In a game of free associations, autumn and the start of a new school year mean football, and football suggests tailgating and Sunday afternoons in front of the television. It's also the season for eating chili.
No matter how you make it, chili is forgiving. It can sit on the stove for a couple of hours waiting to be eaten, with no ill effect. Chili also can accommodate most any substitution the cook is forced to make, as long as the dish contains some kind of pepper-derived flavoring.
Texans say chili should contain no beans, while vegetarians and other members of the lean cuisine faction believe meat is the dispensable ingredient. Most recipes create variations that fall between the two extremes, yet manage to produce a spicy stew that we all can recognize as chili.
The following chili, which relies on white beans and chicken, boasts a Southwestern flavor. Depending on how late into the fall the dish is made, you may have to substitute canned tomatillos and peppers for fresh. The obvious substitution for ground New Mexico chili is good old chili powder. Of course, such exchanges will alter the finished flavor somewhat, but then I rarely have two batches of any kind of chili turn out anything close to identical.
This is a robustly flavored chili, that easily could become a standard at your house. The recipe is from "The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook."
1 pound dried Great Northern or navy beans, rinsed
8 cups water
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces Mexican beer (not dark)
2 cups diced onions
1 cup diced red bell pepper
2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and diced
4 Anaheim or New Mexico green chilies, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon crushed cumin seeds
1 1/4 pounds skinned, boned chicken breast
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) chicken broth
2 tablespoons ground New Mexico chili
1 pound tomatillos (husks removed by soaking)
1 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated sharp white Cheddar cheese
Cilantro leaves for garnish
To make the beans: Place the rinsed beans in a large pot. Add the water, onion, garlic cloves and a grating of black pepper. Simmer for 2 to 3 hours, until the beans are tender. Add the salt during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
To make the chili: While the beans are cooking, place the beer in a 4-quart pot. Add the onions, garlic, bell pepper, jalapenos, green chilies, oregano and cumin. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Cut the chicken into strips, then dice. Add to the pot, along with the chicken broth. Sprinkle in the ground chili and simmer for 15 minutes.
Place the tomatillos, minced cilantro, vinegar and salt in a food processor and process to a salsa consistency. Stir into the chili. Add the drained cooked beans and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning; add salt, if desired.
Ladle into serving bowls. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the cheese over each serving and broil until the cheese is golden, or simply let the cheese melt into the hot chili. Garnish with cilantro. Makes 6 servings.