We had a cold snap recently, which is odd for August. While the rain was gushing down the window panes and the day turned from summer to blustery October in an instant, I started thinking about comfort food. So I turned to Mr. Tofu and asked him with a wicked smile if he would like a 3, 4 or even 5-way.
He was quite startled, until I explained to him that I was talkin’ chili. He had no idea what Cincinnati chili was. Since he wasn’t fortunate enough to be born in the Midwest, I explained Cincinnati chili’s wonderfulness:
It starts with thick, beef chili that is flavored with the BEST CHILI POWDER IN THE UNIVERSE, Gebhardt’s, plus unusual spices like cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa powder, and allspice. The resulting flavor is like tasting the best of Texas, Mykonos, and Coney Island all in one glorious, complex bite. The chili itself is nummy, but what really makes it fun is the “ways” it’s served. It’s always ladled over spaghetti, which makes it “one-way”. Put grated cheddar on the top and it’s a “two-way”. Onions on top of that and you’ve got a “three-way” (ooh-la-la). Oyster crackers over everything and it’s a “four-way”. Add beans and you’ve arrived at a “five-way”.
Aye, there’s the rub. Cincinnati chili doesn’t normally have beans in it, unless they are added as one of the garnishes. So when I made Cincinnati chili for Mr. Tofu, I cooked the beans in the base chili. Then I set aside some of that and simmered it in a separate pan. I added ground beef (or ground buffalo if I am feeling wild) to my portion. The two simmered at the same time and everybody was cozy, comfy, and happy, Mr. Tofu with his five-way, and me with my six-way, technically. Heck, you could add sour cream, avocado, Asian chili oil (I highly recommend this), or sardines to the top if you wanted to. If you come up with a recipe for Cincinnati chili 10-way, leave me a comment and tell me how you did it!
5 or 6-Way “Cincinnati” Chili
Serves 2 vegetarians and 4 omnivores
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (2 1/4 cups), divided
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 to 2 tablespoons chili powder (Gebhardt’s is best)
1 tablespoon ground cumin (is your cumin fresh? If you’ve had it forever, get a fresh batch)
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 14.5-ounce cans fire roasted tomatoes in puree (I use Muir Glen brand)
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup water
8 ounces ground beef
8 ounces spaghetti, cooked according to packet instructions
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups oyster crackers
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the 1 1/2 cups of the onions and sauté until tender, 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, and cocoa powder and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat and add the tomatoes, beans, and water; stir to combine.
For the vegetarian, transfer 2 heaping cups of the chili to a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cover.
Bring the chili in the large pot to simmer and cover. In a small non-stick pan over medium high heat, brown the ground beef, breaking it up with a spatula as it cooks. Drain meat (if necessary) and add it to the large pot.
Gently simmer both chilis, stirring occasionally, until the flavors have melded, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide pasta among 6 bowls. Top two of the bowls with vegetarian chili and the remaining bowls with beef chili. Top with chili, cheese, remaining onions, and oyster crackers.