Eating the Pantry: Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili Recipe

Last night we enjoyed dinner at my in-law’s place and during the meal, Noah informed his grandmother that at home we were ‘eating the pantry’.

Her eyelids fluttered for a second and then she politely inquired what ‘eating the pantry’ meant, exactly. It does sound strange, I will admit, but it was rewarding to hear my boys explaining the very practice I’ve been teaching them. Apparently, they do listen and understand.

Other than a milk run and a bag of produce from a local market, we haven’t bought groceries yet in 2015. We’re living off the kitchen stores…that well-stocked pantry with its grains, legumes and pasta, the canning shelf of fruits, tomatoes, applesauce and jams, and the freezer, with its jars of stock, frozen summer berries and vegetables.

There are plenty of ingredients to cook from; it just takes a little more planning. It’s a lot more vegetarian eating, which is a welcome change after the excess of the holidays (four turkey dinners).

Vegan Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili | Simple Bites #dinner #vegan

Why are we shopping the pantry? It’s quite simple: BUDGET. We reviewed our December spending on groceries + alcohol — not including eating out (I’m looking at you, London. Ouch.) — and good gracious, that was a shock. It’s definitely time to tighten the belt and get creative with the ingredients I have on hand.

First, though, I got the family on board. Oh, no honey for your morning oatmeal? We’ll use maple syrup. No clementines for school lunch? There’s a box of apples in the ‘root cellar‘. Sorry if you’re missing your eggs for breakfast, but we have steel cut oats and I’ll even cook them with apples and cinnamon for you.

Cooking mainly from pantry ingredients is a challenge I embrace every year. This time two years ago I created a slow-cooker Chickpea Stew with Apricots and Turnip, served up over cous-cous for a rustic dish that was full of flavour. Last January, this Preserved Lemon Quinoa with Shaved Brussels & Toasted Walnuts received rave reviews for creativity and taste.

This year we fell hard for a vegan dish, with sweet potato as the star.

Ingredients- Vegan Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili | Simple Bites #dinner #vegan

Pantry ingredients shine in my Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili; nothing from the refrigerator, like dairy or meat. They are pictured above, with the exception of maple syrup, salt and dried oregano. Items like potatoes, onions and garlic all fall into the ‘pantry’ category for me because they are not refrigerated, but stored in a cool, dark place. And stock? Well, mine comes from my freezer, but in many kitchens, it hangs out in a can or carton in the cupboard.

This chili is a very satisfying dish that is even better on the second day, after the flavours have had a chance to mingle a little. Yep, it is vegan, but if you eat dairy, try it finished with a little grated sharp cheddar or a dollop of sour cream. I rounded mine out with diced avocado and it was a desk lunch worth remembering. Eating the pantry has hardly been so tasty (and so cheap!).

Vegan Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili | Simple Bites #dinner #vegan

Affordable, delicious and good for you? I think this chili needs to go on your menu this week.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili

A delicious vegan chili, made with only pantry staples and even better on the second day.
4.67 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Vegan
Essential Ingredient: Sweet Potato
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 138kcal
Author: Aimee


  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 large sweet onion diced
  • 1 large sweet potato peeled
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1 dash crushed chilis or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 14-oz can black beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons fine cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup pepitas to garnish


  • In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cut the sweet potato into small cubes. Add the garlic and spices to the onion and cook for 1 minute. Tip in the sweet potato, crushed tomatoes, broth and beans. Stir well to combine.
  • Increase heat to medium high. Bring the chili to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.
  • Test sweet potato for doneness, and if it is soft enough to be mashed with a fork, yet still holds its shape, the chili is ready for the final step.
  • Add the salt and the maple syrup. Sprinkle the cornmeal over the top and stir well. Lower heat and cook for an additional 15 minutes, stirring often. Chili will thicken.
  • Scoop into bowls, garnish with pepitas and enjoy.


Calories: 138kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 878mg | Potassium: 533mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 3500IU | Vitamin C: 14.9mg | Calcium: 67mg | Iron: 2.4mg

 More on Eating the Pantry

Jessica from Good Cheap Eats is running an official Pantry Challenge all January with the goal of saving money and not wasting what you have. You can visit her site for plenty of good ideas, as well as watch the #pantrychallenge hashtag on Instagram for inspiration.

Here are a few of my own Instas from the week of eating the pantry:

pumpkin leek risotto

A risotto base with homemade chicken stock, started with leeks instead of onions, and finished with a generous scoop of canned pumpkin and plenty of Parmesan (not running low on that yet, thank goodness.)

peaches & custard dessert

Peaches canned in honey syrup, sauced with Bird’s Custard that I doctored up with vanilla sugar and a pinch of sea salt.

dried beans

Fortunately, everyone in the family loves beans and bean-based dinners. These pinto beans spent the better part of the day in the slow cooker with a ham hock, garlic, bay leaf, tomato paste and a spoonful of brown sugar. Later we spread them into corn tortillas with cheese, salsa and shredded iceberg lettuce.

