Cincinnati chili over spaghetti squash (Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post)

Cincinnati chili over spaghetti squash (Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post)

Veg, mole-like flavor elevates traditional Cincinnati chili

This recipe is a loose interpretation of a true Cincinnati chili, but that richly spiced meat dish is a loose interpretation of chili to begin with, so I figure it is OK that I am tapping into the same spirit of inspiration and innovation here.

The warmly spiced and fragrant flavor of the Midwestern classic is at this recipe’s core. Mine is made with lean ground beef or turkey, cooked low and slow with tomatoes and what might seem like just about every spice in your cupboard: chili powder, paprika, allspice, cinnamon, cloves and more. After a minimum of an hour, the ingredients seem almost melted, and a deep, mole-like savory-sweet flavor develops.

But whereas the typical Cincinnati chili is soupier and often served ladled over spaghetti, this one has the chunky-thick texture you typically expect when you think “chili” — plus a more vegetable-focused spin, as it is served over ribbons of spaghetti squash.

I make mine a “five-way,” as they call it in that Ohio city: topped with beans, chopped onion and shredded cheese for a crowd-pleasing and healthful comfort food meal that just may become a new classic.

Cincinnati chili over spaghetti squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large white or yellow onion, chopped

1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 pound ground beef or ground turkey (90 to 93 percent lean)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon unsweetened natural (not Dutch-process) cocoa powder

2 teaspoons sweet or mild paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more as needed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 bay leaf

128-ounce can no-salt-added crushed tomatoes, plus their juices

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses

1 spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds)

1 cup canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained (from 14-ounce can), for garnish

1/4 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese, for garnish

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, pepper and beef or turkey and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat with the spoon, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic.

Whisk together the chili powder, cocoa powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and cloves in a small bowl, then add to the pot; cook for 1 minute, stirring, until fragrant. Add the bay leaf, the tomatoes and their juices, the water and molasses, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds (reserve for another use or discard, as you wish). To cook the squash in the microwave, place one half, cut side down, in a microwave-safe baking dish with about a half-inch of water; microwave on high for 5 to 7 minutes, until the squash is tender. Repeat with the other half of the squash.

(Alternatively, you can roast the squash halves in a 400-degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes, cut sides down, in a baking dish with about a half-inch of water in the dish, until tender.)

Transfer the cooked squash to a cutting board and allow it to cool slightly, then use a fork to scrape out the squash flesh into spaghetti-like ribbons. Transfer to a bowl, draining off any excess liquid, and cover to keep warm.

When ready to serve, discard the bay leaf from the chili. Taste, and add a bit more salt, as needed. Place the squash in a serving dish or divide among individual bowls or mugs. Ladle the chili over the squash. Garnish with the kidney beans, cheese and red onion.

The chili can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Nutrition per serving (based on 6, using ground beef): 300 calories, 20 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 50 milligrams cholesterol, 380 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 14 grams sugar.

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