The White Chili That Wasn't
It was supposed to be a white chili supper. I had visions of white beans seasoned with rosemary and garlic whispering sweet nothings to ground turkey and pearl barley. It would be lighter (i.e. lower in fat) than a classic red chili yet hearty enough to satisfy an urban cowboy and with plenty of fiber to feel virtuous.
The inspiration originally came from a recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit magazine about 10 years ago, with the barley catching my eye. I asked myself out loud why I rarely use barley, one of the easiest, no-fuss grains to work with in one-pot dishes.
The original plan was to share the work with my beloved domestic co-pilot, who considers himself a chili expert. "Okay, meet you after yoga," I said, "and you can pick up the ingredients at the store." Check. "See you at home." Check check.
Well, life had other plans for us, and for the chili. Co-pilot got saddled with last-minute work chaos and was unable to do the grocery shopping or join me in our kitchen project. I picked up the slack, making a detour to the store that was near a bus stop. No problem.
By the time I arrived at the store, I checked the watch: 7:10. If I quickly gathered my vittles and took a cab home. I could be cooking by 8, I thought. Not ideal, but still feasible to eat by 9:30.
As I perused the aisles, I discovered there was nary a can of white beans in the store. There goes my white chili idea. I had plenty of garbanzo beans at home, but could I make a make a chili solely from garbanzos? Sigh.
I moved on to the next item on the list -- ground turkey -- and headed to the meat counter.
I was batting 1.000. No ground turkey in the house. "Okay, don't fret yet," I said under my breath. I looked for signs of turkey sausage before throwing in the towel.
Now it was 7:30. No turkey, no white beans, no car. This was not going to happen. But before I declared the evening a complete chili whiteout, I walked through the frozen aisle. There, my luck seemed to turn around. I found a box of frozen, unseasoned turkey burger patties. Let's give this a shot, I decided.
I got home by 8, as planned, and realized I never did anything about the white bean deficit. I rooted around the cabinets and found some pinto beans. Not exactly the stuff of white chili, but hey, at this point, I'll be lucky to eat by 10.
I chopped an onion, some garlic and a fresh chile and cooked all that in oil. And because this experience was already in improv mode, I thought, what the heck, let's add some cocoa powder with the cumin, cinnamon and chili powder. So far, so good, and the house smelled great.
Meanwhile, my turkey patties were defrosting in the microwave, and I drained my cans of beans. Turkey went into the pot, and my friend Leslie called from Seattle. "I hear cooking going on," she said. "Yeah, well, it's a big experiment tonight," I replied. "I have no idea how this is going to turn out." And in saying those words, I realized that it was more than okay to go with the kitchen flow and see what happens.
Once the turkey was browned, I added the barley and a combination of canned chicken stock and water (I used what I had on hand). As the barley began to open up and tenderize, I tasted my brew and decided it need more depth. In went some tomato puree I had in the cabinet. A little smoke from a chipotle chile was thrown into the mix as well.
By 9:40, the chili was done. Beans were added at the end, getting a brief warming and a chance to talk to all the other ingredients.
Far from white -- and a long stretch from the original plan -- the chili turned out better than fine. It was a work of improv beauty, and a good reminder on how to ride the ever-changing wave that is "Life."
Below, amounts from my experiments, but by all means, adjust when life calls for it. And if you've got a chili tip or story to share, do so in the comments area below.
Kim 's Improv Turkey Chili
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 fresh chile, seeded and deveined, diced
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 pound ground turkey
½ teaspoon salt, to taste
6-8 ounces pearl barley
Chicken stock or water, at least 3 cups
Tomato puree, up to 15 ounces (KOD note: I used nearly one box of Pomi brand strained tomatoes)
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped (optional)
1 sprig fresh rosemary, needles removed from branch and finely chopped
1 15-16 ounce can of garbanzo beans, drained
1 15-16 ounce can pinto beans or cannelini or northern beans, drained
salt to taste
Shredded sharp cheddar or Monterey jack
Chopped fresh cilantro, parsley
Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and add onion, garlic and chile. Cook over low-medium heat and occasionally stir, cooking until soft. Add cocoa powder, cinnamon, cumin and chili powder and stir as a paste forms. Add ground turkey and cook at least five minutes, until turkey is no longer pink. Add salt to season meat.
Add enough barley and then enough liquid to just cover everything. Bring up to a boil, then partially cover pot and allow to simmer, until barley is tender, about 40 minutes. Add tomato puree as needed, for liquid and extra depth of flavor.
If using, add chipotle chile and rosemary. Then add beans and allow to heat at least 15 minutes until warmed through. Season with salt to taste. Serve in bowls, with shredded cheese or other garnish; better the next day reheated.
Makes at least 8 servings.
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