Although Texans may disagree, any dish in which chili peppers are slowly simmered with meat can be called chili. The beans, tomatoes and chili powder that typify Texas-style chili are all optional. In fact, you can even omit the meat altogether and substitute beans, lentils or tofu. It would still be chili.
Recently, after a friend mentioned that she had trouble digesting tomatoes, I decided to explore what is known as white chili. To my surprise, I learned the dish is not simply a milder form of the classic, as its color might suggest. Rather, its roots lie in a dish from New Mexico called chile. Made by stewing fresh or dried chile peppers with onions, garlic and spices, chile resembles a very soupy stew or sauce. When New Mexico’s native green hot peppers are used, you get chile verde. Made with ripe red peppers, it becomes chile Colorado or red chile.
White chili is, in effect, New Mexican chile verde with white beans and meat. Pork can be added to give the dish a rich flavor, however, as experts agree that consumption of red meat should be limited, choosing poultry may be more sensible.
I tested white chili three times using chicken meat and encountered problems with each version. Using diced breast, the cubes were too dry and the labor of cutting up the chicken was too time consuming. I had similar problems when using skinless and boneless thighs. My final version featured ground chicken breast, which was dry and bland. The solution: ground turkey breast.
Canned Hatch chiles are ideal in this dish, but you can use any green chiles other than jalapenos. For the beans, I favor white cannelinis, which are actually a kind of kidney bean. Be sure to rinse them well, both to remove sodium and also because their thick “juice” gives the chili an unpleasant starchy texture.
White Turkey Chili
– Makes 4 servings.
- 1 Tbsp. canola oil
- 1 lb. ground turkey breast
- 3/4 cup chopped onions
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 1 cup chopped tomatillos
- 1 (4.5 oz.) can chopped green chiles, undrained
- 1 (15 oz.) can cannelini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 cup low fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 Tbsp. lime juice
- Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped scallions
In a large, heavy pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add turkey and cook until it loses its pink color, 5 minutes. Note: don’t break turkey apart completely, but lightly loosen it into smaller pieces with wooden spoon. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
In same pot, sauté the onions until soft, 5 minutes. Mix in garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Mix in cumin, oregano, cloves and tomatillos and cook until the tomatillos are soft, 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add chiles, beans, cilantro, and broth. Return turkey to pot. Simmer, uncovered, until chili is thick enough to plop from a spoon, 10 minutes. Mix in lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among 4 bowls, top with scallions and serve.
Per serving: 270 calories, 6 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat), 21 g carbohydrate, 34 g protein, 6 g dietary fiber, 480 mg sodium.
“Something Different” is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.