Holy Mole Chicken and Squash Chili

February 3, 2012 § 6 Comments

Ok guys, I’ve got to come clean.  I’m a hater.  Okay, well not really a hater, though I’m worried I’ll come across as such (Hmm, I don’t think “hater” and “as such” are frequently used together in a sentence like that.  Also, I sound like a ding dong when I try to say something like hater.  But I’ve gone and done it, so let’s put it past us, alright?).  I just don’t really get American sports, and I’m afraid I really don’t get the Superbowl.  (I can’t even remember if it’s one word or two.)  Up until college, I kind of thought the Superbowl happened once every four years, like World Cup Soccer (that is, football to the rest of the world) or the Olympics.

The Olympics!  Now there’s exciting sports to watch!  Particularly the winter Olympics.  See, by virtue of how I was raised, I find Nordic skiing, biathlon, long-distance speed skating, and the like, to be the most thrilling displays of athletic prowess.  Oh my gosh.  I lose my words.  I think about the men’s Nordic skiing relay in ’94 and ’98, the EPIC battle between Norway and Italy, Norway losing (gasp) on their home turf in Lillehammer by 4/10ths of a second, then avenging their loss in Nagano, with a dramatic sprint finish by Thomas Alsgaard, beating the Italians by 2/10ths of a second.

Phew!  Heavens.  My heart races and I find myself squeezing the life out of the nearest chair arm just thinking about it.  I have to catch my breath for a second.

Okay, now tell me that that’s not more exciting than the Superbowl.

Fine.  Maybe it isn’t for most people around here.  Being in New England at the moment, and all.  But, it’s how I feel.

And, now I’m going to make matters even worse by admitting that I also don’t really care for most of the traditionally served Superbowl foods that I’ve tried over the years at different parties.  I know.  I’m sorry.  I just don’t like most snack foods.  Except for guacamole, which I am happy to eat from the bowl with a spoon.  And, eating chicken wings makes me feel oddly rodent-like, and that’s kind of fun in it’s own way.

Anyway, there you go.  I’ve aired my grievances.  I hope you still accept me.

And, now I’m going to stop being a total whiner and concede that I do really like chili.  But, I can only eat it if it has no beans!  Ack!  That means that unless I’m hanging out with Texans, most of the chili I encounter is off limits.  So, this year I have taken matters into my own hands and created the chili that I want to, and can, eat.

The idea for this chili has been simmering in my mind since Christmas.  When we were visiting Joel’s family they hosted several exceedingly lovely and festive dinner parties.  One of these included a line up of guests (myself included) with an astonishing array of special dietary needs: gluten-free and no red meat, gluten free and no dairy, gluten free and vegetarian, no shellfish, no nuts, no whole grains…  It presents an exciting challenge, if you are blessed with a sunny Pollyanna attitude, that is.

Joel’s mom had decided to make black bean and butternut squash chili.  I had to tell her, abashed, that I can’t eat beans.  Sorry.  So she switched plans to a beanless chicken chili.  But, that wasn’t vegetarian.  Oh for heaven’s sake!

We wound up making two separate pots of chili, one of the black bean and butternut squash and one of the chicken.  Obviously, given that it’s a pain to have to make two batches of chili that are both enough to feed over a dozen people, and I was actually the only one of those people who couldn’t eat beans (erp), I should have simply been grateful to have food.  And, truly, I was.  And the chicken chili was spectacular.  Joel’s aunt had added slightly more unsweetened chocolate than called for – “with chocolate, more is always better” (agreed!) – and it gave the broth a rich, complex mole-like flavor.  But, I also found myself just the tiniest bit miffed that I didn’t have any butternut squash in my chili.

So, I fished some pieces out of the black bean-ed pot, rinsed them off and added them to my bowl.  The sweetness of the butternut against the spicy-rich backdrop of the sauce was spectacular, and added another dimension to contrast with the meaty chunks of browned chicken.  I promised myself that the next time I made chili, I would make a chicken and butternut squash version. And here you have it.  A promise made is a promise kept.

This chili has a small family of different peppers adding their grassy, spiciness to the blend.  There is also lots of onion, garlic, and spice to create a deep, full flavor.  Not to mention orange peel and cinnamon, and some malty beer, to play up the sweet, aromatic side of the chili. (If you wish to make it gluten free, just replace the beer with chicken broth.)  All of the spices and peppers make the ingredients list look frighteningly long.  I gasp myself looking at it.  But, after some speedy chopping and measuring, everything comes together quite simply with a sautee and a simmer.

And, what is chili without toppings?  You could do the traditional sour cream, shredded cheese, and scallions on this chili if you’d like.  But, I decided to make a sort of avocado-lime crema by blending an avocado into the sour cream that I would have used as a topper.  I would have been happy just eating the avocado cream by itself, by the bowl!  It’s even better on the chili though.  Finally, add plenty of chopped cilantro and generous squeezes of lime juice for freshness and some corn tortilla strips or chips for crunch, and whether or not you find the Superbowl interesting, you should at least find that your meal holds your attention.

Chicken and Butternut Squash Chili (serves about 6)

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large bell pepper (any color that floats your boat), finely chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 chipotle pepper (in adobo sauce),from a can, (just one pepper, not the whole can!) chopped, plus more to increase spiciness to taste
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from the canned chipotles)
  • 28 ounces can diced tomatoes, with their juices
  • 8 ounces malty beer (drink the rest as you cook)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 3-inch long pieces of orange peel, peeled off with a vegetable peeler (so, no pith on them)
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 ounce finely chopped unsweetened chocolate, plus more to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2-3 limes
  • chopped cilantro, for serving
  • fried corn tortilla strips (or corn chips) for serving
  1. In a rather large pot, heat 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in the onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, bell pepper, poblano pepper, and jalapeno pepper, and cook, stirring, until softened, another 5 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, and oregano and cook for about 1 minute to toast the spices.
  2. Add the butternut squash and stir to coat it with the spices. Stir in the chipotle, adobo, canned tomato, beer, cinnamon stick and orange peel. Add a couple tsp. of salt. Stir and cover. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook, covered, until the butternut squash is tender, mine took around 30 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan set over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken pieces in batches and set aside.
  4. When the squash is tender, stir in the chicken and simmer just long enough to cook the chicken through, several minutes. Stir in the unsweetened chocolate plus more salt and pepper to taste. You can fish the cinnamon stick and orange peel out if you want, or just leave them for people to discover in their bowl as a fun surprise.
  5. Blend together the avocado with the sour cream, a pinch of salt, and the juice of half a lime (you can just mash it well with a fork if you don’t want to bother with a blender/food processor). Cut the remaining limes and lime half into wedges. Serve the chili warm with the avocado cream to dollop on top (plus additional sour cream, if you’d like), lime wedges for squeezing over, and cilantro and tortilla strips for sprinkling.  This makes a pretty complete one pot meal, but if you’d like you can add a green salad on the side.

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