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posted: 10/2/2013 6:07 AM

Light color, deep flavor with white chili

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By Sara Moulton
Associated Press

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 chili 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 doable 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 chili peppers (which are quite mild) and generic chili powder (a blend of ground chili peppers and spices, often oregano and cumin).

But if you wanted to heat it up, you can lose the canned chilies in favor of fresh ones. Poblanos -- roasted, peeled and chopped -- would be perfect, as would chopped and sauteed jalapeņos and serranos. Or you can use pure chili powder made from ground dried chilies, 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.

• Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."

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