Vintage: Clean-Eating Chili

I'm, at most, 4 here, chilling in my box.

Disclosure: This blog was originally published in 2015, but has been lost due to subsequent website changes.


I remember clearly the first time I had Cincinnati chili.

My mother’s parents lived in Columbus, Ohio, but my grandfather’s business, EmergiTech (the website of which has no mention of its founder, Don Daugherty, unfortunately, but don’t get me started on this) had clients in Cincinnati and, indeed, all over the country. When my grandfather told me about Cincinnati chili, Skyline, specifically, I guess I had a negative reaction (chili on spaghetti?), so he was determined I would have to try it. This was just one instance of him forcing me to branch out and try new things, something I’m grateful for (grandma-fried green tomatoes for the win!), though I still draw the line at scrambled eggs with a side of a fried, full egg sack pulled from the biggest catfish I’ve ever caught. I’m a simple girl. I’m good with a caviar-free lifestyle. Sorry, Grandpa.

I spent just about every school break with my grandparents in Columbus and that meant I would spend some time at the office. There are pictures of Little Me sitting in paper boxes at EmergiTech. This is not something I only did at his office. This would inevitably happen whenever there was a discarded box big enough for me to fit. Clearly, I was a cat in another life. Don’t tell my schnauzer. When he had to make a trip to Cincinnati, I went along and after the meeting was over (I’m not sure what I did during the meeting — a museum with my grandmother, maybe, though I don’t remember her being with us? It was a long time ago) we went to Skyline.

You can order Skyline five ways: the 3-Way (spaghetti, topped with chili, which is topped with cheese), the 4-Way (a 3-Way with either onions or beans), the 5-Way (with onions and beans), just chili spaghetti (need I explain?) and a vegetarian 3-Way (spaghetti covered with “Skyline Black Beans and Rice, topped with a mound of shredded cheddar cheese”).

As I’ve said before, I am absolutely no fan of beans. This is good, because Cincinnati-style chili doesn’t have beans. What I balked at with Skyline was the possibility of onions and the completely unnecessary beans I was told could be added. I was thrilled about the cheese. The 3-way it was for me, because my grandfather knew it wouldn’t be worth the fight to get me to try the onions (which I now love, for the record). My grandfather, who, while he was a saint, routinely did gross things like put corn bread in his milk and drink it (a true rural Kentucky boy), went for the 5-way.

It’s one of the vivid food memories I have of my grandfather — I haven’t eaten Skyline since in an attempt to memorialize the day, I guess — and one that was certainly on my mind while I was putting this crock pot, clean-eating Cincinnati-style chili together.

This recipe is a powerhouse of vegetables as far as chili goes, a deviation from the traditional Cincinnati variety. There’s bookoo tomatoes (yes, technically a fruit. Fight me) in two different forms, lots of zucchini, a box of mushrooms and a large onion (the recipe says medium, but as I now love onions, especially cooked, I used a large one). The whole recipe, which made about 10 servings, has only one and a half pounds of ground beef (or turkey, which I used), which you will brown with the chopped-up onion. Gather your other spices — allspice, cinnamon (smells weird in the pot, but it works), ground red pepper, slat, cumin, garlic powder, cider vinegar, chili powder, Worcestershire (Woost-er-sher) sauce and bay leaves (remember to take these out before you eat), dump all of this into your crockpot and cook on high for two or three hours and you’ve got a chili.

This, of course is just fine on its own if you’re going for a low-carb option, but if you want the true Cincinnati experience, you’ve got to serve this over spaghetti, and if you’re not like me, who gags at beans for the most part, go ahead and make it a 5-Way.

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