Easy Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili

A plate of vegetarian Cincinnati chili with red lentil chili sauce. The chili is on top of spaghetti and covered with a mound of cheddar cheese. The plate is on a blue cloth with a star pattern from Fireside Textiles.

This vegetarian lentil Cincinnati chili is a snap to make and is basically all pantry items, except for the cheese. Cheddar cheese lasts pretty long, but you can also freeze pre-shredded cheese if that’s better for you in this COVID-19 hellscape.

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A plate of vegetarian Cincinnati chili with red lentil chili sauce. The chili is on top of spaghetti and covered with a mound of cheddar cheese. The plate is on a blue cloth with a star pattern from Fireside Textiles.

Easy Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili

The trick to getting the right texture on vegetarian Cincinnati chili is to use red lentils, not brown or green/French lentils. Red lentils break down more and will basically disintegrate, getting that distinctive Cincinnati chili texture without having to use meat or a blender.

You’ll get the best texture (cloud-like masses) on the cheese if you hand-grate it, but if that’s an accessibility issue, using the grater on your food processor or buy a bag of finely shredded cheese. Or, make it vegan by skipping the cheese or using vegan cheese.

A plate of vegetarian Cincinnati chili with red lentil chili sauce. The chili is on top of spaghetti and covered with a mound of cheddar cheese. The plate is on a blue cloth with a star pattern from Fireside Textiles.

See also: Crock-Pot Cincinnati Chili (meat version)

Cloth on table by Fireside Textiles.

Based on Vegan Cincinnati Chili by Oh My Veggies! 

Serves ~6

Equipment

  • A large stock pot
  • Cheese grater or food processor with grater

Instructions

Heat

  • 1 TBSP olive oil

Over medium-high heat. Add

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced

Cook 3-5 minutes, until softened, stirring frequently. Add

  • 4-6 cloves garlic, diced

Cook for another minute.

Add

  • 1 TBSP chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp paprika

and stir to combine. Cook for another minute and add

  • 1 TBSP (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
  • 3 cups (720 mL) vegetable broth
  • 15 oz (425 g) can tomato sauce
  • 8 oz (225) red lentils, rinsed and picked over.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer partially covered for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the chili is cooking, prepare

  • 16 oz (450 g) spaghetti  (whole wheat, white, or gluten-free)

according to the directions.

To serve, place each portion of spaghetti on a plate, bowl-plate or in a bowl.

Top with chili* and cover with

  • 5 cups (~6 oz/170 g), divided, very finely shredded mild cheddar cheese or vegan alternative = ~1/4 cup (~1 oz/30 g) shredded cheese per serving (at least).

Garnish with

  • Oyster crackers (saltines will do in a pinch)

Add Tabasco sauce to taste.

If you want a four-way or five-way, you can add chopped onions and/or kidney beans.

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