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Make It Meatless/ vegan recipes/ vegetarian recipes

Vegan Cincinnati Chili

Vegan Cincinnati Chili


Chili with chocolate in it is one of those things that sounds so wrong, it just has to be right. The first time I heard about Cincinnati chili, I thought it sounded gross. Chili with cocoa powder? And spaghetti?! But then I realized that mole sauce has some of the same flavors as Cincinnati chili and I love that, so maybe these crafty Ohioans were onto something after all.

We used to live near a restaurant that sold vegan Cincinnati chili and it was always something that we meant to try, but never got around to doing. And then the restaurant closed. I was disappointed, but then I kind of forgot about it until I saw a recipe for Cincinnati chili on There’s Always Thyme To Cook. Suddenly, I remembered that restaurant and how I still haven’t ever tried Cincinnati chili. I finally resolved to make my own vegan Cincinnati chili recipe.

Vegan Cincinnati Chili with Lentils in Pot
The easy way take the meat out of this recipe would be to use those soy crumbles they sell in the freezer case at most grocery stores. When I first stopped eating meat, I heavily relied on all those frozen soy meat substitutes. But they’re highly processed using some questionable chemicals like hexane and they’re made with genetically-modified soy. And, to be honest, I don’t eat meat because I don’t like meat, so I don’t really feel the need to eat products that look, taste, and feel like meat, you know? (The only meat substitute I regularly use is Field Roast–I love yoooou, Field Roast! And if you ever need a recipe developer, call me!)

Anyway! Obviously soy crumbles are out of the question, so I decided to use lentils instead. I was a little bit nervous that they’d fall apart while cooking as lentils sometimes do, but they stayed intact. And wow, I wish I had started making this vegan Cincinnati chili recipe years ago–the spices and addition of cocoa powder make the sauce reminiscent of mole. It’s like mole with slightly less assertive flavors, I guess. And lentils, well, lentils are good in everything, right? They’re also way (way) cheaper than those frozen soy meat substitutes, making this recipe budget-friendly too.

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64 Comments

  • Reply
    The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh
    March 1, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Girl I wouldn’t DREAM of not using cocoa since I discovered that about a year ago. Anyone thinking it sounds gross…DO IT! It does give it such a depth of flavor that is perfect! Yum!

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm

      I KNOW! And you’re right, it gives the chili a depth of flavor, but not necessarily chocolateyness. Ooh, there I go making up words again.

  • Reply
    [email protected] eco friendly homemaking
    March 1, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Oh my goodness I would have never thought about doing that but will sure give it a try next time I make chili. Thanks so much for the tip!

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm

      I hope you like it! Lentils do work well in chili, believe it or not, and it’s nice because there’s no soaking involved, unlike with beans.

  • Reply
    Orangeheromama
    March 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

    omg. again where you write this awesome foodie post and i’m all like ‘omg girl i want WANT that dish!!”

    lol 🙂

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 1, 2012 at 8:21 pm

      Ha! Well, this one is from World Market. Do you have those up there? It was pretty cheap and they came in all different colors, so I spent about 20 minutes deciding which color I wanted. 🙂

  • Reply
    Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell
    March 1, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I always make chili without meat and I feel it’s substantial enough that I don’t miss the protein. This sounds like a really yummy variation!

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 1, 2012 at 8:21 pm

      I agree–all those beans are definitely enough protein! Or, in this case, lentils.

  • Reply
    Carol @ Always Thyme to Cook
    March 1, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Thanks for the shout out!I love mole, too, so Cincinnati chili was such a nice surprise. It looks delicious, I think I’ll try it with the lentils next time, no meat.

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm

      Well, thank you for reminding me that I still hadn’t gotten around to trying Cincinnati chili! 🙂 I had totally forgotten about it until I saw your post!

