Friday, January 5, 2024

For A Crowd: Mom's White Chili

Hey! Speaking of missing mom's cooking...

Today I'm posting for posterity a much-beloved recipe that covers a million bases often left vacant in this household, despite a mom's best efforts. What are these bases? you wonder. Off the top of my head, here are a few:

EVERYONE LIKES IT! Except for like one week when one child, who requested it the time before, changed their mind. Some kids just like to remind you that humans always have the right to change their minds. Even on their birthdays, or visiting grandparents who make white chili because you said it was their favorite, or right when you get to the front of the Velocicoaster line, which you've sweatily endured for something like three hours. And it's true: human prerogative. Anyway, except for that one kid that one week, everyone likes this and asks for the recipe. (And now I can just say, check the blog!)

Makes a lot of chili. I guess that's one of the defining features of chili, right? Lots of it? And yet, I can't take the volume of this recipe for granted. Too much food has never been one of my kitchen problems. We waste little and the children are all quite big and continuing to bigger their bigness and they're quite physically active to boot and, so, they need a lot of food, and yet, despite being aware of this fact on a daily basis - admiring the hems of their pants ascending further from their shoes than is ideal from a fashion/warmth perspective, meeting a straight-on eyeballs gaze where once was a forehead - I find myself vaguely plagued by some misguided Depression-era frugality when I'm at the grocery store, thinking to myself, "should I double the recipe? No. That's a lot of chicken." Or beans. Or whatever. And then, invariably, we don't have enough dinner. It's a thing. But! Here, I don't even have to double it! It's just loads of dinner, in one pot, following one recipe, no multiplication required. Which brings me to...

It's super easy. There's barely even any chopping! No fancy, hard-to-find ingredients. Just your basic staples and some chicken (or no chicken, if you go the veggie route, but then a little more chopping).

Big on flavor, short on time. Seriously. Start to finish this takes 30 minutes, only 15 of which I'd consider "active" time.

Vegetarian option is just as good as the chicken version! I mean, I personally prefer it with chicken. But! If you're not a carnivore, the meatless option is delicious. (I enjoyed it for lunch just this afternoon and, no complaints.)

There are accoutrements! It's like El Ranchito circa 2001, my friends. Need I say more? Oh, I do? On the rocks with extra salt? What do you mean you're closing? I'm picturing an adult male blonde named Ben crashing our party? We met on the internet and he was perhaps in the FBI or was a designer of WMDs? And every second he spent at our table was cringily awkward but also magical, due to a combustive combination of tequila and salt and heaps of jalapeños and onions and the kind of friendship that makes you want time to stand still? (And, scene.) 

(A thought: Taylor Swift laments a lost love like so: You painted all my nights a color I have searched for since. I stopped searching (thanks, therapy!) but can still quite readily, lovingly, vividly conjure a nostalgic longing for my Newport Beach posse. Those nights were a bold, energizing color.)


I digress! This chili is not Mama Avila's soup, but it is MAMA EDITH's soup! And I don't just mean me, the Edith in Cake and Edith. I also mean my mom, who is also named Edith. (True story!) My Mom Edith makes this soup especially for me when we are visiting one another because it's been a favorite of mine since my consumption repertoire consisted of five very particular things (four of which were refined carbohydrates). My Mom Edith is pretty famous for making consistently, impressively spectacular food, and always more than enough of it.


Also, did I mention that EVERYONE LIKES THIS CHILI? I really can't downplay that one. You know those admirable folks who have to try out a recipe before they make it for company? Maybe you are one of them, even? Okay, so if you are, take a break this time! Everyone will like your risky new white chili recipe on your first go. I promise! Go get a pedicure instead.

