Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cincinnati chili: No hating, please!

Our homemade Cincy "five-way."
Actually, I really don’t get the fear and loathing that the idea of Cincinnati chili evokes in some people. Mention this stick-to-your-ribs regional delight, and those of us who didn’t grow up with it (or its Louisville cousin, “chili con carne” over spaghetti without the aromatic spices) generally go “eeeuuuwww” and then burst into an angry rant.

What’s to rant about? From a food anthropology standpoint, it may help to recognize that this is just another strain of immigrant cuisine working its way into the American melting pot.  Displaced Greek and Bulgarian refugees came to Cincinnati after World War II, and some of them opened restaurants.  Unfortunately, the good burghers of the Queen City (then, as now, more conservative than we are down the river) weren’t having any furrin’ food.  So the canny entrepreneurs re-purposed their traditional spaghetti with meat sauce and called it “chili,” and hungry Cincinnatians, recognizing it by that name,  ate it right up.

That’s more or less how it happened, I’m pretty sure.

Anyway, it’s a fairly easy procedure, and every year when winter first sets in, we’ll make up a supply and freeze it in lunch-size packages.  We did the current batch with black beans in place of the usual red beans, and it’s just as good as ever, maybe better. In the photo it’s served “five-way,” chii and spaghetti plus beans, onions and cheese.

Click here for a recipe for “Murray’s Girlfriend’s Cincinnati Chili” from Jane Butel’s Chili Madness. We’ve been using this recipe, only slightly modified in the spices, for many years. Switching in plant-based meatless ground “beef” works very well indeed in this dish with all its aromatic flavors.