaniments such as rice, tortilla wraps, tortilla chips, grated cheese, sourced cream, sliced red onion, tomato salsa or guacamole.