WHEN I COOK, I don’t often strictly follow recipes. I do when I bake, but not when I cook. (If that makes sense.) This is especially true whenever I make soups and chili. I always make it in about the same way, but I usually just kind of throw everything into the pot and it almost always turns out good.
This fearless, winging-it method of cooking is how my Grandma Losch did it. I think many of us have grandmas who cooked like that. I wish I’d spent more time at her side, taking notes and learning how she made things. Oh, for her to be alive NOW – I could record videos with my wee iPhone and post them to this blog!
Recently, I saw on some website a recipe for a green (white?) chili that used tomatillos instead of tomatoes, ground turkey, and white beans instead of kidney. But instead of printing out the recipe, I was inspired to make it my own. I have yet to turn this into a quantifiable recipe, but I’m going to describe it here and will add pictures from the process next time I make it.
This is not something my grandma would have made, but I’m posting it here because (a) I want to capture it, and (b) it is made in her style of cooking. So without further ado, here’s how I do it. (Warning, this is going to be really long, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult. Stick with me.)
Tomatillos. Those little green tomato-looking things. If you have an ethnic grocer with good produce nearby, get ‘em there. If not, some traditional grocers carry them. Get, say, 3 pounds or so? Depends on how much you want to make. they also make them in a canned sauce, but to really do it right, get the fresh ones.
Peppers. You’ll want a variety of green-colored peppers. I like to mix up sweet bell peppers with cubanelles, banana peppers, poblanos, and a couple of jalapenos (more or less depending on how much heat you like). Say, two or three of each?
Onions. For the onions, you will want to chop at least one big yellow or white onion. Last time I also used shallots because I had them. And, you’ll want at least one bunch of scallions too, for their oniony flavor and their green tops. These will either go in at the end or on top as a garnish.
Garlic. Depends on how much you like it, but you really should use fresh cloves (not that minced stuff in a jar). I love buying the already-peeled ones at the Asian grocer, but you can get a whole bulb and do it old school. Last time I used, oh, 7 or 8 cloves?
Cilantro. Either you can’t get enough of it, or else you fall into the “that vile weed” category. If you and your people are the former, I would add some when you cook it and add more as a garnish. If you are the latter, skip it. It’s YOUR soup.
Limes. while you’re in produce, grab a fresh lime or two. You’ll squeeze some lime juice into the mixture and / or can use lime wedges as a garnish.
Beans. I like a small white bean, such as Navy beans. You can use canned (say 2 or 3 regular sized cans or one of those big cans), or dried beans that you soak and soften (which is super easy to do overnight in a crock pot). Last batch I made I used a whole small bag. One can each of black (drained and rinsed) and white (undrained, unrinsed) would also be a nice variation. Or pinto beans.
Ground turkey. Or ground chicken. Or shredded chicken would be good too. But I’m really liking ground turkey with this recipe.
Chicken broth. Or vegetable broth. Buy it pre-made, or use your own chicken stock that you have in the freezer from when you cooked down that last roast chicken you made (am I the only one? please say no). Or throw some together with bullion. You’ll want about 4 cups, give or take. You can also throw in some beer to add liquid and flavor (the alcohol cooks off)… I’d use a lager as opposed to a hoppy IPA.
Other canned goods: I like to add one-half to one chili from a can of chiles in adobo sauce. It adds a nice, smoky flavor. It also adds flecks of red to your otherwise green mixture. You can get this in the “Mexican” section of most grocers. This is optional; if this is the only thing you’re missing, I wouldn’t make a special trip out just to buy it. Also, a small can or two of chopped green chiles. In keeping with the theme.
Optional - a jar of salsa verde. All this is, though, is a tomatillo-based salsa, and that’s what you’re making anyway. But if you have it and you need to add volume, this works.
Spices. You’ll want some chili powder (a smoky chipotle or adobo one is nice, such as the lovely variations available through Penzey’s, but the regular stuff works, too), ground cumin, a bit of ground coriander. Dried oregano if you have it. Kosher salt. Maybe a squirt of the green tabasco or other hot sauce? You decide. If you like to layer your flavors (and who doesn’t), you could add some garlic and/or onion powder. But that’s pretty much it. The flavors of the ingredients stand strong on their own without a lot of spices.