Looking for more ideas? Here you go: 12 meals from the whole foods pantry

Are you eating from the pantry this month? What’s on the menu?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. How fun that your boys have embraced it so well. Some years I don’t even tell my family we’re doing a Pantry Challenge. Since I end up cooking more, not less, they usually don’t notice. And the dessert factor seems to go up. 🙂

  2. We are in budget crunch mode here, too, as I’ve been informed that going over budget is not an option. (I gave myself a lot more flex and over-spent more during the holiday season too. Ouch is right 😉 ). Cooking with what is on hand is becoming one of my favorite exercises in creative thinking and problem solving. It’s fun and the feeling of satisfaction makes the end result extra tasty.

    Unfortunately I don’t have any sweet potatoes right now, but I’d love to try this dish so I think I’ll be picking some up soon. Thanks!

  3. this chili looks so awesome! And even though we are “city dwellers” we are eating the pantry right now too!

  4. I with ya. With all the travel & holidays, my spending is huge! Thanks for this pantry inspiration. I TOTALLY need this right now! Gorgeous recipe.

  5. Haha Noah is so cute! This is such a smart idea! I adore the idea of eating the pantry!! There’s just a plethora of items in there that you can make for dinner and have it still be tasty!!

  6. Yum!! We do this too, only for us it’s usually the end of e very month–the last week where I have enough in the pantry but nothing that “looks good” right off the bat–meaning I have to get a bit more creative and spend more time putting things together. Usually I’m amazed at my own creativity, and how fortunate we are where we can eat well with our pantry goods without having to go to rice and beans every night!
    Sarah M

  7. This looks great, so warm and filling for the cold weather. I just made turkey chili last night with only items I already had at home. It was quite yummy!

    BUDGET. I hear ya! 2013 was a year of unemployment (my husband, the breadwinner), 2014 was getting back on our feet so 2015 is the year to get our emergency funds set up, make a sound spending plan and paying off debt. I have a retirement savings plan set up but saving minimally currently. Husband is starting his up in May. Once we’ve gotten the debt in order, the next order of business to really revise our behavior to be savers and prudent spenders rather then cleaning up the mess once the $h*t hit the fan. We hope to figure out how to save and prepare for the rainy days.

  8. I love hearty chili recipes like this for the Winter time. Right now it’s bitter cold here and I’ve been hanging out near the heater with my cats. What I need is a big bowl of this!

  9. This chili looks lovely! And did you get those spices at the Jean Talon market? I have the same ones!

  10. I love sweet potatoes! yummy!

  11. 5 stars
    I made this tonight and the family loved it! I guess I’ve been unconsciously been eating the pantry as well as I’ve been trying to use up food in the fridge/pantry. Last night I actually intended to make your Lentil Shepherd’s Pie for dinner, but realized too late after I peeled and cut the sweet potatoes that I didn’t have enough lentils…so I saved them for another night which worked out perfectly for this recipe!

  12. YES! This is such a great challenge. We have so many random foods languishing in our pantry that need some love and attention. Thanks for the inspiration!

  13. This looks so good! I love a good bowl of chili!

  14. Anne Zatorsky says

    I”ve made this and it is so very very delicious. I didn’t have black beans so I used instead chickpeas and soy beans and fresh tomatoes. The spices are great and the whole thing came out really really fabulous. Had to force myself to stop eating! Thanks!

  15. I wish my pantry was this well stocked!

  16. Aimee,

    Is it possible to eliminate the cornmeal from the chili? We’re living in Japan currently and tracking down cornmeal is next to impossible! Also, do you have a recipe for the beans in the slow cooker? I have a ham bone languishing in the freezer that I would love to use and we’re big fans of beans around here!

    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Esther,

      You can leave it out! You’ll just have a slightly thinner chili but it will still be delicious.

      For the beans, I just soak overnight, cover with fresh water, add the bone, 4-5 cloves of garlic, whole cumin seed and cook until tender! Plan on a good 8 hours or so,

  17. After hosting 4 parties in December we too are on cutbacks this month. Wish I had a ham hock to make beans with! Like you, we keep a well stocked pantry. Our reasons being political instability rather than ‘want’ though! I regularly open it and decide that the next 2-3 weeks must be spent on eating it down lest the beans and rice and stuff go beyond best before!

    Oh. And I regularly get a virus notification when I open up simplebites…not sure if it’s my computer just freaking out or something real.

  18. 4 stars
    Just made this recipe and it was delicious! And I actually did have all this in the pantry…except, would you believe it, black beans? And I always have them! I also had some queso fresco in the fridge which was delicious crumbled on top. Such a unique-tasting chili, a bit of sweet and spicy at once.

    Re ham hocks, this is a fantastic recipe from my CSA…which I will be making soon, since I have a hock in the freezer.

  19. I made this for dinner tonight and it was super simple to make and oh so good. I will definitely be making this again. It could be served to guest as part of a Mexican meal. Thank you for all of your great recipes.

  20. 5 stars
    I just made this for dinner tonight and it was delicious! My hubby was skeptical (I expected him to be because he typically is when it’s a twist on a classic like chili and he’s not usually a big fan of black beans) but I went ahead and made it anyway. I felt pretty confident it’d be great ;-). He loved it and so did the rest of us! This will definitely be a repeat recipe.

  21. Looks good. Can you help,with some substitutions? I don’t have whole cumin, how much could I subsitute for powered cumin? And I don’t have crushed chilies, could I use chili powder?
    Thanks for all the food inspiration!

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