Cold temperatures and dreary days make it hard not to long for summer and fresh vegetables from the garden, but if last year's harvest was a good one, there should still be plenty left in the freezer to get through the rest of winter.
That's the case in our kitchen, especially with green peppers and tomatoes, the two things we seem to grow more than anything else.
When I was looking at ways to use to the last of the garden before it was time to start planning the next, I thought of white chicken chili. Most kitchens already have most of the ingredients. But if your garden didn't produce well last year, if you've already used up everything in the freezer, or if you didn't have a garden at all, you can still make this dish. It is healthy, quick and simple.
White chicken chili is a not only a healthy dish, it is quick, easy to put together, and helps use up some of those freezer items from last year’s garden.
In late summer when the peppers are weighing down the plants and the tomatoes are ripening faster than we can say mayonnaise, I like to get them ready for winter recipes. We often have bags of both sliced and diced green peppers in our freezer. We usually only put up a bag or two of sliced peppers for sausage sandwiches, but we try to have plenty of diced peppers for cooking things like spaghetti sauce, soups or in this case, chili. My husband, who cooks our Sunday breakfast most weeks, likes to use diced peppers in his egg and sausage bowls. If we do use up all the diced peppers we've frozen, it is easy to defrost the slices and cut them up as well. Nothing is wasted.
The same goes for tomatoes. If there was no time to cook down large pots of fresh tomatoes into a thick sauce, we'll often wash and stem the tomatoes and toss them whole into freezer bags, skin and all. When it is time to use them, we take a bag out of the freezer and after defrosting a bit, we can run them under cold water and the skins will slip off like sleeves. I like to cut them up when they are still a little frozen so the juice doesn't run all over the cutting board.
The celery and most of the herbs and spices for the chili come from the pantry, but the oregano was grown in our herb garden, then dried and stored in an air-tight container. It doesn't take much dried herb to season a dish. The basic rule is to use 1/3 dried herb to fresh. In other words, one tablespoon fresh herb would translate to one teaspoon dried. Although drying herbs eliminates the moisture, the oils that give the plants their flavor do not evaporate and are in fact more concentrated in the dried leaves.
White Chicken Chili
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 pound chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Pinch black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
In a small frying pan, cook the chicken in olive oil until it is no longer pink. Remove chicken from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, saute bell pepper, celery and onion in olive oil until softened. Add garlic and cook a few minutes longer. Put the vegetables and cooked chicken in a large saucepan and add spices, tomatoes and beans. Heat through. Add a bit of chicken broth to desired consistency, but keep in mind this is a chili and not soup.
Onions and garlic also come from the garden, although it's a crap-shoot as to whether they last through the entire winter. In same cases, the garlic starts to dry out and the onions begin to sprout and wither. When this starts to happen, I'll finish them in the dehydrator and grind them into powders with a small coffee grinder designated just for grinding herbs.
I have grown my own shelling beans in the past, such as great northern or cannellini, but now I prefer to buy them at the store already canned for quick meals at the end of busy days. You can use dried beans as long as you plan ahead for soaking and longer cooking time. Because dried beans are extremely inexpensive, I don't grow them any longer unless I want a particular variety I can't find anywhere else. It isn't worth the garden space or the time spent shelling a lot of beans for what they cost in the store.
I like the versatility of this dish because it can be thrown together quickly in a saucepan, or everything can go into a crock pot in the morning and be ready by the time everyone is home later for dinner.
This chili is especially good on the second day, so I make enough to take for lunch a few days during the week. If a meatless meal is preferred, simply leave out the chicken.
I like to serve it in colorful bowls with a garnish of shredded cheese, sour cream and sliced corn tortillas.