LIVE TO EAT: Opening day in Cincinnati, a Skyline Chili Cheese Coney giveaway and my recipe for Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili.

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Baseball is back, and finally life makes sense again.

I wrote a brief post over at Food & Dining Magazine’s web site about chili and baseball: Score a Free Skyline Chili Cheese Coney.

My mantra often is misunderstood. It’s “Death to Chains, Except for Skyline,” and that’s because we all have our exceptions in life. I’ve never been a Reds fan as such, but a ballgame in Cincinnati with Skyline (or other local options discussed below) and Hudepohl (okay, maybe Little Kings Cream Ale) touches all the traditional bases for me in some inexplicable but fulfilling way.

And: It’s a style of chili, so spare me your outraged blather. While traveling in Central Europe I’ve had dishes called goulash served in a variety of ways, united only by the use of paprika. So it goes with chili powder. The article link is followed by my recipe for Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili, which is a year-round mainstay of the 1117 East Spring Street Neighborhood Association.

Play ball, damn it.

Is Cincinnati chili actually chili? A dive into the city’s most famous dish, by Nick Kindelsperger (Chicago Tribune)

You can order Cincinnati chili with just spaghetti (chili spaghetti or a 2 way), but most people go with at least a 3 way, which adds shredded cheddar cheese. Go with a 4 way, and you can add either diced onion or beans. A 5 way includes both. Nick Kindelsperger toured Cincinnati’s chili houses, coming up with these five recommended versions. You’ll find they look all alike, but the differences are clear when you plunge in your fork.

By any reasonable definition, Cincinnati chili is not chili. It’s served on a plate. You eat it with a fork. It’s ladled on spaghetti and topped with an avalanche of shredded cheddar that blankets the entire top, concealing almost all the chili underneath. Most damning, there are hardly any chiles in the mix. And isn’t that why it’s called chili in the first place?

If this all sounds like the beginning of an epic slam against a beloved regional Midwest dish, the kind we’ve been exploring all month, set down your freshly sharpened pitchforks. I’ve been a fan since my first bite in college. When I lived in London for six months, my mom regularly mailed me cans of the stuff to tide me over. I am a convert.

But until I swung by Cincinnati recently for a madcap, 24-hour chili tour, I’d never really considered just how little the dish had to do with what most people consider chili …

And now, the recipe.

Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili

4 – 6 “medium” servings, which translates to 4 for us

This recipe is from my late mother’s file, via the Mulloys, her next-door-neighbors. I’ve revised it to use kidney beans in place of the ground beef, so if you take your Cincinnati-style chili with meat or without beans, this recipe may not be for you.

Chili fixings

Olive oil or other cooking oil

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

Approx 24 to 26 ounces of liquid. My mother’s recipe called for water, but this isn’t the way I cook. After many years of experimentation, I’ve settled on 12 ounces of beer and a 14-oz can of veggie broth. American Pale Ale works well, as does just about any malty beer. Feel free to be creative.

1 & ½ teaspoons apple vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 & ½ teaspoons allspice
1 & ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 can Rotel (habanero; 10-oz)
1 can Rotel (green chili; 10-oz)

3 cans (16 oz) of dark or light kidney beans, rinsed

Saute chopped garlic and onions in oil until tender; a few minutes.

Add the remainder of the ingredients except kidney beans. Bring to a boil, then lower the temperature and simmer for two hours.

After two hours, add beans, again bringing chili to a boil before reducing temperature to simmer. Cook for another 45 minutes.

To serve

Boil and drain a box of spaghetti
Grate some cheddar cheese
Chop a couple of onions
Have on hand some hot sauce on the Skyline model, or Tabasco, or something in that vein. Be sure you use oyster crackers

Serve the chili atop the spaghetti and dress it out.

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