- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

May 5 is always a great excuse to serve up Mexican food — that is, if you need an excuse to prepare a south-of-the-border meal. I find people of all ages love it, no matter the occasion.

This is Cinco de Mayo, the date in 1862 when the small, outnumbered Mexican militia was victorious over the French army in the Battle of Puebla. Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in U.S. cities with sizable Mexican populations by showcasing Mexican food, music, beverages and customs.

The beauty of the Mexican-inspired menu that follows is that you can feed a small family or a crowd with great ease. The chili cooks itself in the slow cooker. This frees you to dice and shred the garnishes and warm tortillas or even make quesadillas, should you feel so inspired.

Five time-shaving ways to use canned white beans

• Canned white beans (Great Northern or navy) are a terrific pantry staple. They become:

• A quick soup by adding chicken broth, sauteed onions, carrots and garlic, and a sprinkle of basil or oregano.

• Drained and rinsed, these beans are the foundation of a warm weather salad, dressed with olive oil and vinegar and filled with cubes of carrots, zucchini and red bell pepper. To turn the salad into a meal, add slices of grilled chicken or canned tuna.

• Season the drained and rinsed beans with olive oil, oregano, pepper and a little balsamic vinegar. Heat and serve atop bow-tie pasta with a handful of fresh basil and grated Parmesan for garnish.

• In a food processor, puree a can of drained and rinsed beans with a clove of garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, a hint of ground cumin and enough olive oil to pull the mixture together. Serve with crunchy bagel chips.

• To fit right alongside grilled steak, chicken or fish for your springtime menus, heat up the drained and rinsed beans with enough water or chicken broth to moisten, seasoning them with whatever you have on hand: garlic, seasoned salt, fresh herbs, minced red onion, you name it.

Slow-cooker white chili

The preparation time is 15 minutes, and the cooking time on high is 4 to 5 hours; on low, 8 to 10 hours.

3 15-ounce cans Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1 cup finely chopped onion

4 cloves garlic, sliced

1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies, with liquid

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon salt or 1 chicken-flavored bouillon cube

2 14.5-ounce cans low-sodium chicken broth

2 cups tortilla chips

Lime wedges, fresh cilantro sprigs, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream for toppings

Place beans, chicken, bell pepper, onion, garlic, chilies, cumin, oregano, salt or bouillon, and broth in a 4½- to 6-quart slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cover cooker and cook chili until bubbling, ingredients have cooked down and liquid has thickened, 4 to 5 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low heat.

If desired, just before serving, crush tortilla chips into roughly half-inch pieces, add them to the chili and stir until they soften (or garnish the chili with them). Spoon chili into bowls and serve with toppings. Makes 8 servings.

To share favorite cooking tips, ask questions and access Miss Byrn’s free online newsletter, go to www.cakemixdoctor.com.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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