Winter Chile Stew

Hot, brown & plenty of it!

It’s snowing again. It was supposed to be sunny, but it’s cold and windy. I am not best pleased. However, this is an opportunity to make some warm ballast for the belly — Winter Chile Stew. This happens with some frequency in New England — in spite of the deplorable lack of chile cuisine Down East… took some adjustment…

Chile stew is not precisely one thing but rather a pot full of whatever seems good. There is usually a good stock base. Today’s is turkey from the New Year’s bird; the carcass boiled for about 24 hours. There are a dozen or so pint tubs left in the freezer. This stew is using up three of them. The turkey stock is blended with whey from the yesterday’s round of cheese-making. This adds all the zing needed to the stew while using up that extra liquid, always more than the actual cheese produced. Then because I was in the freezer, I grabbed a quart bag of roasted winter squash purée and blended that into the base to thicken it up and add a strong shot of wonderful orange carotenoids — so very beneficial in flu season, especially in COVID years.

Chile & hominy

Black beans almost always go into this stew. Just because. And of course, there’s the chile. Today I’m using canned Hatch green because the freezer has no more Christmas-blend roast. (For non-New Mexicans, Christmas is red and green chile combined.) It was a sad day when I used up the last pint tub. Only eight months until the next harvest!

This version of stew has purple potatoes that were roasted with rosemary and garlic last night. We only ate about half of them last night, so must use the leftovers now. And to round out the mix, I put in several cans of hominy. I bought too many for the Christmas Eve posole. Actually, if memory serves, we ended up with canned and a couple bags of dried, then used up only the latter. So again, leftovers. 

Purple potatoes with garlic & rosemary

To make this stew, cook the beans first. Rinse them; put them in a pot of salted water with a bay leaf; bring to a boil; and then simmer for however long it takes to make them soft. In New England this only takes a few hours. In New Mexico it’s best to start the beans cooking the evening before and let the beans soak in the fridge overnight. (I still do not understand why this is true; something to do with being in the high desert, I’m sure.) I suppose you could use canned beans… maybe… But why? After the beans are cooked (or after you open the can), strain and rinse the beans again. All that bad bean business? It really helps to rinse the beans! Especially if you’re like me and really can’t stand epazote (the Mexican solution to beany gastronomic distress).

Today, I took my hand immersion blender (favorite tool ever) to the stock in a bowl before adding it to the pot. This is because I wanted to sauté onions and garlic in the stew pot and not have them blended into the stock. After the yummy-smelling sautéing step, I dumped the stock, the beans, the hominy and the chile into the stew pot.

Some of the spices

Then there’s herb and spice. This is where recipe order breaks down. I never do the same thing twice and quite often forget what I have done as soon as I’ve done it. I think today there is rubbed sage, chipotle chile powder, greek oregano, cumin, turmeric, and a bit of ground allspice (because of the squash). There are no amounts above because I just toss stuff in. Usually more sage and cumin than the other stuff. Sometimes there’s fenugreek. Sometimes thyme. Sometimes I just use Penzey’s blends; Northwoods Fire, Turkish and Southwest blends work very well for winter stews.

Now, this is the best part of this stew — yes, even better than healthy and tasty eating. Once blended, all you do is let this stew simmer until you want to eat it. You can’t overcook it. Well, I suppose if you work at it, you could. But it’s really difficult to mess this up. And there are invariably leftovers. So you have dinner for several nights running! Effortless healthful cuisine!

And there you have Winter Chile Stew! Serve it with chips and salsa. Serve it with sourdough or warm tortillas. Or whatever bread is available. (For us today it’s walnut zucchini bread from the freezer). Sprinkle shredded cheddar on top. Drop a dollop of plain home-made yogurt in the bowl. Top with more chipotle chile powder or powdered green chile.

Or just shovel it out of the pot into your mouth. I won’t judge.

© Elizabeth Anker 2021