Monday, November 15, 2010

fall recipe: "white" chili

I'm taking a break from my regular musings on balance and stress relief, in favor of sharing a new recipe!

Fall always makes me think of chili. But after 2 rounds of the regular "red" vegetarian chili -- tomato-based stew with red kidney beans and peppers -- I felt a need to experiment and try new combinations. Hence, this "white" chili.


Hearty Vegetarian White Chili

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 medium carrots, chopped to small pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground oregano
2 tsp chili powder, or more or less to taste... I went with "more"
2 tbsp flour
a slosh of white wine... 1/4 - 1/2 cup maybe?
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I know... I used canned. Didn't plan ahead and soak dry chickpeas. You can also use cannellini beans or other white beans)
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup bulgur (medium or coarse), rinsed and drained
1/2 - 1 bunch of greens of your choice, chopped or torn to bite-size pieces (I am loving Swiss chard and collard greens for this recipe. For hearty stews I prefer chard or collards over spinach... spinach tends to wilt down to almost nothing)
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
chopped cilantro* (or parsley if you prefer)

Heat olive oil in a Le Creuset (I wish!) big, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onions and season with 1 tsp of salt - chefs on TV say to season as you go or season every layer, and it does make a difference so you don't add a ton of salt at the end that doesn't get fully absorbed by the ingredients anyway. Of course, start with just a small pinch of salt each time you season so that you don't risk over-salting the dish. The salt also helps cook the onion by drawing the moisture out. (Thanks, Ina Garten)

Add the carrots and saute until crisp-tender. The carrots help add natural sweetness to the stew to balance out the warm spices. Add the garlic and the spices (cumin, chili powder, and oregano). Adding the spices at this point in the cooking process toasts them and brings out their flavor. Add the flour and cook for a minute or so to cook off the "raw" flour flavor. The flour will help thicken the stew later. Add a good slosh of white wine to deglaze the pot and scrape the browned bits on the bottom with a wooden spoon. You want those browned bits -- that's where the flavor is!

Pour in the broth. It will look like a LOT of liquid, but don't worry, it will get reduced down. Add the chickpeas (or white beans). Let it come to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Once it's boiling, add the bulgur. The bulgur will also absorb some of the liquid. It also adds texture and makes the stew more hearty. Add the crushed red pepper flakes. Start with a small pinch, as the flavor gets concentrated during the simmering. Stir in the greens. It will look like a whole lot of greens, but it will wilt down as the stew cooks.

Let it simmer until it thickens and until it reaches your desired consistency. You can add more broth or water if too much got absorbed or reduced while cooking. Season with salt and pepper. Add a generous amount of chopped cilantro. If you're one of those people who think that cilantro tastes like soap, use parsley instead. (But I would argue that really fresh cilantro should NOT taste like soap. Like the little cilantro I had growing this spring/summer. Best ever.)

You can also sprinkle some grated cheese on top if you like, but I did without it. And if you're like me and really like cilantro, sprinkle a little more cilantro on top of each serving.

This was a great one-pot meal, and one-bowl meal. It was colorful, flavorful, and healthy!  I wish I could take a photo, but I left Nick (my Nikon camera) at A's house last weekend. Gasp!

This makes a LOT of stew for one person... I typically let it cool a little, then portion it out into reused glass jars for freezing (I find that peanut butter glass jars are perfect for this). Make sure you leave enough room below the lid of the jar as the liquid will expand when frozen. So, instead of eating this same dish for 5 days straight, you can enjoy it another day, after enough time has passed for you to miss it. I have to say I love my homemade "frozen dinners". I usually have 3 or 4 different kinds of homemade soups or stews that I can choose from in the freezer, because I always make a big batch each time I cook to save time and energy. A few hours before dinner I take the jar of frozen soup/stew and immerse it in a container of water to thaw out.

* A note on cilantro, other fresh herbs, and greens... I found that taking a few extra steps in kitchen prepping keeps delicate herbs and soft greens fresher longer. Have you had herbs like parsley or cilantro just wilt down and get all browned, smelly, and nasty in those supermarket plastic produce bags in your refrigerator? Ugh. Waste of $ and yummy goodness! For those who know me, you know there's not a lot that I hate but I do hate wasting food. Must be my grandmother's ways...but anway, here's what I do:
When I buy packaged salads (not the ones in the soft plastic bags, but in the stiff clamshell plastic containers or those new compostable "plastic" containers), I wash and keep those containers to save for storing greens and herbs. When I get home from the store, I take the herbs out of the mesh/cloth/plastic (whatever you use) produce bags, and sort out and discard the already-wilted stems and leaves as these will make the good, fresh ones wilt faster. I line the containers with a layer of paper towel, then place the herbs into the lined containers. The paper towel absorbs the extra moisture. I also loosen the bunch a little bit to let air circulate - don't bunch it up again in the rubber band or twist-tie it comes in! When it's time to use the herbs, wash only what you need and store the rest. I know some people also store herbs in a glass of water in the refrigerator but I found that a bit difficult to do with big bunches like parsley and cilantro.

I do the same with greens like Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens. These greens stand up a bit more to washing, so I wash them, let them dry well, discard any tough stems or stalks, and chop/tear the leaves into big pieces - as store-bought chard can be supersized (which makes me a little suspicious), and they won't fit into the salad containers.  That way when I'm ready to use them in a dish, all the prepping has been done, and all I have to do is throw them into the skillet or pot and cook away.

In short... those plastic produce bags are the enemy of fresh greens in your refrigerator! For those of you who grow your own greens or are living in states that are still warm enough to have farmer's markets... I envy you. I'm sure you don't have this issue.

Ok... get cooking! Enjoy :)

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