It’s been rainy in the Bay Area recently. And when it’s rainy and dismal, a young girl’s thoughts turn to…COMFORT FOOD.
Comfort food tends to be a seasonal thing–it’s usually in the fall and winter that we crave something comforting, something that warms the belly and the heart when the rain comes, the leaves drop, the wind kicks up, or the temperature takes a dive.
For me, there’s no food that’s more comforting to me than soup. Not mac and cheese, not meatloaf, not even mashed potatoes (OK, maybe mashed potatoes), but not one of those dishes that have become associated with the idea of “comfort food” over the past decade and have showed up in restos everywhere–from the diners they originated in to high-end four star dining establishments–to make us nostalgic for the food of our childhoods or of some bygone Betty Crocker era of food Americana. Not that I don’t find a hot turkey sandwich smothered in mashed potatoes and gravy comforting every once in a while, I just love soup instead. What’s more comforting than a steaming bowl of liquid goodness? It warms the belly, it keeps the cold at bay. It nourishes the soul. As Campbell’s would say, “soup is good food.”
My love affair with soup can indeed be traced to my childhood–thus why it’s probably a comfort food for me. When I was a kid, one of our family food rituals was to have soup for lunch every Sunday after church. Of course the meal consisted of canned soup, but I liked it nonetheless. As my siblings and I got older, it was a privilege and treat for each of us to “get to pick the soup” on Sunday, to choose the what flavor the family would have. Tomato, chicken and stars, meatball alphabet, what have you. For a time, my parents went on a split pea soup kick and insisted that we have a can or two of soup from Pea Soup Andersen’s famous restaurant near Solvang, California. After one too many bowls of split pea, I had to swear off the stuff for quite some time, just as I’d sworn off of baloney sandwiches after having them for lunch pretty much every day of the third grade. (I happened to be in Solvang about a year ago and, of course had to make a stop in Buellton to visit Pea Soup Andersen’s and have a bottomless bowl of split pea soup for lunch–it wasn’t too bad, although I have to say these days my own recipe for split pea is far better!)
Over the years, homemade soup has become a staple in my kitchen. I make all kinds of soup. My shiksha love for matzo ball soup has already been documented elsewhere on this blog, but I can just as easily go for a batch of lentil (or split pea) or potato or butternut squash or some sort of stew or chili. I have even been known to make chicken soup from scratch, from stock to finish, for a sick boyfriend.
This past weekend’s rainy week offering was White Chili. This particular chili was a bit non-traditional in the sense that I had two ingredients in the house I wanted to make use of before I would be away for the Thanksgiving holiday. One was some canned green chiles that were in the fridge leftover from some other dish I’d made recently. The other was some butternut squash I’d picked up when we took my niece to the pumpkin patch before Halloween. Clearly, I could have used the butternut to make squash soup or maybe I could have made enchiladas with the squash and chiles, but the rain had me craving something more substantial, so chili it was.
White Chili with Turkey and Butternut Squash
*This can be adapted in any number of ways, depending on your fancy
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 cups butternut squash, 1/2-in. cubed
1 small pepper (poblano, yellow, jalapeño – use whatever strikes your fancy and sticks to the yellow, white, green color spectrum)
1 lb. ground turkey (I use 1/2 lb. thigh, 1/2 lb. breast; can also use ground chicken)
1 can pinto beans
1 can cannellini beans
1 can green chiles
1 tbsp chili powder
2-3 tsps cumin
1-2 tsp coriander
1-2 tsp oregano
4-5 cups chicken stock
1 c. corn
- Saute onion and pinch of salt in stock pot until it starts softening. Add squash and sauté until it begins to soften. Remove from stock pot.
- Brown turkey until pink meat disappears. Add garlic and pepper and sauté until pepper begins to soften. Add pinch of salt.
- Add onion and squash back to stock pot.
- Add beans, spices and stock. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil.
- Simmer at low-medium low for approx. 30 minutes or until chili reaches desired thickness. Add corn about 5 minutes before serving to heat through. Add slurry of water/cornstarch or flour if you want it thicker.
- Garnish as desired (cilantro, mild cheese such as jack, lime or lemon juice for brightness).
- Serve with something corn-y like tortilla chips or cornbread.