It’s fall — the best time for chili

Adrienne Freeman Published November 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

Tender chunks of chicken and cannellini beans in a savory and slightly creamy broth spiced with cumin and garlic make this White Chicken Chili a great alternative to the traditional “bowl of red.” For extra interest, top with sour cream, cheese, cilantro, avocados or tortilla chips.

As the thermometer dips near freezing and days lose light earlier, sweaters come out of storage, and kettles are retrieved from kitchen cabinets. It’s time for chili.

A soothing seasonal satisfaction for footballers and fun lovers alike, chili, at least around these parts, comes in one general style with hundreds of variations. Tomato sauce or tomato paste? Fresh spices or dried? These issues are all solved with personal preference and availability, but the culinary question of most importance is, “Beans or no beans?’”

The “beans or no beans” issue can really cause a rift. The dilemma is so significant that the “official” authority about all things chili, CASI (the Chili Appreciation Society International, www.chili.org), which sanctions numerous chili cook-offs and competitions throughout the world, specifies in its bylaws that competition cooks are forbidden to include beans in their mixes. On CASI’s watch, marinated meat will also get you tossed. Oddly enough, CASI expressly denies discharging firearms in the preparation of chili during friendly competition. So holster all weapons, and leave the firecrackers at home — this chili cooking is serious business.

Arkansas gets its chili-recipe inspiration from Texas and the Southwest, so the most common recipes include beef and tomato with the addition of spices. Creative chili cook-offs and competitions are held around the state throughout the year: Clinton and Russellville just held contests in October, Hardy hosts a Chili Luncheon in the spring and the annual state cook-off is hosted by Bull Shoals White River State Park near Bull Shoals each fall. Hot Springs kicks off Christmas by combining a chili cook-off with a holiday lighting celebration.

But around the country, others have a very different idea of chili. Chili verde (green chili) is a moderately to extremely spicy Mexican-American stew or sauce usually made from chunks of pork that have been slow-cooked in chicken broth with garlic, tomatillos and roasted green chilies. Tomatoes are rarely used. The spiciness of the chili varies with the choice of the many pepper varieties that can be used.

Although not especially a regional dish, White Chicken Chili is another popular variation of the spicy, meaty stew. It calls for replacing beef with chicken and using its flavorful broth as a base, then adding spices such as cilantro and cumin as accents, along with traditional soup-base vegetables — celery, onions, carrots or peppers. Often finished with sour cream or avocados, this dish is a small departure from the “same-old, same-old” and a welcome addition to a menu rotation.

WHITE CHICKEN CHILI

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (store-bought rotisserie chicken is fine here for a great time saver)

1 tablespoon oil

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1 rib celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 poblano pepper or large green pepper, diced

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 (15-ounce) cans white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Optional toppers:

Sour cream

Avocado, diced

Chopped cilantro

Shredded cheese

Tortilla chips

Directions:

In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil until it is hot, but not smoking. Add the onion, garlic, celery and pepper, and saute for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, and stir in the cumin, salt, pepper, oregano and chili powder. Add the rinsed beans. Simmer on medium for 10 minutes. Remove 1/2 cup of the heated, softened beans with a little broth to a small mixing bowl. With a potato masher or fork, mash the beans until mostly smooth. Add back to soup, and stir in thoroughly.

Shred or cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add chicken to the soup, and cook until heated through. Finish with a squeeze of lime and fresh cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with optional toppers.

COLORADO GREEN CHILI

Ingredients:

Pork roast, 3 to 4 pounds

1/4 cup canola oil

12-15 whole New Mexico green chiles, roasted and peeled (or 3-4 cans whole green chiles)

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

2 medium onions, roughly chopped

3 cups of chicken stock

2 jalapenos, seeded and diced

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Cut pork tenderloin (or roast) into 1/2-inch cubes, and dredge in the flour, salt and pepper.

Heat oil in large skillet. Add pork; cook until well browned. Remove and set aside.

Add chopped onions and garlic to the skillet. Cook 2 to 3 minutes until translucent. Deglaze pan with 1 cup of the chicken stock.

Transfer vegetables and pork to a large pot. Chop green chiles into 1-inch slices, and add jalapenos and spices.

Bring to a boil; then slow-simmer for 2 to 3 hours until pork is fork tender.

BLACK BEAN AND CHORIZO CHILI

Ingredients:

1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

Cooking spray

2 1/2 cups chopped onion, divided

1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper

1 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper

5 garlic cloves, minced

3 links Spanish chorizo sausage, diced (about 6 ounces)

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained

3 (14-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and chopped

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 cup sour cream

Tortilla chips

Directions:

Remove 2 chipotles from can; finely chop, reserving remaining chiles and sauce for another use.

Heat a large Dutch oven coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add chiles, onion, bell peppers, garlic and chorizo; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, lime juice and cinnamon. Stir well. Add tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; season with salt and pepper.

Top each serving with 1 tablespoon sour cream and green onions, if desired. Serve with tortilla chips.

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