Green Turkey Chili

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.)

INGREDIENTS.

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.

HOW TO.

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:

Image

My Inspiration

Presenting, the ladies who inspired this blog:

Grandma Sara, with my sister (r) and me (l)

Grandma Sara died five years ago at the age of 89, and I ended up with her recipe box.  My initial thought was to collect her favorite recipes into a cookbook and distribute it to family members, but then I thought a blog would be better… because I can add posts as the spirit moves me, and it’s interactive.  I grew up not three miles from her farm, and as a result we gathered ’round her dining room table for many holidays and birthdays.

The best memories I have of things she made are her Amish-style sugar cookies and molasses cookies and chicken corn soup (link is to Grandma Losch’s recipe, with rivels – I don’t recall Grandma Sara’s having rivels), and how she always made my dad an angel food cake for his birthday because she knew how much he loved it.

Baby me with Grandma Losch, 1967

The more I considered the blog idea, the more I thought it should be a plural possessive Grandmas’.  Grandma Losch cooked more by feel than by actual recipe, and lordy, could she ever cook for a crowd.  Aside from the fact that she had to feed five kids, she also made a living as a cook for a fraternity house at Susquehanna University and had her own restaurant in Millerstown PA for a time.  She was her own worst critic in the kitchen – she’d serve up a slice of lemon meringue pie so good it would bring tears to your eyes with the disclaimer that “it got a little weepy” and maybe wasn’t her best effort.  If you looked up “comfort food” in the dictionary, her picture would illustrate the entry. Food was love to Mary Losch, and if you didn’t sit yourself down at her kitchen table and eat – no matter the time of day or your current state of hunger – it was practically an insult.

Some of her recipes are captured in cookbooks of recipes collected by the members of her church, and I’m pulling out some of the best ones here as time allows.   My favorite food memories connected to Grandma Losch include that she would make me a red velvet cake each year for my birthday, and made the best pig stomach and chicken pot pie. She also made some delicious pork & sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, as is the tradition in Central PA.

I wrote about them yesterday on my other blog, Soup Is Not A Finger Food, but this tribute more fittingly belongs right here, where their recipes live.

Chicken Corn Soup With Rivels

This is my Grandma Losch’s recipe for the traditional “chicken corn soup”, as can be found at church suppers and firemen’s carnivals throughout the land Central Pennsylvania.  This version appeared in the first edition of her church’s cookbook, published in the mid-1970s.   Here’s how she quantified it:

INGREDIENTS

One 4-5 pound chicken, cooked

12 ears of corn (cut off)

2 tablespoons salt (more if needed) [this seems like a lot to me – 1 Tbsp would probably be plenty]

1 teaspoon parsley (I’m sure she meant dried parsley)

2 tablespoons onion (assume she means fresh)

1 cup flour

1 egg

Cook chicken in about 4 quarts of water. Add salt. Remove chicken when cooked. Discard skin and bones. Dice meat. Set aside.

Bring broth to boiling. Add corn, parsley and onion.  Bring to boil again. If more broth is needed, add water.

Make rivels out of 1 cup flour and 1 egg, with a fork. Add to soup when boiling. Boil slowly for about 15 minutes. Lastly add chicken meat.

But here’s the thing, friends.  My grandma didn’t really follow recipes.  She cooked by feel.  She would say things like, add a cup of flour, but “a cup” meant “her special cup” and not necessary a regulation, calibrated eight-ounce measure.  She also knew exactly what to throw into a pot to make soup, and, in true loaves-and-fishes style, could whip up a giant pot of warm, delicious goodness to feed whatever crowd showed up in her kitchen.  I’m sure she was “forced” to quantify this concoction for purposes of publishing it in a cookbook so that others could follow along.

This is the very cookbook I pulled off my shelf last night when I had most of a leftover rotisserie chicken in my fridge and recently-frozen corn in my freezer.  I am my grandmother’s granddaughter – I often cook by feel. I like to improvise and embellish. So below is my version of the same soup. I don’t want to say it’s an improved version, but my family loved it.

FIRST: I had most of a cooked, rotisserie chicken I had purchased the day before at the grocery store.  I pulled off and kept the meat, and threw the rest into my giant stockpot, along with a fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast that was in the fridge. I also added some chicken soup base to enhance the flavor, but this is optional.  I added the four quarts of water (give or take, I didn’t measure), plus half a chopped onion, two chopped celery ribs, and maybe a tablespoon of dried parsley (though if I’d had any fresh, I would have used that), and  a bit of salt & pepper. I revved that up to boiling and cooked it for, I dunno, 30 minutes? Maybe 45?

[A note on chicken stock. I will often buy chicken parts on sale and cook them, then freeze the stock for later use.  The most flavorful stock results from cooking dark and light meat. But cooking a roasted chicken carcass is a good substitute in a pinch. Then you can supplement with more chicken breast meat, which I prefer eating anyway. You could also add some store-bought stock – just be mindful of the salt in the stock and reduce added salt in this recipe accordingly.]

While that was cooking, I peeled and diced two potatoes, and to save time, started them cooking in another pot. If I’d had more time, I would have waited till the chicken was done, pulled it out of the broth, and then cooked the taters. Either way works. But the potatoes are totally optional and the soup is great without ’em, I promise.

Once the chicken was done, I pulled it out of the broth and picked the carcass for any good meaty bits. I also shredded that one chicken breast I had cooked with it. Then I set the meat aside.