  • Reply
    Katherine
    March 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Hmm.. I’m an Ohio native and have not heard of Cincinatti Chili! I’m game!! I’ll give it a shot 🙂

  • Reply
    Stephanie @ henry happened
    March 1, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    I’m so with you on the fake meat – it looks bad and tastes even worse! I seriously want to eat everything you make 🙂

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      It does! And I feel like it’s things like that that give vegetarian food a bad name–people think vegetarian = fake hot dogs, fake burgers, fake bacon. Sad!

  • Reply
    Shirley
    March 2, 2012 at 1:17 am

    I have never heard of a chili with spaghetti! I like that you use lentils. I love meat, but I don’t trust those faux meat products… I was once given some awful soy nuggets. I’d rather have this!

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      Yeah, I eat tofu, tempeh, and things like that, but the soy “meat” is so heavily processed–the lists of ingredients on them are so insane! And yes, many of them are pretty awful tasting. 🙂 I would rather eat real food!

  • Reply
    Connie
    March 2, 2012 at 2:47 am

    I hear cocoa is fabulous in chili – I need to try it sometime! Great looking recipe!

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      It is! It doesn’t taste chocolatey, but it deepens the flavor of it.

  • Reply
    Genevieve
    March 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    I like the way you explained your feelings about fake meat products, I agree! And I’ve been wanting to make sometime with a mole sauce, I’m very intrigued by the idea of using chocolate in a savory sauce!

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 2, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      It’s really good! Since it’s not paired with much sweetness, it has a very different flavor than when it’s in a dessert–it gives the sauce a nice complexity.

  • Reply
    Emily
    March 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    OMG. This sounds delish! I must try it soon. We have perfect Chili weather today, but I don’t have all of the ingredients. 🙁

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      Thank you! Yeah, we had a day that was 80 last week and now it’s supposed to snow tonight & tomorrow morning–definitely good chili weather! I’m ready for it to be ice cream weather though. 🙂

  • Reply
    Pam
    March 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I am going to try this on Friday. It looks yummy and I am sharing with my friend who has a corn allergy. Thanks so much! Looks yummy

  • Reply
    Debbie
    March 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I was born and raised in Cincinnati and you people don’t know what you are missing! Cincinnati Chili is the best. Even though I do eat meat (Cincinnati used to be known as Porkopolis) this version sounds like a great version during Lent!

    • Reply
      The Type A Housewife
      March 6, 2012 at 10:12 am

      It really is the best! When it comes to chili, I can take it or leave it–I like it, but I’m not a huge fan. But I really love the flavors of Cincinnati chili!

  • Reply
    Mrs.P
    January 3, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Seriously your blog is amazing!!! So many simple and delicious recipes with ingredients I commonly have at home. As an Ohioan and a vegetarian this was a natural choice for dinner tonight! Banana fruit leather still in process, I don’t know where to stop!!

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      January 4, 2013 at 5:28 pm

      Thank you so much! 😀 I hope it all turned out well. Since you’re from Ohio, I guess you will judge me harshly if my Cincinnati Chili isn’t perfect!

  • Reply
    Ellie
    January 12, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    I was born and raised in Cincinnati, so I grew up eating this style of chili. I’ve since moved away from Ohio and have become vegetarian, but still crave that taste of home now and then. This recipe is fantastic. Very similar taste and texture to Skyline chili. The lentils taste even better than the traditional beef version, and by using low-sodium ingredients and wheat noodles, it’s much healthier than the real thing too! I added 1 large carrot when I made this, to add a little extra veggie — though I have to say adding it was a deviation from “true” Cincinnati chili (but it tasted great).

    This recipe is for a “four-way”; make it a Cincinnati “five-way” by garnishing with kidney beans along with the cheese and onions.

    Other ways Cincinnatians eat their chili: on top of a (veggie in this case) hot dog with mustard and onions and topped with cheese, wrapped up with cheese in a flour tortilla, on top of a baked potato, on top of french fries with cheese, or just straight out of a bowl with a dollop of sour cream. Quite versatile!

    I can’t wait to make this recipe again and share with friends!

