Friday, September 22, 2006

Finding Comfort South of the Border

I love the unique flavor tomatillos give to dishes.

They usually end up in salsa. Where the hot chilies and other things tend to overpower their flavor.

Moles offer a better stage for the tomatillo. Their complex and subtle flavors allowing the slightly acidy floral flavors of the tomatillo to shine through.

But better still is chili verde. Which is really not chili at all, in the sense we currently have for chili. It’s more stew verde. Where the tomatillo plays the main role.

Chili Verde is like the ultimate Mexican comfort food. Simmered long enough to extract all the flavors. Simmered long enough that the meat is practically falling apart. And simmered until it is thick enough to scoop up with a tortilla.

Since comfort is sort of the opposite of mouth-blisteringly hot, I keep the heat dialed down on this one. There’s some heat, but not enough to detract from the tomatillo flavor.

The fresh flavor and the slight acidity make tomatillos a perfect foil for rich roasted pork. But no one here will eat pork.

So I modified a nice recipe for chili verde from pork to chicken, and got Chili Verde con Pollo.

For the background heat, I used poblano chilies. Which are fairly mild, and give the final dish a wonderfully bright green color. I add a few red bell peppers for color, and balance it with some lime juice.

The basic dish is just chicken, first browned, then stewed in chicken broth until it is fall apart cooked. The flavorings, mainly the tomatillos, chili peppers and cilantro, come in later. The tomatillos also add a thickness to the stew, giving it some nice body.

Served over a whole grain rice (such as a brown rice, or we used red cargo rice, which is unhulled jasmine rice), this is a very balanced low fat, high vitamin, high protein and low glycemic index carbohydrate meal.

Easy to make and a comforting, if not directly quick, meal to enjoy after a hectic day.

Chili Verde con Pollo with Red Rice
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

3 pounds chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 onions, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
4 to 5 cups chicken broth
2-3 tbsp cumin
salt, pepper
4 poblano chilies, cut into ½ inch pieces, seeds can be used for a hotter chili, or discarded for a milder result
1 large red bell pepper, cut into ½ inch pieces
juice of 1 lime
2 pounds tomatillos, husks removes, and washed
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
Additional chopped cilantro, for garnish, if desired
Whole grain steamed rice as an accompaniment

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. Sear the chicken pieces, tossing, until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate.

Add additional olive oil to the skillet if necessary and sautee the onions over medium heat. When softened, add the garlic, an dsautee, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken and cumin. Toss. Increase heat to high and add enough chicken broth to just cover the chicken pieces. Bring the stew to a boil, then reduce heat to a bare simmer. Let the chicken cook for 40 minutes or so.

While the chicken is cooking, puree the tomatillos and cilantro in a food processor.

Add the chilies, peppers, tomatillo mixture and lime juice to the stew. Season with salt. Return stew to a bare simmer, and cook for an additional 30 to 40 minutes.

TO serve, place a scoop of steamed rice in the middle of a flat soup bowl. Ladle the chili verde around the rice. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro, if desired. Serve. Enjoy!

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