I brought the broth back to a boil, then transferred the potatoes into it, adding some of the potato water to the broth. I also added 4 cups of cut corn kernels. IMPORTANT NOTE! Don’t waste your time trying to cook this soup with the corn you buy in your grocer’s freezer. And, if you dare try this with canned corn, I will send out a squad to find you and possibly hurt you. Seriously. Don’t do it. I mean it. Don’t.  I can’t stress enough that the sweetest, most flavorful soup results from using home-prepared corn. You could buy the ears fresh if they’re in season, blanch them and cut off the kernels, being sure to scrape the cob to get the flavorful, milky-sweet juice. Or, if you happen to have recently processed and frozen, say, five dozen ears of corn (which I just did a few weeks ago), you can use what you have in the freezer. 

So, back in the stock pot, we have broth, potatoes, and sweet corn. I added the other chopped half of an onion, two more diced celery ribs, three shakes of poultry seasoning, some fresh ground black pepper, a little more salt, and maybe 1-2 more tablespoons of dried parsley. (Again I was wishing I had fresh – that would have been so much better.) I brought that to a boil, THEN I made and added the rivels.

What are rivels? They are a super-easy egg-based kind-of noodle.  They’re a lot easier than making pot pie dough and they will remind you of the German spaetzle.   I placed one cup of flour into a bowl, then in a separate bowl I beat one egg, then I put the egg into the flour bowl and mooshed it around with the fork until all the flour was combined into the egg, forming very coarse “crumbs.”   (You could add a few shakes of salt to the flour, but I didn’t.)

Gradually drop these “crumbs” into the boiling broth, stirring the broth so they don’t clump together. Grandma’s recipe says to cook for 15 minutes but I think that’s more than enough time – probably no more than 10 would do it.  Any extra flour left unincorporated into the egg mixture will help to thicken the soup, so throw that in, too.   You don’t want a super-crazy rolling boil here, just a gentle boil, so turn down the heat if it gets too, um, boily.

About five minutes after you’ve added the rivels, throw in the cooked chicken meat and stir it around so it re-warms.

Voila! A hearty soup that’ll warm your innards.

Another way that I’m definitely my grandma’s granddaughter is that I cook in quantities sufficient to feed up to ten hungry farmhands – really hungry ones, who’ve spent the day digging fence posts or bailing hay. I can’t help it. I don’t think it’s possible to make this in a smaller quantity that would be suitable for a small family with modest appetites, but you could try. But if you do cut the recipe in half, I suggest that you make the same amount of rivels. They’re just really eggy-licious.  You won’t regret having more egg noodles in this soup.

Apricot Kolachi (Kolache)

THIS IS NOT technically my grandma’s recipe, but I still consider it a traditional one in my family. This one is was introduced to me by my cousin, Linda, with whom I was fortunate to have shared Grandma Losch.  It’s a cream cheese and butter pastry with apricot filling, and lots and lots of powdered sugar. Just a few ingredients, but so big on taste.

Linda is no stranger to the kitchen; I always admired her culinary skills. But of all the things I remember coming out of Linda’s kitchen, these made a strong impression. She made these unspeakably delicious treats each year around Christmastime and always delivered a plateful to our house.  I would selfishly inhale most of them, then ask for more.  I vowed as a teen to learn how to make these, and all but demanded Linda share the recipe.  I’m glad I did, because there have been more than two hours of asphalt between Linda and me for the past 20 years, which means she would have had to undertake Herculean efforts to deliver my annual plate of Kolachi.

Interestingly, I Googled “kolachi” and what turned up didn’t come close to resembling the version I make.  Searching for “Apricot Kolaches” turns up a yeast bread with an apricot filling -not even close. I persisted with variations of the search term, and finally found a similar recipe here, called Apricot Kolacky (spelling variation) that’s close, but not quite… what I remember.

So, here’s what I grew up calling KOLACHI.

INGREDIENTS

1 stick (1/4 lb) butter, softened
1 cup flour
1 8-oz brick of cream cheese, softened
2 cups (approx.) confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
1 can of Solo brand Apricot filling

EQUIPMENT

Pastry cloth
Cookie sheets (optional: parchment paper)
A shaker for the powdered sugar

In a medium bowl, with hand mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese. Add flour and mix until combined. Form into small balls about the size of a small walnut and refrigerate these for at least a few hours or overnight.  (Recipe makes 24-30.)  Remove them from the ‘fridge and let them sit at room temperature for almost one hour before working.

Dump confectioners’ sugar on the center of a pastry cloth. Roll each ball in the sugar…

…then flatten into a circle, using your hands (keep ’em covered in sugar) or even better, the flat bottom of a glass that’s about the diameter of an average wine glass. But don’t use a wine glass; they’re not flat enough. I use this one:

Place discs on either an ungreased cookie sheet, or one lined with parchment (optional).

Onto the center of each disc, place about 1/2 teaspoon of apricot filling.

Learn from my mistakes: you absolutely must use the Solo brand filling. Don’t try apricot jam or jelly; it melts. Experiment with Solo’s different flavors if you must, but do – DO! – use their brand. Not every store carries it; but look for it. Trust me – it matters.

Bring the sides of the disc up to the center and pinch them. (Again, keeping your fingers covered in powdered sugar.) They’ll separate when baked.

Place in preheated, 275 (yes, that’s two-hundred seventy-five) degree oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until the pastry begins to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and shake some powdered sugar on them while they’re hot.  After ten minutes, transfer them to a cooling rack, then when they’re all the way cool, shake even MORE powdered sugar onto these. To store, cover loosely, lest they get soggy.

They’re a little bit tedious to make, but oh so worth the effort.

Sweet, sweet corn

Today, over on Soup Is Not A Finger Food, I captured my memories in writing of putting up corn in August in Central PA, a hundred thirty years ago. Go, check it out!