Kid Tested, Toddler Approved: Chicken Tortilla Stew

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I really try to push my kids to expand their palate. Even at the ages of 3 and 18 months respectively, they have a sense of what's good and what's bleh so I like to help cultivate that and encourage them to try new things and different flavors.

It's a myth that young kids will only eat bland, mushy foods. On the contrary, the more flavorful and colorful the higher the success rate for consumption. That's why kids usually have no trouble eating Italian or Asian foods - they're both pretty to look at and tasty, well seasoned with depth of flavor. So use the same logic in your kitchen.

A super easy, healthy and flavorful dish you can make your family any busy weeknight is my recipe for Chicken Tortilla Stew. I call it a stew because it's a lot more concentrated with veggies rather than a super-seasoned brothy soup. And because I'm making it at home, I can control the fat and spice level for my little ones.

It's another myth that kids don't like spices. They don't like spicy, but actually love spices. My basic spice combination for southwestern cuisine involves ancho chile powder, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, oregano and bay leaf.

Bay leaf is actually a diuretic when used in large quantities, so I like to use a tiny one when cooking for the kids or just cut a large one in half. Ancho chile, paprika and cinnamon give this stew a warmth without having an aggressive spice. If I were making this for adults, I'd add cayenne as well. Oregano and coriander gives a subtle sweetness to the dish, and smoky cumin makes it taste and smell like quintessential southwestern cooking.

And my "trinity" for southwestern soups include white onion, carrots, celery and poblano peppers.

I know it's not a trifecta per se, but whatever. It makes for an excellent base.

Cati and Trajan love this soup whenever I make it, and with readily available ingredients and some help with frozen veggies, you can whip this up in a half an hour too. It also keeps in the fridge a few days as well.

Chicken Tortilla Stew
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 small white onion, chopped small
2 carrots, peeled and chopped small
1 celery stalk, chopped small
1/2 poblano pepper, chopped small
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 small bay leaf
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 large ripe roma tomatoes, chopped (or a can of chopped tomatoes)
4 cups organic chicken broth (recommended: Swanson's)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 can black beans, drained
crumbled tortilla chips
chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
finely shredded low-fat cheddar cheese for garnish (optional)
1 avocado, diced for garnish (optional)

Heat some olive oil in a heavy cast-iron pot like a Dutch oven. Season the chicken breasts liberally with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides in the oil about 7 minutes. You want to achieve a good golden crust on both sides to lock in the juices and create a good flavor base for the stew. Once browned, remove chicken from pot and set aside.

In the oil that the chicken was browned in, add the onion, celery, carrots and poblano peppers. Mix well, evenly coating the vegetables with the seasoned oil. Take a quick taste and add more salt and pepper if needed, and more oil if needed. Cook vegetables until tender, about 7 minutes on medium-high heat. If vegetables begin to burn, reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until softened.

Add the spices all at once - chile powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, paprika, cinnamon and bay leaf -- and mix to incorporate. Cook until spices are become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute until garlic becomes fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook a couple of minutes, until tomatoes begin to soften and render their juices. You can help this process along by gently pressing on the tomato chunks with your wooden spoon. Use the juice that comes out of the tomato and any steam from the vegetables to scrape up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom. This is the flavor!! Add the chicken broth and give it a good stir. Crank the temperature on high and bring stew to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and let simmer 20 minutes, uncovered.

While stew is coming to a boil, cut chicken into cubes or shred it. If you have little ones, I like to shred it so it's easier for them to eat. Place cut chicken back into the stew (don't worry if some of it isn't quite cooked all the way through - it will finish cooking now in the stew) along with any juices that accumulated on the plate it was resting on.

Once stew has simmered and reduced a bit in liquid, add your corn and beans and cook another 5-10 minutes until corn is warmed through, and everything is nice and tender. Give the stew a final taste and adjust with seasonings if needed. Add a handful of the crushed tortilla chips right into the stew and give it a stir. You can also reserve some extra to top for crunch.

To serve, ladle out a generous portion of stew in a bowl. Top with some cheese, chopped cilantro, avocado, and more crushed chips if desired and serve immediately.
My Notes:
Want this vegetarian style? Take out the chicken and add another can of red kidney beans for a hearty and healthy vegetarian style stew.
Making this for adults only and want some spicy kick to the meal? Add a minced jalepeno when you saute your vegetables, or a teaspoon of cayenne pepper with the herbs. And you can always serve your favorite hot sauce on the side if little kiddos are eating at the table too.
A great side dish to serve with this stew is your favorite cornbread. Even better -- make cornbread muffins with a dab of honey in the batter.

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