A mix of traditional and non-traditional ingredients—fresh ginger, bay leaf and oregano, for instance—give this White Chili a satisfyingly big flavor. Recipe below.
Easy to make, this white chili recipe is lively, robust and flavorful without being obvious. Lots of spices and herbs come together to create a satisfyingly complex taste without too much heat. I used to make it a lot, but it had fallen off the radar screen for reasons unknown. With chili season upon us, though—well, it’s always chili season at our house, but around late fall or early winter, it gets serious—it was time for it to make a comeback.
For the most part when we’re thinking chili, we stick with two takes on it, Marion’s and mine. Which gets made depends on which flavor we’re craving and who has the time and inclination to cook. What made me remember this big-flavored white chili was a recent bowl of ersatz white chicken chili from a restaurant near my office. The restaurant chili would have been fine had they called it soup. It had lots of clear broth, a definite sign of soup to me. And it had no cumin, a definite sign of, well, not being chili.
This recipe is definitely chili. It has a robust flavor and packs a little heat. There’s no mistaking the cumin presence. And—sorry, Texans—it’s got beans. But just like our two mainstay chili recipes above, it’s got some decidedly non-traditional touches too. Fresh ginger, for instance, and mushrooms. Bay leaf and oregano. And the only tomato you’ll find in it is a little used for garnish at the end. Based on a recipe from the Chicago Tribune’s excellent Good Eating section, it is hearty and satisfying—and the perfect antidote to a cold winter’s evening.
With this recipe just bursting with herbs, both fresh and dry, how could I not include it in Weekend Herb Blogging? This week, it’s being hosted by WHB’s founder, Kalyn, over at Kalyn’s Kitchen. Be sure to check out her complete round-up Sunday night.
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped [about 2 cups]
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
[with or without seeds and ribs—see Kitchen Notes]
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 inch thick piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
[about 2 teaspoons—see Kitchen Notes]
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
4 ounces mushrooms, quartered
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cans [15 ounces each] white beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped cilantro [plus 2 tablespoons for garnish]
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon each, salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small tomato, chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Heat a large dutch oven or sauce pan over a medium flame. Add olive oil. Add onions and jalapeño pepper and cook, stirring occasionally to avoid browning onion, for 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add chicken and mushrooms. Drizzle in more olive oil, if needed. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to brown chicken on all sides.
Sprinkle in flour and stir to coat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add broth, beans, 1/4 cup cilantro, bay leaf, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender and chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Discard bay leaf and adjust seasonings. Spoon chili into bowls and garnish with tomato, cilantro and green onion. Serve.
Adjusting jalapeño heat. The heat found in this and other peppers is from capsaicin and is found in the seeds and veins, or ribs—the whitish ridges inside the pepper. By removing the seeds and ribs, you take away virtually all of the fire. Sometimes, I’ll slice the pepper in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and ribs from just one half; this reduces the spiciness but still lets some heat come through. Other times, I’ll just chop up the whole pepper for a full blast.
Handling the heat—-gloves or no gloves? The first time I made something with a jalapeño pepper, I carefully followed the warnings in the recipe to wear rubber gloves while slicing and dicing it. A quick aside—older daughter Claire wandered through the kitchen while I was doing this and asked what exactly I was expecting them to eat that required me to wear gloves while preparing it. Now I dispense with the gloves. A couple of caveats if you follow my cavalier lead: First, if you have any tiny cuts on your fingers, this is a great way to find them. Second, wash your hands like crazy after you finish handling the peppers—and then wash them again. You will rub your eyes or nose at some point, and if you don’t wash thoroughly, you will regret it.
Ground ginger for fresh ginger? In a word, no. Unlike most herbs and spices, you can’t substitute ground, dried ginger for fresh. Dried ginger lacks the citrusy brightness of fresh ginger, for one thing. So buy fresh ginger. You’ll find lots of uses for it at epicurious.com and wonder why you never cooked with it before. If you absolutely can’t find fresh ginger, just skip it and double the cumin; it won’t taste quite as complex, but will help add to the bigness of the flavor.
Mincing ginger. Ginger is very fibrous, not unlike wood. And like wood, it has a grain—a direction in which the fibers align. So trying to mince a large chunk is a thankless task. That’s why to cut it into 1/4-inch slices. Once you’ve peeled the slice, quarter it and bash each piece with the side of a knife. This will pulverize it into little 1/4-inch threads, easy to separate with a quick mince. You can also grate fresh ginger—just peel the piece you’re grating first.