Good ol’ American chili is an art-form. I quote the famous curmudgeonly sleuth, Nero Wolfe: “Chili is one of the great peasant foods. It is one of the few contributions America has to world cuisine. Eaten with corn bread, sweet onion, sour cream, it contains all five of the elements deemed essential by the sages of the Orient: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, and bitter.” Couldn’t have said it better me-self.
In the States, annual chili cook-offs are a tradition in which almost every American has participated at one time or another. I don’t know any American who doesn’t love a kick-ass bowl o’ chili. To boot, any given family’s chili recipe is secret, kept hidden but to a privileged few of the succeeding generations, to be passed on thereafter in covert meetings by the stove on an autumn day to worthy kin. Chili is diverse in its content in that it can contain any meat imaginable, or no meat; lots o’ beans, or no beans; veggies galore, or simply meat and sauce. In essence, it represents America even more than the hamburger; chili can be any color, any personality, and created by any culture or creed, and we will accept it, love it, and welcome it into our homes and our lives. That’s why I love chili, and that’s why I love that I’m American.
Funnily enough, my family doesn’t have a chili recipe. In fact, I don’t even have a “this is my chili” recipe, which kind of bums me out. I keep working at it, though, and when I hit on one that reflects me, I will start there, tweak and revise, and eventually post it here. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t made some good chili along the way. This Chicken and Chickpea Chili recipe will make the insides of your thighs tingle. Is it you exactly? Maybe, maybe not. You have to make it you, of course.
A few years back, I got the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook as a housewarming present (with a message about how my weight loss is inspiring, no less (aw shucks)), and I have used it fairly often since then. This recipe is in there. I did take a few liberties with it, of course, but not enough to alter the points. 1 1/2 cups of it is an 8 on the old Weight Watchers system (Points Plus and 360° can both fuck off profoundly). Check out that it has cocoa powder; you’ll be surprised at how much it heightens the flavor. Moreover, it doesn’t take too long, in terms of chili. You have to find a cornbread recipe that will limit the points, of course, but the chili on its own is good enough.
Chicken and Chickpea Chili
Serves 4, 1 1/2 cups for each serving
4 tsp. olive oil
1 bell pepper, any color, seeded, membranes removed, and diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium red onion, diced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 lb. or so), diced
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 heaping tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional and dependent on your love of heat)
1 can diced green chilies
1 28 oz. can crushed tomato
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (or thereabouts)
1/2 cup chicken broth (low sodium and no fat would be best for WW)
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
a few dashes o’ hot sauce, like Tabasco (optional)
1 15 oz. can (or so) chickpeas (garbanzos, drained and rinsed)
1 15 oz. can (or so) pinto beans (drained and rinsed)
In a dutch oven (translation: pot), heat the oil over medium to medium high heat. Add the bell pepper, celery, and onions. Saute them until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the diced chicken and cook until no longer pink, about 7 minutes.
Sprinkle this with the flour, chili powder, cocoa powder, and cayenne and stir this constantly for a minute. Add in the chilies, tomatoes, broth, vinegar, and hot sauce, if using. Bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer it for 30 to 40 minutes uncovered, stirring fairly frequently, until it’s thickened to your liking (hehe).
Next, stir in the chickpeas and pinto beans. Simmer until it’s heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve in bowls with corn bread or alone. Pass the low-fat sour cream and sing the National Anthem with gusto, kiddos.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
©Jon Marino 2013