All the Ways: My Mom’s Lab Party Chili

The chili I grew up with is Cleveland chili—not Cincinnati chili, exactly, but a far cry from a Texas Bowl of Red. Cincinnati chili arrived in Ohio from Macedonia and/or Greece; it’s a modified stew with warming spices of cinnamon, cloves, and chocolate.
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My mom’s version was the main course at large gatherings of my father’s colleagues and students—the title of the recipe handed down to me is “Lab Party Six-Way Chili.”

It’s the garnishes—the ways—that make the dish. Cincinnati chili is traditionally served over spaghetti (or a hot dog) but we use macaroni. Kidney beans are non-negotiable for me. Then, cheese on top (cheddar or monterey jack), raw onions, green olives, jalapenos if you want. Sour cream (I don’t like it.) Avocado with a little lime juice if you happen to have it around.

Chili is the right thing when the sky is gray, the stock market falling. It’s cheap, it multiplies well, it’s comforting and filling. It’s forgiving and flexible. You can use more beans and less meat, depending on your preference. Other vegetables too: eggplant, maybe, a canned chipotle in adobo. Pile with toppings and sit in front of the tv. My mom visited this weekend, and left again, which always leaves both of us feeling a little bereft. But now I’m armed with chili in the freezer.

Lab Party Chili with All the Ways

1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chipped
2 T olive oil
1 lb ground beef, bison, turkey, or lamb, or some combination
1 large can tomatoes…keep another on hand in case it doesnt seem tomatoey enough to you.
1 cup water (put it in the tomato can to get the leftover juices)
1 green pepper or two cubanelle, sliced small
2 T bottled jalapeno peppers, chopped or chipotle in adobo, chopped
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 to 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 T chili powder (I increased this a little)
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 oz grated unsweetened chocolate (I used unsweetened cocoa powder)
2 cans kidney beans

Garnishes:
macaroni
chopped raw onions
shredded cheese
sour cream
sliced olives
jalapenos
avocado with squirt of lime

Brown the onion and garlic in a dutch oven. Add meat and brown (drain fat if meat is not extra lean.) Add remaining ingredients, simmer over low heat for 40 mins or an hour. It’s even better if you cook it, cool, refrigerate overnight, and cook another hour the next day.

Serve over macaroni, with garnishes of your choice.

In budget, chili, fall, recipe, soup

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