Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili

Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili - a healthy twist on a classic. |

Cincinnati chili is one of those recipes that will never be perfectly recreated at home. That secret blend of spices is held near and dear to the hearts of those who created it. But I was inspired to give it a try after eating it at the Hudepohl 14K race after party a couple weekends ago.

It is different from “regular” chili in a quite a few ways. The most obvious being the flavor profile, which is made up of lots of savory spices including cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, to name a few. It also usually has a much thinner consistency, which is why it’s helpful to have the spaghetti and oyster crackers to soak it up! The other thing I always notice is that the meat is very, very fine. I started doing some research on how they get the meat so fine and got a variety of answers such as boiling the meat or putting it into the food processor. Something about putting raw meat in the food processor gave me the E. coli heebie jeebies, so I decided to come up with an alternative for this recipe.

Which led me to tempeh.

Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili |

What the heck is tempeh? Well, according to the package, it’s a “vegan protein powerhouse”! It’s a soy product that is made by culturing and fermenting soybeans. It comes in a flat, rectangular piece and easily crumbles, making it a good substitute for ground meat in things like soups, tacos or casseroles.

You can find it plain or mixed with grains, and, for this recipe, I tried both and preferred the plain variety. It had a little less crunchy texture to it. I found tempeh both at Trader Joe’s and also my regular grocery store (Kroger, for the locals!) and it ranged in price from $2-2.79 for an 8 ounce package.

Before you head to the store, be sure to check your spice cabinet cause we are cleaning that little bad boy out! Apparently I’m bordering on spice hoarder because I actually had all ten of these on hand…

Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili |

But if you don’t aspire to appear on a TLC show in your lifetime, check the grocery stores in your area to see if they offer a bulk spice section. I love this for those times I need just a little of one spice and don’t feel like spending 5 bucks on something that will sit in my spice cabinet, never to be touched again, moved from house to house to house <— whyyyyyy do I do this??

Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili |

To serve this chili, make a big pot of spaghetti noodles, divvy them up, top with the chili and an obscene amount of shredded cheddar. Bean lovers, add some kidney beans; spice lovers, add a little chopped onion. A side of oyster crackers and you’re good to dig in!

Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili - a healthy twist on a classic. |

Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili - a healthy twist on a classic.
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 6
For the chili:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 ounces tempeh
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • ⅛ teaspoon coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tablespoon molasses
To serve:
  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • Mild cheddar cheese
  • Oyster crackers
Optional toppings:
  • Dark red kidney beans, rinsed, drained and warmed
  • Chopped white onion
  1. Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil.
  2. Place the onion, garlic and tempeh into a food processor and chop finely.
  3. Saute the onion, garlic and tempeh mixture in the saucepan for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add the spices and stir, then add the tomato sauce, water, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and molasses.
  5. Allow the chili to simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Alternatively, you could put it in the crock pot on low for 6 hours.
  6. While the chili simmers, cook the spaghetti.
  7. To serve, place spaghetti in a bowl, top with chili, beans and/or chopped onions if desired and shredded cheddar cheese.

Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili |

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  1. says

    I’m so happy I saw this post :) My husband grew up in Cincinnati, and is always talking about skyline chili. We only ever eat chili on spaghetti now. I’ll have to surprise him with this recipe!

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