Beanless Chili

I love, love, love me a good bowl of super spicy and piping hot chili. In fact, chili would probably be the only reason why I sometimes miss legumes… because let’s face it, remove the beans from chili and what you’re left with is basically spaghetti sauce with a Mexican twist!

So when the craving for chili recently struck, I wracked my brains long and hard as to how I could possibly replace those beans. Spaghetti sauce was not what I was after. I wanted, demanded that there’d be some kind of bean in my bowl, or at least some kind of substitute that would provide a somewhat similar visual and gustatory experience.

Beanless Chili |

After mentally reviewing a not very long list of potential contenders (there really weren’t that many that I could think of) I decided to give kalamata olives a try. Their shape is fairly similar to that of kidney beans, so I figured they would most certainly fit the bill as far as visual replacement was concerned.

The flavor factor, however, I wasn’t all that convinced would work so well. After all, kalamatas are very pungent, salty and acidic whereas kidney beans are extremely mild and neutral in taste. I was afraid that the olives would end up completely stealing the show and pretty much destroying the whole Mexican essence of the dish.  

Beanless Chili |

Boy was I wrong!

Honestly, I think that the olives do an even better job at adding to this dish than the beans do. For starters, their texture is much softer and creamier than that of the beans and, as an added bonus, you don’t run the risk of ever biting into one (or several) that, for some obscure reason, stubbornly refused to cook and remained super duper firm, half-determined to destroy your teeth for good when you bite on it. Must be another one of their tricky defense mechanisms…

Secondly, and more importantly, the very distinct, slightly smokey and vinegary taste of kalamata olives works EXTREMELY well with the Mexican flavor profile of the chili. It’s like it was simply meant to be.

I don’t think I’ll be missing legumes again anytime soon! Well, not until craving for luciously creamy hummus strikes, that is…

Beanless Chili |

I think I now have my official go-to Chili Con Carne recipe!

Although next time, I might very well go all out with the olives and double the amount!

And maybe add mushrooms, too…

Beanless Chili

Yield: Serves 6 - 8

NF based on 1 of 8 servings

Beanless Chili



  1. In a large stockpot set over medium heat, melt some heat stable cooking fat (such as ghee, lard or coconut oil) and add the onions, garlic, celery and bell peppers. Cook stirring frequently until the veggies are softened and fragrant and the onions turn slightly translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the ground beef and salt and continue cooking until the meat turns a nice golden brown. Add the cacao powder as well as the rest of the seasonings and stir until combined. Stir in water and simmer for about 5 minutes, then stir in carrots and olives.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer partly covered for about 2½ to 3 hours, stirring from time to time. Adjust seasoning as needed.
  4. When the chili is fully cooked, stir in the chopped parsley and lemon juice and then serve piping hot, garnished with shredded lettuce and a slice of lime, diced avocado, or better yet, a big dollop of fresh guacamole.

Beanless Chili |

Beanless Chili |


  1. audi says

    ha, funny! A few months ago I was craving chili and used green olives instead of beans… but I was not happy with the taste:( I suppose kalamata olives are a better choice because of their colour just like kidney beans. Then again the price!

    I recommend you try a version with (canned) mushrooms and post it please (without celery:D)? I tried it myself – it was much better but I am not a good cook.

    • says

      Hummm… I’m afraid I’m not such a big fan of canned mushrooms, so I don’t think that this would work all that well for me. As for the green olives, I totally agree with you. I don’t think I’d have been too happy with the taste either… kalamatas have a very different flavor profile, not quite as bitter and much “meatier” and smokier than their green counterpart. If you ever decide to give ’em a try, make sure you tell me what you think! :)

      oh, and ps, I always buy kalamatas in big containers, that way they end up not costing so much!

  2. Andrea says

    This recipe is SO YUMMY!! I’ve made it twice in 3 days… The 1st time I made it the only substitutions I made were black olives for kalmata & ground turkey in place of the beef- because we didn’t have them on hand. Turned out wonderful! The spice blend is a winner! Second time I made it we added a handful of chopped mushrooms and large spoonful of tomato paste to thicken, left out allspice (all gone) and still turned out just as good! Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

  3. Alexandra Rutherford says

    So… I ate roasted chestnuts for the first time today and it made me think of this chili, because to me, chestnuts taste like beans. They’re mealy and starchy and a little bit sweet. Do you think that might work? Mayyyybe? Don’t get me wrong I love olives, but just thinkin’ here.

    • says

      I totally agree about the texture, Alexandra. However, I find chestnuts are awfully sweet and I’m not sure their flavor profile would work so well with that of the chili. That said, I may be wrong and it might be worth a shot. If you do end up trying it, make sure you let me know how it turned out!

  4. Jane says

    Hi Sonia,
    I just made this for my boyfriend and I last night and we loved it!!! I also made your Paleo Mayo, loved that also and I don’t even like mayo!
    I am so ‘obsessed’ with your blog and your pictures and you have a great personality.
    Thanks for sharing!

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