Cincinnati Chili Spaghetti is a delicious, cocoa and cinnamon spiced chili served over noodles. This easy vegan version knocks it out of the park with flavor & texture! Top it off with beans, diced onions, chopped herbs, or dairy free shredded cheese for a healthy comfort food meal you’ll crave.
If you’re looking for a creative spin on pasta, Cincinnati Chili is it! It’s traditionally served with spaghetti, but any shape noodle will work. Bonus, the chili can be used for other applications as well, like topping vegan hot dogs or baked potatoes.
Ingredients you need
Ingredient notes & substitutions
Obviously, traditional meat based Cincinnati-style chili isn’t going to work on a plant based diet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have the same flavors and textures. In this version, I used chickpeas and walnuts pulsed in a food processor to resemble the size and texture of ground meat. Seasoned in much the same way as the original recipe, it looks and tastes nearly the same.
Protein – The chickpea walnut mixture used in this dish lends the perfect texture to resemble ground meat. You could also try crumbled tempeh or store-bought alternatives, like Beyond Beef or Gardein Beefless Ground.
Cocoa Powder – A square or two of dark chocolate (preferably bittersweet, but semi-sweet could work also) can be used instead. Double check the ingredients to ensure it’s dairy-free. Add it when you add the tomato sauce and broth and let it melt slowly.
Dark coffee (1/2 to 1 cup) or a shot of espresso would also be a good option for the same depth of flavor. You can add it to the skillet when you add the spices.
Spaghetti – Any noodle shape will technically work. Use gluten free, if desired.
Oil – If you’re oil-free, leave out the oil and sauté with 1/4 cup water or broth instead.
Garnishes – Feel free to top it off any way you like. Some options not listed in the recipe are crushed tortilla chips, corn chips, black beans, green onions, vegan sour cream, sliced jalapeños, chopped cilantro, etc.
How to make this recipe
Make the sauce while the spaghetti noodles are cooking and everything should be done at the same time.
Using a food processor is best for getting the perfect crumbled consistency for the walnuts and chickpeas. If you don’t have one, you can finely chop them with a chef’s knife. A pastry cutter may also work. Don’t be tempted to use a potato masher on the chickpeas…you want a firm crumbled texture, not soft and mushy.
I find a large, deep skillet works best to cook a sauce like this. You could also just use a big pot.
How to serve Cincinnati Chili
You won’t find most Cincinnati chili recipes served in a bowl. They are generally served on a plate with a fork as there are long noodles involved.
I find the very best bowls for such recipes ~ thick, yet saucy ~ to be flat bowls. They have the best of both worlds…a flat bottom and also a wide lip around the edge to keep everything contained. The beautiful white flat bowl above is from (affiliate link) Off Your Rocker Pottery. Each one is handmade and is dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe! Plus, they come with buffed bottoms, so they won’t scratch your table! Use my referral code, VeggieIns, for 15% off your order!
You’ll likely want to serve this chili with pasta, as intended.
Toppings can be any usual chili toppings you like. Typical Chili 5-Way is served with noodles, shredded cheese, diced white onion, and beans.
You don’t need to worry about side dishes with this recipe as there is already a lot going on, but if you must a simple green salad would be a nice accompaniment.
I recommend storing leftovers of the pasta and chili in separate containers so the noodles don’t soak up the sauce and get mushy. Store both in the fridge in air-tight containers for 3 to 4 days.
You can also freeze the sauce. Freeze it in air-tight freezer safe containers or plastic bags for up to 6 months.
Double up the sauce recipe and use leftovers to serve over vegan hot dogs, baked potatoes, French fries, or tortilla chips. You could also use it as a filling for enchiladas, burritos, stuffed peppers, or lasagna. Or simply eat it as chili with a spoon.
Use any noodles you have on hand ~ macaroni, rotini, and penne would all be good choices. You could even use it as a filling in stuffed shells.
Be sure to use unsweetened cocoa powder.
If you have a sensitive palate, start with less chili powder, cocoa powder and cinnamon, and add more to your liking.
As with any recipe, taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
Cincinnati Chili FAQs
Cincinnati chili is traditionally a meat sauce spiced with some of the usual chili spices plus cinnamon and cocoa, served over spaghetti and topped with any number of garnishes, like raw onions, beans, cheese, and/or Oyster crackers. Since it’s served over noodles, it’s eaten with a fork and, typically, saucier than chili meant to eat in a bowl with a spoon.
This dish may also be referred to as Cincinnati-style Chili, Chili 5-Way (or 1 way, 2 way, 3 way, or 4 way depending on the toppings), or Chili Spaghetti. You may even see it referred to as Skyline Chili, referencing one of the most popular chili restaurants in Cincinnati. [source]
As in any good recipe, it’s all about the balance of flavors. Tomatoes are slightly sweet and the bitterness of unsweetened cocoa powder (or dark chocolate) balance them nicely.
Cinnamon is added in this dish for a warm, spicy, subtle sweetness for yet another layer of flavor.
Both flavors should complement the chili and not overpower it. If you have a sensitive palate, start with just a little and add more to taste.
Yes! You can freeze the chili sauce, but not with the noodles. Cook the sauce according to recipe instructions. Let it cool completely, then freeze it in air-tight freezer safe containers or plastic bags for up to 6 months.
More vegan chili recipes
- Pumpkin Lentil Chili
- Beanless Garden Veggie Chili
- Vegan White Chili
- Slow Cooker Black Bean Chili
- Black Bean Quinoa Chili
- Meatless Taco Chili
I hope you love this recipe as much as we do! If you tried it, please use the rating system in the recipe card and leave a comment below with your feedback.
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Vegan Cincinnati Chili
- 8 ounces spaghetti noodles gluten free, if desired
- [1 can 15 ounces chickpeas (drained, rinsed, and patted dry with a clean dish cloth or paper towel) (or 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas)]
- [1 cup raw shelled walnuts]
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or 1/4 cup water
- 1 white onion diced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- [2 tablespoons tomato paste]
- [2 tablespoons vegan Worcestershire sauce]
- [1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar]
- [1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder]
- [1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder]
- [1 teaspoon cumin]
- [1 teaspoon smoked paprika]
- [3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon]
- 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- [1 8-ounce can tomato sauce]
- 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water (plus more, as needed to thin)
- Cooked kidney beans
- Diced raw white onion
- Fresh chopped parsley
- Fresh cracked black pepper
- Dairy free shredded cheese
- Hot sauce
- Cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to chop
- Add the chickpeas to the food processor with the walnuts and pulse a few more times to break them up. Do not over-process into a purée…you still want it chunky like the size of ground meat crumbles. (See step-by-stop photos in post for reference). Set aside.
- Heat the oil (or water) in a large deep skillet over medium heat on the stove. Add the diced onions and sauté 5 to 6 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1 more minute.
- Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and all the spices. Stir to combine until the tomato paste is well mixed in.
- Add the chickpea and walnut mixture and stir to combine.
- Add the tomato sauce and broth and stir to combine.
- Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes until thickened up to your desired consistency. Feel free to add a bit more broth or water if you like it thinner.
- Serve over spaghetti noodles with any optional garnishes you like.