Although I’ve lived in Seattle and Chicago and we’re currently in Columbus, I’m a born and raised Cincinnati girl at heart. Which means that the unique (bizarre?!) “Cincinnati style” chili was totally normal and totally delicious and absolutely consumed regularly growing up. It’s just what you did, no questions asked, and everyone I knew loved it. The most popular place to get it was (is!) Skyline Chili (or Gold Star), where it is served on top of a hotdog (cheese coney) or piled on top of spaghetti and sprinkled with cheese (known as a “3-way”), plus onions (“4-way”), and/or beans (“5-way” Whew).
Fast forward to now, 20+ years of meatless eating under my belt, and I practically forgot that Skyline Chili even existed. UNTIL a few months ago. I was cruising in the minivan with my daughters and my mother-in-law, running around between a bunch of activities with no food on hand and everyone hungry, when we saw it – the sign for Skyline Chili looming on the horizon. A drive through. Hungry children. We went for it. Once the girls opened up their chili cheese coneys, the smell took me right back to childhood and the simple genius of saucy chili topping perfectly cooked noodles and all covered in slightly melty shredded cheese.
I decided I needed to re-create this at home, sans meat, and plus veggies and beans. I know, the Skyline chefs would be horrified. But two days later I got to work. I tested a few versions, one that was even meant to try to recreate their exact flavor but didn’t quite hit the mark. The version below came closest, got the best reviews from the fam, and had us going back for seconds….so it’s now going to be on rotation around here every few weeks. It’s a chunky chili sauce, topping slurp-able noodles, with (optional) shredded cheddar. Aside from how it’s served, two other things make Cincinnati chili unique: the flavor (can’t nail this without their official secret recipe) and the texture (this I think I’ve got down!) It’s a watery chili (strange but true), with the cheese melting into the top.
It sounds nasty.
But I promise you, you will not regret this one! Or maybe you will. We won’t know for sure until you try.
Tip: when you’re chopping up the cauliflower and walnuts in the food processor, this is how you want it to look:
And for chili seasoning, I probably should say I whip my own up every time I need it, but the reality is I am all for a fast kitchen hack, especially when it tastes even better than what I could whip up. For this, I use and recommend the Simply Organic brand Vegetarian Chili seasoning packet which you can buy at Whole Foods (or online here).
I’d love to hear from you if you make it! For the most authentic Cincy experience, top it off with some oyster crackers 😉
Saucy, cheesy, and swapping veggies for meat, this recipe recreates unique, delicious Cincinnati style chili! Don't be embarrassed if you find yourself slurping up each noodle strand dripping with flavorful veggie chili sauce!
- 1 16 oz package whole wheat spaghetti
- 3 cups cauliflower florets
- 1/2 cup walnuts (raw)
- 1/4 cup onion, diced small
- 1/2 red pepper, seeds and stem removed, diced small (optional: will make less "authentic" Cincy style! Also depends if your family likes red pepper)
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes (include liquid), pureed in blender (I puree for best texture/to avoid chunks in the sauce)
- 3/4 cup water or vegetable broth (I use water but have also used Better Than Bouillon Organic No Chicken flavor broth)
- 1 15 oz can black beans, undrained (include liquid)
- 1 packet chili seasoning (See Notes for spice mix alternatives!)
- shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
Start water boiling in a pot to cook the pasta per package instructions. Then get busy making the sauce!
Add the cauliflower and walnuts to a food processor and pulse until very fine (see photo in post for reference).
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium. Add the onion (and red pepper if using) and sauté for 5 minutes or until soft, stirring often. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Then add the cauliflower and walnut mixture, and continue sautéing for 3 - 5 minutes, stirring to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the pureed tomatoes, black beans, water or broth, and chili seasoning. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Stir often while simmering to prevent sticking, and add additional broth if needed to thin.
To serve, add pasta to a bowl and top with chili sauce! For most authentic Cincinnati chili, add shredded cheddar cheese.
For the chili seasoning, I usually use Simply Organic brand Vegetarian Chili seasoning packet from Whole Foods (linked in my post). I have also used my spice rack, and if you want to go that route, here is what I recommend you add when it's time to add the "chili seasoning":
2 T chili powder, 1.5 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp onion powder, ½ tsp cumin, ½ tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp allspice.