Skyline-Style Chili for the Planning-Challenged

13 Feb

People who have never been to Cincinnati are probably going to ask: What is Skyline chili?  And why is this chili different from all other chilis?

Short answer: Because I like it more.

Long answer: Skyline chili refers to a particular Cincinnati chain of chili restaurants, which make a Greek-style chili with a spice profile that diverges from Texas-style chili (less cayenne, more cinnamon and cocoa.)  While not sweet, Skyline chili has a rich, moderately spicy flavor profile that is not as tomatoey as other chilis.  It’s a little unusual, but ever since I went with my Cincinnati-native boyfriend to a Skyline, it has been my favorite type.  (And obviously, it’s his favorite!)

We have a long history with Skyline chili.  Back in the day, when I ate meat and we were first dating (and I didn’t know how to cook!  Whaaaat), he came to visit with a bottle of wine and a can of Skyline, which he made for me.  Of course there’s the Skyline runs on visits to the ‘Natti.  And he grew up eating it.

But it is basically a big pile of beef, covered with an absurdly big pile of cheese.  Dammit (Don’t click this if pictures of meat and/or cheese upset you, I know that’s the case for some people.)

Woe was me until I found a recipe for Cincinnati chili in The Happy Herbivore.  I texted my boyfriend the night I received it for belated-too-bad-I-was-sick-Christmas because I knew we had to try it.

I have a few bones to pick with this recipe.  Firstly, the filling is made with bulgur wheat, which I don’t use for anything else (I don’t think I have any other recipes that involve it), and it is generally not my practice to keep ingredients on hand that are only used for one thing.

Secondly, the TVP (which I use, and is an allowed substitution in the original) is made beef-style.  And unless you are wise enough to remember to buy pre-made no-beef broth, and vegan Worcestershire sauce, you have to synthesize it yourself (using ingredients that are commonplace enough) in advance.  But it’s the quantities that really kill me here.  The included Worcestershire sauce recipe makes A WHOLE CUP of the stuff.  The faux-beef broth, plus the chili recipe, uses 2 1/2 teaspoons.  For sports fans counting at home, one cup is FORTY-EIGHT TEASPOONS.  Unless you have a bottle or jar to spare to dump this stuff in–which I often don’t!–you are wasting ingredients and time.  And since I don’t have anywhere to store it, because I am not Martha Stewart and (like many normal people) use my Tupperware for other things, I have to make the sauce, then the broth, and THEN do the chili.  I did that the first time I made the chili, and frankly, it was hell on wheels.

This time, I just mixed up a broth that contained the seasoning elements of the Worcestershire sauce and the broth, plus some other things that I liked, reconstituted the TVP in that, and saved myself the aggravation.  Now that I know how to do that, I can save you the aggravation, too!

Also, I made cheese!  And this chili does not have beans.  UNBELIEVABLE!

Here is what your glorious chili will look like when complete, and served over pasta, as is good and proper:

A less cheddar-y version of that is going in vegan lasagna.  I mean it.

Vegan Skyline-Style Chili For the Planning-Challenged

Special equipment: Nothing special, but get a, say, two-quart saucepan for broth/sauce/TVP and a four-quart saucepan with lid for the chili itself, and put them both on the stove.

BEFORE YOU START: I recommend dicing the one yellow onion for this recipe, so you can saute it as the TVP cooks.

Broth ingredients:

Be sure to make this to taste!  I generally use approximate measurements in my cooking because I won’t sit and measure out everything because it takes forever.  Generally speaking, I visually estimate the amount of spices or liquid to sprinkle in, and (not to brag!) I’m usually spot on.  But never hesitate to taste!  Your palate and mine may differ, and professional chefs don’t let anything leave a kitchen without tasting it.  Keep a testing utensil handy, no need to slurp your mixing spoon.

1 1/2 – 2 tbsp chili powder (for the spice-frightened of you, stick to 1/2 – 1 tbsp; I actually cut it from the original because neither of us like burning)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp allspice
dash of ground cloves
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce/tamari
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 -3  tsp agave syrup
2 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp ground mustard
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
dash of ground ginger, cinnamon, paprika, allspice, and salt/pepper
1 cup water

With the cup of water, whisk all ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil; simmer for one minute.  Then add the TVP and begin reconstitution.

While the TVP is cooking, start the chili!

Chili ingredients:

1 onion, diced small
2 – 3 garlic cloves (my broth is somewhat more garlic-y than the original, so feel free to omit these if you don’t love garlic like we do)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes (the original used crushed, so I assume those are fine if you have them)
Reconstituted TVP with chili spices

As the TVP is reconstituting, swirl equal parts olive oil and water in your large saucepan/stock pot and preheat on medium; cook until the onions are translucent.  Add the TVP, 1/2 cup water, the tomatoes, and the bay leaf, then stir to combine.  Bring to a near/low boil over high heat, then cover and reduce to low.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes, until water is absorbed, tomatoes have disintegrated, and spices have blended.


Set your timer for 10 minutes.  When it’s ten minutes, it’s time to get that water for pasta boiling.  Time is needed to boil and to cook.  If I was paid money for every time I’ve screwed that timing up, I would probably be too busy eating gold-plated kale to write this blog.

Once the chili is simmered and the liquid is absorbed, you can serve over pasta, veggie hot dogs, or without anything else.

Chili Toppings by the Numbers

1-way: chili alone
2-way: over pasta or hot dogs not made from animal butts
3-way: over pasta, with cheese-like substance*
4-way: all of the above and diced white onion
5-way: all of the above and kidney beans

*You’ll note there is a homemade faux cheese thing on there.  I made it!  I will update with the recipe later when I successfully reproduce it and write everything down.  I won’t subject my dear readers to an untested recipe!

Another cheese pro-tip: If you use Daiya as your ready-made cheese substitute of choice, buy it in the little blocks (my boyfriend found some for me at Whole Foods because he is the best) and flake it off with a vegetable peeler.  The pieces are smaller and thinner than the shreds, have a nicer texture to begin with, and (because they’re smaller/thinner) melt  more easily.

Add your toppings and–here is an important part!–microwave it till the cheese is melted!  (Even if you’re using real cheese for some reason.)

Now your chili is ready to eat!  yaaaay chili


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