Mom's White Chili
This recipe is slightly adapted from a New Mexico restaurant-specific cookbook (I'll give proper credit after some research!)
Yield: 10-15 servings

4 tablespoons butter or olive oil (or a mix)
1 large onion, diced
1 jalapeño, seeds removed if you like less heat, minced (optional)
1 cup uncooked white rice
3 quarts vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 cans (15.5 oz) garbanzo beans, undrained
2 cans (15.5 oz) hominy, undrained (I can only find 25.5 oz cans of hominy, so I use just one of those)
1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (see below for vegetarian variation)
2 cans (4 oz) diced green chilies (OR, you could use one large poblano chili - dice and sauté with onion and jalapeño)
Salt and pepper

For serving: lime wedges, crumbled queso fresco, pico de gallo, thinly sliced cabbage, cilantro, sliced avocado, tortilla chips

In a large soup pot, melt butter or heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onions, half a teaspoon salt, and jalapeno, if using (and poblano, if you go the fresh route), and sauté for 5 minutes. Add rice and sauté until rice is opaque. Add broth, cumin and coriander, garbanzo beans and hominy with their liquids, chicken, and diced green chilies. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken and shred or dice into bite-sized pieces. Return to the pot. Taste and adjust for seasoning. You might need to add salt, depending on how salty your broth and bean liquids are.

Serve with accoutrements. And a margarita??

Vegetarian Version: Omit the chicken. Add two large chopped carrots and two peeled and chopped parsnips when you add the broth, etc. It's veggie-centric and tasty! 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Resolving to Eat More Vegetables for Dinner: Caprese Orzo Salad

In January, we eat healthier! Here, let me show you.


This is our go-to lately for healthy meets crowd-pleasing. It makes a big enough batch for five decent-sized dinners (supplemented with another veggie side, in this case roasted delicata squash) and next-day lunches for two. My middle schooler brings it in a thermos to school as a break from the tragic tedium of sunbutter and jam sandwiches, which he has opened his lunchbox to discover in disappointment approximately 840 times in the last 7.5 years. (I just did some actual math to come up with that estimate and now can see why he's over it.)


I start with a bunch of baby greens, chopped with kitchen shears into bite-sized bits. Then I add halved baby tomatoes, orzo, shallot, a good amount of basil, fresh mozzarella pearls, chickpeas (or sometimes brown or green lentils that I cook for ten minutes in salted water before adding the orzo and shallot) and a drizzle of vinaigrette. Toss and let's eat. Except not so much let's eat right away, because this is a good make-ahead option, so it's more like, toss and put in fridge for folks to grab in between evening commitments, which are many during this thick, frenetic, delightful era we currently occupy.

If you try it, I hope you like it! And I also hope that someday, after my children have fled the nest but before the world's gone post-electric, this website can be a resource to them when they crave mom's food but just can't stomach another SBJ sandwich.

Caprese Orzo Salad
Yield: 6 servings

1 cup orzo
1 small shallot, very thinly sliced
5-oz bag baby spinach or baby kale (or any kind of sturdy but soft greens you like, about 3 cups)
1 pint tiny tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cooked or canned, drained chickpeas
8-oz package of mozzarella pearls (drained if they are water-packed)
Big handful of basil
Your favorite sweetish vinaigrette (or mine, see below)

Optional additions that are nice if you like these things: big handful of parsley, tablespoon of capers, chopped up artichoke hearts or olives from a can

Bring about a quart of salted water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add orzo and shallot and cook until al dente (about 8-9 minutes). Strain and set aside to cool in strainer.

Meanwhile: chop up your spinach and halve your tomatoes. Thinly slice your basil and any other additions you're going with. Put everything in a large bowl, drizzle with vinaigrette, and toss. Taste and add some more salt, pepper, acid (lemon juice or vinegar), or oil if needed.

For my "vinaigrette," I just drizzle/zest/sprinkle all these ingredients on the salad before tossing (amounts listed are best-guesses. Of course adjust according to your palate's preference!)...

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey or agave or date syrup (Trader Joe's sells a tasty, affordable date syrup, which is the drizzle you see in the photos)
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Penzey's lemon pepper (which has salt in it AND which makes everything taste delicious)