White Chicken Chili

I moved to Nashville friendless. Friendless and jobless (but fortunately, not homeless). I moved here not knowing a soul and never having stepped foot in the city. It was a huge leap of faith that could have brought any number of horrendous consequences, but this is very clearly where I'm supposed to be, and it's turned out to be best thing I’ve ever done.

The first friend I made in Nashville was a co-worker, a relationship that I long shied away from working in Human Resources, but she was relentless in her pursuit to engage me in conversation. Eventually she wore me down. Among other things, we bonded early on over our love of food and consequently, our diet and exercise hurdles and accomplishments (around the time we met, we had both recently shed 35 pounds). However, it didn’t take long for it to become clear that our cooking styles were radically different – she is a clean cook, who is all about ease and as few ingredients and steps as possible. I am a tornado in the kitchen and prefer to make complicated recipes as long and drawn out as possible. Where she reaches for Hershey's chocolate syrup, I’m measuring milk, corn syrup and cocoa powder and boiling it in a saucepan myself. She deems this “Vicki-tizing” a recipe.

Early on, she shared a recipe with me for White Chicken Chili, which includes diced green chilies, Great Northern beans, onions and cream of chicken soup. It did not disappoint, and I made it to the letter for years. I’m sure you know where this is going – in my quest to obliterate processed foods from my diet, I recently began making my own “cream of” soups, and this chili was my first guinea pig recipe. I noticed the difference immediately – the chicken flavor was more pronounced, the mixture itself was much paler than the familiar condensed soup day-glo yellow, and I felt much better eating it knowing there was not a trace of xanthan gum or maltodextrin in my soup.

This recipe includes the homemade cream of chicken soup, but if you can’t break free from the can, dump two whole cans into a soup pot, and proceed to “for the soup, you will need...” It's delicious either way.

For the cream of chicken soup, you will need:

½ cup of butter (one stick)
½ cup flour
1 cup chicken broth or stock
1 cup whole milk, warmed
2 chicken bouillon cubes
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Once the butter is melted (do not allow to brown), add the flour and whisk constantly until smooth, forming a roux. Add the warm milk to the roux and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture begins to thicken. Once the sauce coats the back of a spoon, add bouillon cubes and chicken stock and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the soup, you will need:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
½ a medium onion, diced
1 can diced green chiles
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tablespoon ground cumin
½ tablespoon red ancho or chile powder
2 chicken breasts, shredded or cubed (I like to pull the meat off a grocery store rotisserie chicken)
1 can Great Northern or Pinto beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste

In a separate skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the diced onions and cook for 5 minutes before adding chiles and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add to cream of chicken soup mixture. Add all spices, salt and pepper to taste. Add shredded/cubed chicken and beans, and simmer slowly for approximately 10 minutes.

Note: this produces a very thick, chowder-like soup. If you like your chili/soup thinner, add another cup of chicken broth or stock.

Serve with sour cream, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, and cilantro.

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