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Spicy chili with a difference (and it’s not just the cocoa)

Recipe: Cincinnati chili is served over spaghetti; beans optional

Chopped onions and shredded cheese are traditional toppings for Cincinnati chili.

Chopped onions and shredded cheese are traditional toppings for Cincinnati chili. Debbie Arrington

The first time I saw Cincinnati chili served, I thought: This is crazy! Chili over spaghetti? And it smells like … chocolate?

But then I tasted it and this chili’s unique blend of a dozen spices and herbs all made sense. The pasta soaks up the flavorful sauce. Although some folks tuck beans under the chili, too, the spaghetti is enough for me.

This chili is more Greek or Mediterranean than Tex-Mex, and intensely aromatic. Unsweetened cocoa (not chocolate) combined with the chili powder reminds me of mole sauce; the cocoa adds a distinctive rich brown color to the chili.

Skyline, a chain of Cincinnati restaurants, made Cincy chili famous, and this recipe is based on best guesses of their secret spice mixture. Skyline also came up with five ways to serve it. For ordering purposes, “1-way” is straight chili; “2-way,” chili on spaghetti; “3-way,” chili, spaghetti and cheddar cheese; “4-way,” chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions OR beans; and “5-way” is the works.

Cincinnati chili

Makes 6 servings


For chili:

1 pound lean ground beef

Salt and pepper to taste

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup red wine

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups diced tomatoes (canned or homegrown)

1 cup water

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

This is a no-bean spicy chili. Beans are an optional
part of the serving.

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

For assembly:

1 pound spaghetti

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

½ cup yellow onion, chopped

2 cups pinto beans, cooked (optional)


In a large heavy pot over medium heat, brown ground beef; season with salt and pepper. While browning, add chopped onion and minced garlic; cook until onions are translucent.

Add red wine to deglaze the pot, scraping up the brown bits stuck to the bottom. Sprinkle flour over the meat-onion mixture; stir. Add diced tomatoes and water; stir to blend. Stir in tomato paste.

Add cocoa powder, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, turmeric, paprika, red pepper and oregano; stir well. Add vinegar and honey; stir.

Over medium heat, cook chili for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring often, until desired thickness. Add a little water if needed. Adjust seasoning (it may need more salt depending on how much the meat was seasoned while browning).

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Warm beans.

"Four-way" chili includes the onions on top or
beans underneath; "5-way" includes both.

To serve, put spaghetti in wide shallow bowls. Top with beans, if desired. Cover each serving with several spoonfuls of chili. Top with grated cheese and chopped onion.


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Garden Checklist for week of June 23

Get to work in the mornings while it’s still cool.

* Irrigate early in the day; your plants will appreciate it.

* Generally, tomatoes need deep watering two to three times a week, but don't let them dry out completely. That can encourage blossom-end rot.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the early hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Avoid pot “hot feet.” Place a 1-inch-thick board under container plants sitting on pavement. This little cushion helps insulate them from radiated heat.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce heat stress.

* Cut back Shasta daisies after flowering to encourage a second bloom in the fall.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes. 

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

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