I pull out my favorite cast iron enamel dutch oven, and yes, I said favorite. I own three. It’s just a little chilly here in my corner of Western New York and an afternoon of rain is in today’s forecast. It’s also March 30th, which means spring is on its way, so this might be my last good chance to make and savor my favorite chicken chili.
There’s no rule that would prevent me from making the chili in the spring, or even in the summer, but one of the reasons I love this dish so much is because it’s something that gets me through these cold and snowy winters that are a part of life in the northeast. Soups, chili, even heavy pasta dishes – those all belong to the cold nights of fall and winter. Those days are quickly dwindling.
I turn on the front right burner of the stove, add a little oil to the pot and wait for it to heat up. I grab the ground chicken from the fridge and get it in the dutch oven. Instant sizzle.
I break up the meat, add a bit of salt and pepper, and let the pot and the flame do their work. Stirring occasionally, the smell of cooking chicken begins to fill the kitchen. I stir to move the meat around, hoping to get just the right amount of color before I start to add the spices – cumin and chili powder – no measurements, something I’ve always done by sight and smell.
Making this dish is an act of meditation for me. It slows me down, wakes up my senses, and allows me to trust my instincts – something I don’t always do well in other areas of my life.
Once the spices are added, it’s time for the remaining ingredients. All three of them. One of the other things I love about this dish is its simplicity. Born out of a need for warmth and comfort on a different snowy (snowed in) day years ago, I used what I had on hand to create the first recipe that was really mine. Not passed down from a family member. Not from a recipe in a cookbook. I used what I had to create something I needed. It has given me comfort more times than I count.
I give the now seasoned chicken one last stir and then add the remaining ingredients, stirring after each addition: a can of tomatoes and green chiles, a can of vegetarian chili with beans (I’m not sure why it works, but it does.), and a can of my favorite chili starter.
One last stir, lid on. I turn the burner to low, and set my timer for 30 minutes. As chili goes, the longer it simmers the better, but as often happens when I make mine, I’m hungry and 30 minutes is just enough time to let the flavors marry and not too much to push hunger to desperation.
I busy myself with doing dishes to pass the time, the smell of the fragrant spices continually reminding me how hungry I am – how much I need this comfort, this reset, after a week of eating mindlessly through illness and exhaustion.
Five minutes left on the timer.
I pull out my favorite soup bowl. It’s a deep bowl shaped like a huge tea cup and decorated with flowers. I grab my box grater and a block of cheddar from the fridge. If I’m slowing down, it only makes sense to grate the cheese myself, and if it’s comfort I’m looking for, cheddar and tortilla chips are the perfect accompaniments for today’s dose.
The timer goes off. It’s time. Finally.
I add a couple ladles of chili to my bowl, top with cheddar, and crush a few tortilla chips to sprinkle on top.
It’s time for the first bite. And it’s perfect. It is exactly the comfort I needed.