The first time I ate white chicken chili, it was wrapped in a burrito. And I fell instantly in love.
Of course, I'd always been a fan of tomato-based red chili, but the white version — flavored with green chili peppers and thickened with sour cream — struck me as cleaner. And I didn't miss the sometimes cloying sweetness that tomatoes bring to red chili.
So here is my lightened-up version of white chicken chili. It can be eaten straight up by the bowl, over rice (preferably brown), or spooned into a whole-wheat tortilla. To make this dish creamy without any cream, I thickened it by mashing up some of the white beans. Combined with a tiny bit of reduced-fat sour cream, the mashed beans provide this impeccably slimmed-down chili with an unexpectedly luxurious texture.
Good flavor and thickening ability aside, white beans also happen to be a powerhouse of good nutrition. They're a terrific source of fiber — which means this chili will fill you up — and a very good source of folate and manganese.
The list of ingredients in this recipe is longish, but good chili requires a fair amount of flavors. On the other hand, this version, unlike the traditional one, doesn't need to simmer for hours, which makes it quite do-able on a weeknight. Then again, if you happened to cook it on a weekend and didn't serve it until a few days later, the flavors would only improve.
The base of this chili is ground chicken and white beans, both of which are affordable. If you can't find ground chicken, use ground turkey. And if you're not a fan of either, you're welcome to swap in lean ground beef.
As written, this recipe isn't especially spicy. To save time, I call for canned green chili peppers (which are quite mild) and generic chili powder (a blend of ground chili peppers and spices, often oregano and cumin).
But if you wanted to heat it up, you can lose the canned chilies in favor of fresh ones. Poblanos — roasted, peeled and chopped — would be perfect, as would chopped and sauteed jalapenos and serranos. Or you can use pure chili powder made from ground dried chilies, such as chipotles. Or just finish the dish with your favorite hot sauce.
And please don't forget the garnishes. Even though they require extra work, I can't recommend them highly enough. They add so many layers of flavor and texture to the finished bowl of chili.
WHITE CHICKEN CHILI WITH LIME
Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (use 2 cups if not using the wine)
Two 15 1/2-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed
4 1/2 -ounce can chopped green chilies (use less if you prefer a very mild chili)
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
Salt and ground black pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro
Grated low-fat Monterey Jack cheese
In a large nonstick or stick-resistant skillet over medium, heat the oil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onion and red pepper, then cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion is softened. Add the chicken and cook, breaking up the any large pieces, until the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, chili powder, flour, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the white wine, if using, and the broth in a stream, whisking. Bring the mixture to boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, use a fork to mash 1 cup of the beans. Add both the whole and mashed beans and the chilies to the chili and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the sour cream and cook until hot. Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle the chili into bowls and accompany at the table with scallions, cilantro, cheese and lime wedges.
Nutrition information per serving: 410 calories; 120 calories from fat (29 percent of total calories); 13 g fat (4.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 75 mg cholesterol; 41 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 29 g protein; 430 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."