The goal: a quick green chili distinctive enough not to taste like you forgot to add beef and tomatoes.
Traditional green chili - often hearty, spicy blends of pork shoulder, white beans and tomatillos - was out. Dealing with a pork shoulder would slow things down considerably.
To get this in under 45 minutes, poultry seemed a better way to go. Ground chicken or turkey was a good start, but precooked chicken sausages were perfect for rounding out the flavor and heft of the dish.
The danger was that the chili could end up tasting like spicy chicken soup. To avoid that, cumin, smoked paprika, chili powder and oregano are heated in a bit of oil to ensure deep, rich flavors you'd never confuse with soup.
To further differentiate this chili from chicken soup, beer (a common ingredient in red chili) is used for part of the liquid. This provides a subtle sweetness and prevents the liquid from having too strong a flavor from broth.
Some people add a jar of tomatillo salsa to take care of the hot peppers and tomatillos. Don't do this. It results in a watery chili without much flavor. Take the couple extra minutes to chop fresh tomatillos (though jarred jalapenos are fine).
Tomatillos resemble small green tomatoes (and usually are found next to them at the grocer). They should be covered in a dry, papery husk and be quite firm. Some varieties can have a purple hue, but pass on any that have turned yellow.
To prepare tomatillos, peel away the husk, then rinse them under water. They can be eaten raw and add a delicious acidic bite to salads, salsas and guacamole.
To brighten the flavors of this chili, lime juice and fresh cilantro are stirred in just before serving. If you know you won't eat the entire batch, reserve some of these ingredients for mixing in later.
SideBar: Green Chili
Start to finish: 40 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder (more or less to taste)
1⁄2 teaspoon oregano
5 sweet Italian precooked chicken sausages (12-ounce package), cut into small chunks
11⁄2 pounds ground chicken or turkey
5 medium tomatillos, husks removed, washed and diced
2 tablespoons pickled jalapeno pepper slices, diced
Half of a 12-ounce bottle pale ale beer
2 cups chicken broth
14-ounce can navy or other white beans, drained
5-ounce package baby spinach leaves
Juice from 1 lime
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, cumin, smoked paprika, chili powder and oregano. Saute until the onion is just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the sausage and ground chicken. Saute another 10 minutes, or until the sausage and chicken begin to brown. Add the tomatillos, jalapenos and half of the beer. Drink the other half.
Bring to a simmer and cook until the beer has mostly reduced, about 2 minutes.
Add the broth and beans and return to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 5 minutes of simmering, add the spinach and stir until wilted.
Remove the chili from the heat and stir in the lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.