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It has been said:  "Next to music, there is nothing that lifts the spirits and soothes the soul more than a good bowl of chili."  In fact, chili has been nurturing the souls of Americans since the early 1900s when chili queens sold a fiery stew of chiles and beef at open-air stands in San Antonio, Texas.  Latino women made the chili at home and transported it to the Military Plaza Mercado in colorful wagons.  Originally made to feed the soldiers, this delicious stew soon became the favorite of San Antonio citizens from all walks of life.  

During the 1920s chili joints spread across the West like wild fire, and by the lean Depression years most western towns had a chili joint.  These joints are credited with keeping more Americans from starvation than the Red Cross because chili was cheap and crackers were free. 

Today, chili has taken on a flair and flavor that puts any gourmet dish to the test.  The following recipe is guaranteed to satisfy the both body and the soul. 

                                    Chicken Tomatillo Chili 

Serves 6 

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 heaping teaspoons garlic, minced
1 cup red onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup Pasilla chile peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped  
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder
8 cups canned chicken broth
1 can (16-ounces) peeled tomatoes
¼ cup tomato paste
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, shredded
20 tomatillos, husks removed and quartered
2 cups frozen corn kernels
3 Pasilla chile peppers, roasted, stemmed, peeled, seeded, and cut into long, thin strips
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon large grind black pepper 

In a large kettle, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic, onion, celery, and peppers and sauté until transparent, about 5 minutes.  Add cumin and chipotle chile powder.  Sauté an additional minute.  Add chicken broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, and chicken.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about

20 minutes.  Remove chicken and set aside to cool.  To shred chicken, use two forks and insert the prongs, back sides facing each other, into the center of the breast.  Pull the forks gently away from each other causing the meat to break into thin strips.  Continue the process until the entire breast has been pulled apart.  Add tomatillos, corn, roasted peppers, and shredded chicken and simmer an additional 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper 

            Garnish with:  shredded Mexican cheeses 

If you are roasting Pasilla peppers at home, I've found this method simple and effective.  Preheat the broiler and place the rack 4 inches from the heating element.  Cut peppers in half and remove stems and seeds.  Place peppers peel side up on a cookie sheet and press them so they lay as flat as possible.   Place the cookie sheet under the broiler until the skin turns black.  If your broiler doesn't heat evenly, it may be necessary to rotate the cookie sheet for a more uniform roast.  When the skin turns black and puckers, remove peppers and place them in a paper bag for about 10 minutes.  This makes the skin easier to peel.  

truckDon't forget to pick up tomatillos - they're the secret ingredient in this dish.  The tomatillo is native to Mexico.  It is greenish-yellow in color, encased in a papery husk, and 1 to 2 inches in diameter.  

cartIf you are unsure about shopping for tomatillos, here's some corner market wisdom about purchasing this vegetable.  Tomatillos should feel firm and dry and fit tightly into their husks.  Underneath the husks, tomatillos should be green, an indication they are ripe-the preferred state.  Never purchase sticky or yellow tomatillos. 

             Pasilla peppers are called chilaca in Mexico.  In California the term pasilla is incorrectly given to poblano chiles.   Look for large chiles shaped like a long, pointed heart.  They are deep green in color and moderately hot.  If you prefer a milder chile, a good substitute is Anaheim. 

 Carol Ann Kates is the author of award-winning cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market, selected as one of the top ten favorite cookbooks by the Denver Post Food Staff.  For more information, visit

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