With the holidays now a memory, we greet the new year with reflection and resolve to implement positive changes. For many, myself included, resolutions are often related to lifestyle changes to promote good health. For me, this starts in the kitchen where my quest for improved health and fitness begins with diet. Please don’t misunderstand the use of the word “diet” as I am not referring to weight loss fads, but the choices made about what to eat and how much. One of the best ways to control what goes into your body is to cook from scratch. This is the only way to avoid too much sugar, salt, preservatives and dyes found in most processed food.
That said, I developed today’s recipe with several criteria to guide me. First, it had to be healthy (low-fat, good amount of protein and high fiber). The only fat that was in this preparation was the chicken thighs, although I did trim any visible fat off before cooking. Chicken breast is less fat but tends to dry out when cooked low and slow. The beans provide very good fiber and protein as does the chicken. I chose pinto beans because I had some in the pantry and I really like their flavor, but you decide what pleases you. Second, it had to be easy to make. I chose to make it in the slow cooker as I was busy and had several things going on that day. Certainly, this could be accomplished stove top as well, requiring a bit more monitoring. Honestly, this was the easiest dish to assemble. My busy day required simplicity so I decided on no “pre” and just threw all the ingredients into the cooker and turned it on. By “pre” I mean no pre-soak on the dried beans and no additional sautéing of the aromatics. Perhaps I should have called it “dump chili.” Third, with the arrival of winter last week, it had to be hearty and comforting. After all, it is chili.
Here is how it went down in my kitchen.
NEW YEAR CHICKEN CHILI serves 6-8
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
1 ½ – 2 lbs boneless/skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
1 white or yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/3 c dried pinto beans, rinsed (soaking overnight will reduce cooking time but not absolutely necessary)
4c chicken stock (may need a bit more depending on your cooker)
2 (14 oz) cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes with green chilis (I like Muir Glen Organic)
1T ground cumin
1 ½ t dried oregano, preferably Mexican
2t sea salt
1 dried pasilla pepper (whole but shake out the seeds)
2 dried chipotle peppers (whole)
2 bay leaves
Avocado, diced scallion, grated cotija or cheddar cheese for garnish (or toppings of choice)
Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker, stir to incorporate. Bury the dried chilis and bay leaves in the liquid. Cook for 6 hrs on high (may need more time if beans are not soaked overnight) or 8-10 on low. If desired, it can be cooked in a large soup pot on top of the stove. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 3-4 hours or until beans are tender. Remove chilis and bay leaves before serving. Top with the garnishes.
Note: This dish gets better as it sits and flavors have time to marry. Leftovers are freezer friendly. Save some for another busy day.
Cutting a few corners in the prep did not in any way effect the outcome. The dried chili peppers contributed just the right amount of smokiness and mild heat. You can adjust the amount to your liking but I would encourage you to include at least a little as they add richness and depth to your stew. My chili had the perfect amount of heat. For me that means it is at first not very noticeable but then settles with a subtle heat at the back of the throat. I should mention that there are many varieties of dry chili peppers, with varying levels of heat, on the market. Some have a guideline on the package to determine how hot they are but if not, you can research the heat levels as rated on the Scoville chart. Don’t be afraid. I keep several types of them in my pantry at all times. They offer a flavor boost and complexity to many dishes and in soups and stews, you don’t have to reconstitute, just throw them in dry.
We were warmed and comforted by this dish and were happy to eat the leftovers. Nothing, except cuddling with a warm dog, beats a steaming bowl of goodness when those temps drop and warming the insides becomes imperative. In addition, it is a completely guilt free meal. That makes me very happy!
My wish for all is for 2016 to be a year of peace, happiness and good health. Good eating starts in your kitchen so keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. I send my love and thoughts for healthy eating to you. If winter isn’t your thing, have heart. The days are getting longer and the first seed catalog has arrived.
Stay warm and be safe. Until next time, here is one of my favorite quotes for the new year,
“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” Unknown