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Healthy Eating: Despite light color, white chili boasts deep flavor

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 7:12 p.m.
This Sept. 9, 2013 photo shows white chicken chili with lime in Concord, N.H. White beans are a good source of fiber - which means this chili will fill you up - and a very good source of folate and manganese. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

The first time I ate white chicken chili, it was wrapped in a burrito. And I fell instantly in love.

Of course, I'd always been a fan of tomato-based red chili, but the white version — flavored with green chile peppers and thickened with sour cream — struck me as cleaner. And I didn't miss the sometimes cloying sweetness that tomatoes bring to red chili.

So here is my lightened-up version of white chicken chili. It can be eaten straight up by the bowl, over rice (preferably brown) or spooned into a whole-wheat tortilla. To make this dish creamy without any cream, I thickened it by mashing up some of the white beans. Combined with a tiny bit of reduced-fat sour cream, the mashed beans provide this impeccably slimmed-down chili with an unexpectedly luxurious texture.

Good flavor and thickening ability aside, white beans also happen to be a powerhouse of good nutrition. They're a terrific source of fiber — which means this chili will fill you up — and a very good source of folate and manganese.

The list of ingredients in this recipe is longish, but good chili requires a fair amount of flavors. On the other hand, this version, unlike the traditional one, doesn't need to simmer for hours, which makes it quite do-able on a weeknight. Then again, if you happened to cook it on a weekend and didn't serve it until a few days later, the flavors would only improve.

The base of this chili is ground chicken and white beans, both of which are affordable. If you can't find ground chicken, use ground turkey. And if you're not a fan of either, you're welcome to swap in lean ground beef.

As written, this recipe isn't especially spicy. To save time, I call for canned green chile peppers (which are quite mild) and generic chili powder (a blend of ground chile peppers and spices, often oregano and cumin).

But if you wanted to heat it up, you can lose the canned chiles in favor of fresh ones. Poblanos — roasted, peeled and chopped — would be perfect, as would chopped and sauteed jalapenos and serranos. Or you can use a pure chile powder made from ground dried chiles, such as chipotles. Or just finish the dish with your favorite hot sauce.

And please don't forget the garnishes. Even though they require extra work, I can't recommend them highly enough. They add so many layers of flavor and texture to the finished bowl of chili.

Chef Sara Moulton writes this column for the Associated Press.

White Chicken Chili With Lime

Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1 sweet red bell pepper, cored and chopped

1 pound ground chicken or turkey

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 12 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

12 cup white wine (optional)

1 12 cups low-sodium chicken broth (use 2 cups if not using the wine)

Two cans (15 12 ounces each) white beans, drained and rinsed

1 can (4 12 ounces) chopped green chiles (use less if you prefer a very mild chili)

12 cup reduced-fat sour cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To serve:

Chopped green onions

Chopped fresh cilantro

Grated low-fat Monterey Jack cheese

Lime wedges

In a large nonstick or stick-resistant skillet over medium, heat the oil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onion and red pepper, then cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion is softened. Add the chicken and cook, breaking up the any large pieces, until the chicken is no longer pink, for about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, chili powder, flour, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the white wine, if using, and the broth in a stream, whisking. Bring the mixture to boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, use a fork to mash 1 cup of the beans. Add both the whole and mashed beans and the chiles to the chili and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the sour cream and cook until hot. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the chili into bowls and accompany at the table with green onions, cilantro, cheese and lime wedges.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 410 calories (120 calories from fat), 13 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 75 milligrams cholesterol, 29 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams dietary fiber, 430 milligrams sodium

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