Lamb finds a match in a fragrant, earthy chili
A Good Appetite: Melissa Clark shares a recipe for lamb and white bean chili.
The New York Times
When it comes to making a pot of chili, the possibilities range wide. There are Texas chilies simmered from chunks of beef, chili pods and little else. There are chilies with ground beef and plenty of vegetables, and those made from ground pork or turkey or chicken. Some chilies have beans and/or grains, and some do not.
Over the years, I've tried dozens of these chili incarnations — the good, the bad and the ugly.
But the one kind of chili I had yet to try was lamb chili.
I wasn't avoiding it; it just never came up in my immediate chili circle, which, being full of beef and turkey and tofu, I never thought to widen.
Then one day while rooting through the freezer, I came upon a pound of ground lamb. It was cold out, and the thought of a bubbling pot of lamb chili sounded better than just about anything else I would think to make with the stuff.
Since there was only a pound of meat, I added beans to bulk it out, choosing white beans for their lamb-y associations (at least in France).
I also added poblano chilies for a fresh, mild bite and jalapeño for a sharper sting.
Then, to make sure the chili had an earthy depth, I rounded everything out with some musky ground spices: cumin, coriander and chili powder.
All in all, it was shaping up to be a fairly traditional chili, save for, arguably, the lamb and white beans.
The only slightly unusual thing I added were minced cilantro stems, sauteeing them with the garlic and jalapeño.
I've been using cilantro stems a lot lately, to compensate for the wan taste of most of the cilantro I've been getting this winter. The stems have a punchier, sharper flavor than the leaves and can add complexity to a dish.
After a quick simmer, my dinner was ready. It was a meaty, rich, lightly spiced mix with all the heartiness of my usual chili variations, but graced with an unusual, mineral flavor from the lamb and sweetness from the white beans.
The only thing it lacked, as many chilies do, was brightness. So I squeezed on some lime juice just before serving. That almost did it, but a dollop of tangy, creamy yogurt really sealed the deal. And sheep's milk yogurt seemed like the obvious choice. You know to keep it in the family.
LAMB AND WHITE BEAN CHILI
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground lamb
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
2 poblano peppers, seeded and diced (or 2 small green bell peppers)
1 small bunch cilantro, cleaned
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 small jalapeños, seeded, if desired, and finely chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
3 ½ cups cooked white beans (homemade or canned)
Plain yogurt, preferably sheep's milk, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and cook, breaking up with a fork, until well browned, 5 minutes. Season with ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Transfer meat to a paper towel-lined plate.
2. Add the onion and poblano peppers. Cook until the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Finely chop 2 tablespoons of the cilantro stems and add to the pot. Stir in the garlic and jalapeño and cook 2 minutes. Add the chili powder, coriander and cumin, and cook 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until it begins to turn brown.
3. Return the lamb to the pot. Stir in 4 cups water, the beans and ¼ teaspoon salt. Simmer over medium-low heat for 45 minutes; add more water if the chili becomes too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Ladle into bowls, and top with a dollop of yogurt and a squeeze of lime. Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.