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      January 14, 2013 at 10:36 am

      Thank you for your comment–I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And I love the idea of putting it on a baked potato or in a tortilla. I’m totally going to have to try that next time I make this. 🙂

  • Reply
    Caitlin
    January 22, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Cincinnati chili ain’t Cincinnati chili unless it’s served with oyster crackers and hot sauce! So good!

  • Reply
    Leah
    February 17, 2013 at 10:10 am

    I found this through your vegetarian remakes posts, and I have to try this. I actually grew up in Cincinnati, but I’ve only had the chili twice. As a child, I didn’t like the dish in general, and as an adult, I am put off by the grease and the sodium. (Of course, I haven’t really lived in Ohio for ten years, so that helps.) I think I would actually like this, and I’d love to introduce my vegetarian friends to the flavor of my hometown. And ditto on Caitlin’s comment about the oyster crackers and hot sauce–I’ve never seen a Cincinnati eat the chili without them! 😉

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      February 18, 2013 at 9:42 am

      The grease in chili always squicked me out too. That’s the nice thing about making it vegetarian–no oil slick floating around on the top of the pot. 🙂 I hope you like it if you make it!

  • Reply
    Lindsay
    October 5, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    This recipe is great! I use to buy a seasoning mix for this chili but it was expensive and had MSG in it so I had to stop buying it and I couldn’t figure out the spices needed to make it myself. Your website has been a huge help in keeping variety in our vegetarian diet.

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      October 6, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      I discovered earlier this year that MSG triggers migraines for me, so I have to avoid those seasoning mixes too. I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe! 🙂

  • Reply
    Lauren
    October 23, 2013 at 11:04 am

    I started a no-meat and no-salt diet a couple of months ago and your site has been key in my avoiding meal boredom. This chili is delicious!! Keep the recipes coming!

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      October 24, 2013 at 8:36 pm

      I’m glad I can help! This chili is one of our favorites too. 🙂

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    November 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you so much for this recipe! Discovered Cincinnati chili during a family reunion there 15 years ago. It has become my go-to birthday meal made by my sister. I recently discovered that the way that I eat has a name…flexitarian. And with vegetarian friends, I was thrilled to find this and be able to share one of my favorite meals with them. Almost as good as my sister’s. 😉

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      November 2, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! I think most of my readers are flexitarians too. 🙂

  • Reply
    Jenn
    December 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I’m from Cincinnati and had a vegan lentil version out at a restaurant over the weekend. Now I have to make it!! Looking forward to trying your recipe!!

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      December 31, 2013 at 10:40 am

      I hope you like it!

  • Reply
    Ashley
    January 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    As a Cincinnati native and vegetarian for the past 14 years, I can not tell you how happy this makes me! It is so delicious. I would suggest adding 2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar to give it more of that distinctive Skyline taste.

    • Reply
      Kiersten Frase
      January 29, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      I’m glad it was a winner! 🙂 I’ll have to try adding some sugar next time I make it…

  • Reply
    Leah
    February 12, 2014 at 1:56 am

    Loved it! I’m originally from Cincinnati, and I can’t stand how greasy the original meat version is. The spouse loves the original version and says the spices are perfect. I added some aged Irish cheddar and crackers on top, too. I’m definitely making this for our “let’s show our Seattle buddies our hometown foods” party.

  • Reply
    Mary-Anne
    February 21, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    My family and I love Cincinnati chili and this recipe is heavenly! I have made it many times, but I omit the onion (except of course as part of a five-way).

    One other thing, I use an immersion blender in the cooked chili/lentils and then it has nearly the exact consistency of the original Cincinnati chili! I am pretty sure I could serve it to unsuspecting guests and they would have no idea!

    • Reply
      Kiersten Frase
      February 22, 2014 at 9:53 am

      I’m glad your family enjoys the recipe! I love the idea of breaking up the lentils a little with an immersion blender.

  • Reply
    Amy
    February 24, 2014 at 10:12 am

    I grew up in Cincinnati and in my meat eating days loved me some Skyline Chili. The first bite of this delicious chili almost brought tears to my vegan eyes. This chili is spot on and cured a craving I have been having for years….yummy

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