Philosophical question: is a “white” chili really a chili? I haven’t got all of the answers, but one attempt and I was convinced that it should be a part of my life. If you’re wondering why it’s called a “white” chili, when it’s clearly brown, there are a number of answers. For starters, instead of red kidney beans, black turtle beans, pintos or romanos, you use white beans. They could be white navy beans, white kidney beans or another style of white bean.
Most importantly, however, is what’s missing. “White” chili doesn’t feature red tomatoes, and isn’t heavy on red chilis. Instead, the heat comes from green peppers, such as jalapenos or poblanos. I was so inspired by the inclusion of green ingredients that I brought that theme into the rest of the dish – especially in the toppings, such as fresh green cilantro, avocado and pepitas (green pumpkin seeds).
This dish was also a great opportunity for me to use the dried hominy I bought. In advance, I soaked the hominy for over 24 hours and cooked it for some time. It brings a mildly toasty flavour to the dish. If you can’t find hominy, you can also use corn kernels. This will bring a sweeter, crisper flavour than the hominy, and is very tasty. Sometimes, I like to add half and half – both ingredients have their place!
There are two special ingredients that really made the dish special for me, and really set it apart from your standard chili. Cocoa powder adds a dark depth to the flavour that is hard to describe – it certainly isn’t “chocolatey”. Give it a taste test before and after adding the cocoa, and you will understand the subtle but important role it plays. On the other hand, the feta cheese is not subtle and brings a sharp tang to the dish. It breaks up the richness of the chili, and stops it from being overwhelming.
The Verdict: This has been one of my favourite new dishes of the Winter, and I’m looking forward to perfecting it next year.
This recipe was the jumping off point.
- 2 teaspoons oil
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup celery or fennel, chopped
- 2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
- 1-3 poblano peppers, coarsely chopped (optional)
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon oaxaca 5-spice (oregano, black pepper, clove, allspice, something else)
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon chipotle chile (or smoked paprika if you don’t want to add heat)
- 3 cups cooked white navy or white kidney beans
- 1 cup hominy or corn kernels
- 2-4 cups of broth (preferably vegetable or chicken)
- 1 tablespoon cocoa
- 2 tablespoons ground pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
- pepitas, whole, for topping
- feta cheese, crumbled, for topping
- tostadas (optional)
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
- Sauté onions and fennel/celery until lightly browned. Add peppers (bell and poblano) and garlic until softened.
- Add oaxaca 5-spice, chipotle/paprika and cumin and mix well.
- Add beans, hominy and broth. Cover, bring to the boil, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for 20 minutes.
- To a small bowl, add a bit of the broth to the cocoa and form a paste. Continue to add broth until the cocoa is evenly mixed in, with no lumps. Slowly add to the pot, stirring.
- Simmer for about an hour.
- Add ground pepitas to thicken a little bit.
- Serve topped with feta cheese (or a Mexican cheese if you can get some!), fresh cilantro, whole pepitas and avocado. Some tostadas would go great with this.