Line a cookie sheet with sides (like a jelly roll pan) with foil. Remove the papery outer husk of the tomatillos (it’s a little sticky and feels kinda weird). Slice them in half vertically, place them cut-side down on the cookie sheet till the sheet is full. Slide them under your broiler and let them get soft and burned on the top side… maybe 10-15 minutes? Seriously, let them get good and browned. Those flecks make this concoction good. When they’re done, pull ‘em out and let ‘em cool a bit. But leave the broiler on, because you’re going to do the same thing with the peppers.
Now, take all those peppers, cut off the tops, cut them in half vertically, remove the seeds and membranes, and place them cut-side down on another cookie sheet that’s been lined with foil. Slide those babies under your broiler and let ‘em get good and brown. This will soften them, too. Again, don’t be shy with the browning. When you’re tempted to pull them out, give them 3 more minutes. When they’re done, pull them out and let ‘em cool.
Back to the tomatillos. When they’re cool, carefully transfer them (they’re soft and juicy now) into your blender. Ideally, your quart-sized blender will be almost full to the top. (If not, we’ll supplement later with the canned stuff and/or a jar of salsa verde). Whir them till you have a smooth liquid. See those black flecks? Good work! Set that aside.
When the peppers are cool, you’ll line ‘em up on a cutting board, make thin vertical slices, then chop them across the other way, till you end up with a fun mixture of finely diced / minced peppers. If you’re using the chile in adobo sauce, pull that out and finely mince it. Set all of that aside.
(Note: You could roast the tomatillos and peppers a day or two ahead of time and keep them in the fridge until you get ready to make the soup. Just sayin’.)
Get out your big ole stock pot. Splash some olive or vegetable oil in the bottom. Brown that ground turkey… it doesn’t really “brown”, but you know – cook it through until there’s no pink.
While the turkey’s cooking, finely dice that onion and/or shallots and garlic. (We’re saving the scallions for later.) Now you have a decision to make. You can either saute them for a few minutes in some oil in a separate pan, or just throw them in with the turkey and let them soften in there. I’ve done it both ways, and it almost always comes down to whether or not I feel like washing an extra pan when I’m done. If you do use the separate pan, use enough oil and low enough heat so the garlic doesn’t burn. Burned garlic is gross. Don’t be the person who burns the garlic.
After about 5 minutes or so, you’ll want to add the onion/garlic saute to the turkey. If they’re already in there, then throw in your chopped peppers and the can or two of diced green chiles. Stir it around. Then add the tomatillos from your blender, and if you’re supplementing, the canned tomatillos and/or salsa verde.
Now add the stock and/or some beer if you think it needs it. Next, add the juice of one or two limes (start with one, taste it, then decide whether you want to add more).
Now you’ll want to add those beans. I would also add some of the liquid – don’t drain cans of white beans, or if you’ve cooked your own, add some of the liquid you cooked them in.
Stir it up good. Doesn’t it look nice? Now you can add the spices, and here’s where I really wing it. Proportionally, I would add about the same amount of chili powder as cumin, and about half as much coriander. I’d start with, say, a heaping tablespoon each of chili powder and cumin, half that of coriander, and see how it tastes. Salt and hot sauce to taste as well. Black pepper if you feel like it. (White pepper if you have it!) Maybe a teaspoon or more of ground oregano (optional). Here’s where you’d add some chopped fresh cilantro if you’re using it – as much or as little as you like (if I were making it for people who, like me, love the stuff, I’d chop half a bunch and add now, and chop the other half and use as a garnish when serving).
Stir it all up, bring it almost to a boil (stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot), then throw the lid on and turn down the heat and let it simmer. Taste it when you stir and adjust seasonings if necessary. Let it cook for another, oh, 30 minutes or so? You know – till it’s READY.
If you use my quantity guidelines, you’ll have around 4-5 quarts of this hearty goodness. Give or take.
Right before you serve it, I’d stir in a bunch of chopped scallions. You don’t want them cooking down – they add flavor and a pop of green color. You could also stir in more chopped cilantro here. OR, you can serve the scallions and cilantro as garnishes. A dollop of sour cream is a nice garnish here, as is a wedge of lime. And if you’re really feeling spunky, you might like to crush some tortilla chips into the bottom of the bowl and ladle the hot soup on top, or use crushed tortilla chips on top to add flavor and texture.
That might sound exhausting, but trust me, it’s worth it. It ends up looking like this: