The award-winning pumpkin chili.

The award-winning pumpkin chili.

This year’s Chilifest competition at work threw in a twist: Add pumpkin to the recipe. I thought everyone had to do that, but that was only the Iron Chef category. The other three categories were Hottest, Most Creative, and Best in Show. I’m not a chili eater, and I can’t remember if I ever made chili in my life. But I decided to throw my pepitas in the ring.

I scoured Google and right away, because I like a challenge, I searched for vegan pumpkin chili to see what the uber-veggie crowd had to offer. I found three:

  1. Pumpkin Chili at Another One Bites the Dust
  2. Vegan Pumpkin Chili at Not Just Recipes
  3. Super Bowl of Chili at Vegan Visitor

These three were the top choices. But I ended up combining them all, with Vegan Pumpkin Chili as the base.

Piquant Pumpkin & Pepita Potpourri Chili

  • 1 small butternut squash (or 1/2 a big one)
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth (I used Pacific, organic)
  • 2 big (about 25-oz.) cans kidney beans, drained
  • 2 cans (15 oz. each) of Trader Joe’s pumpkin puree
  • 4 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 2 packages of Trader Joe’s taco powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1-2 Tablespoons cumin (or to taste)
  • 1 jar of the secret ingredient
  • 4-5 oz. of raw pepitas

That’s the vegan list. To go the other way, add more ingredients.

  • 1/2 pound of bacon
  • sheep feta cheese

For the contest, I almost added a half pound of ground turkey, but I found it was great as-is.

Adding in all the ingredients.

Adding in all the ingredients.


  1. In a very large pot, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until tender.
  2. Add everything else except squash and bacon. (But see #5 below on the cumin.)
  3. The secret ingredient that I used in my workplace contest was my mother’s homemade salsa. She made it for me some time ago, and it was still vacuum-sealed in the jar she put it in. I have no idea what she put in it, other than tomatoes and green pepper, but it was SPICY. The jar was about 28 ounces.
  4. Heat everything on medium heat until it starts to boil.
  5. Simmer for one hour, stirring every few minutes. Taste-test as you go, adding cumin little by little to taste.
  6. Bake the bacon strips in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. Then pat dry and cut them into bits into the pot. Feel free to add a little bit of the leftover bacon fat.
  7. While that is simmering (and while bacon is cooking), cut up the squash into 1/2-inch cubes, or to a desirable size.
  8. Add squash when the hour of simmering is over.
  9. Cook until squash is almost done.
  10. Refrigerate overnight to let it sit.
  11. Let it heat up in a crockpot set on high for three hours.
  12. Serve with a dash of raw pepitas and sheep feta cheese.

Following these steps will lead you to WIN the Iron Chef category of your workplace contest. It will bring you a red-hot bag of goodies, such as scary spatulas, two cookbooks and a bottle of chipotle hot sauce.

My prize: cookbooks, scary spatulas, and hot sauce.

My prize: cookbooks, scary spatulas, and hot sauce.

The names of the other workplace winners were:

Hottest: Set Fire to the Face on Fire (Veggie)
Most Creative: Sauerkraut & Bratwurst Chili
Best in Show: Pineapple Pork Chili