Cashew Chicken Chili - a new fall favorite!

I've been back into a cooking routine. When the weather cools and pumpkin everything appears, my instincts turn cozy, homey, and warm, and I find myself back in the kitchen making things that need to be seared and simmered, baked and sliced. This happens every fall.

Or at least it did when I lived in a place with four seasons. Here in southern California, things are cooling off a bit (low 70s! Oooo!), but more importantly life is finally settling into a routine, and so I am, too. Last night I finally made a recipe I've had my eye on for a while, Cashew Chicken Chili. My friend Kate is bastion of cooking inspiration, and if she tells you to make a recipe then by god, you make it. She recommended this a long time ago and I finally worked up the courage to make it. Courage? Yes. 

A) I am not a big fan of classic ground-beef-and-bean chili. It took me years to figure this out. I WANT to like it! It's a perfect, warm, cozy, simmer-on-Sunday dish. But I just don't love it. I had high hopes for this, but what if it turned out to be too chili-ish?

B) I've never worked with dried chilis before, and the base of this dish is a dried chili and cashew purée.  I was a little afraid. 

If you know a way to photograph chili while making it look attractive, I wish you'd tell me. (I should've scraped down the sides, for a start.)

If you know a way to photograph chili while making it look attractive, I wish you'd tell me. (I should've scraped down the sides, for a start.)

I had nothing to fear. The chilis weren't too spicy, they were easy to work with, and the dish turned out to be delicious. Zach was blown away. This recipe is a definite keeper. 

If you're vegetarian or just want a break from meat, you could easily sub vegetable stock and use black beans and garbanzos instead of chicken. This chili is so interesting and different, I bet it would be great that way. If you make it, let me know how it turns out!

My cardinal rule is to follow the recipe to a T the first time. In this case I didn't, because I forgot something or had something different on hand I wanted to use up. And you know what? It still turned out great. That's the sign of a new favorite, in my book. I've written the recipe out here with my notes and changes.  Thanks Kate and Maggie!

I served it with extra cilantro on top, and Trader Joe's cornbread on the side. Enjoy!

Butter smears. Kerrygold or nothing.

Butter smears. Kerrygold or nothing.



4 dried ancho chiles (I used 2 ancho & 2 generic New Mexican dried chilis, because that's what I had on hand.)

2 1/2 cups chicken stock

(I heated the chicken stock to boiling and soaked the chilis for about an hour before pureeing. Let your mixture cool before sticking it in the blender! SAFETY FIRST! Or use a stick blender. As I'd never worked with chilis, I wasn't sure if pureeing them dry would work. I know, I know, the recipe said it would. Trust the recipe. But I figured it wouldn't hurt. It didn't.)

1 tablespoon canned chipotle chiles in adobo (I left these out because even though I had them sitting on the counter I totally forgot to put them in the purée. It was delicious anyway.)

1 1/2 cups salted roasted cashews (I used raw cashews and toasted them in a pan because, you guessed it, that's what I had on hand.)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 large onions, coarsely chopped

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons ground cumin (Cumin does not agree with me so I only used a teaspoon, then added a teaspoon each of chili powder, chipotle powder, and ground coriander to start. I figured I'd add more later if necessary. It wasn't necessary.)

2 teaspoons salt

1 (31/2 to 4-lb) chicken - rinsed, patted dry, excess fat discarded, and cut into 8 serving pieces (I had boneless skinless chicken breasts & thighs, so I used those. I left them untrimmed and the extra fat helped in the absence of skin.)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (We LOVE cilantro so I chopped up & used an entire bunch - half at the beggining, a quarter at the end, and a quarter for garnishing the serving bowls. It helped balance and brighten, too.)

2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes in juice

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used callebaut dark chocolate, because that's what I had on hand.)

1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained (I soaked and cooked my own from dry. Personal preference.)


 Make the chile puree

Heat a dry small heavy skillet (not nonstick) over moderate heat until hot. Toast the dried chiles, one at a time, pressing down with tongs, for several seconds on each side to make them more pliable. Seed and devein dried chiles; discard stems. Tear dried chiles into pieces and transfer to a blender. (Here I heat the chicken stock to boiling then poured over the dried chilis. I let them soak for an hour before pureeing.)  Add broth, chipotles, and 1/2 cup cashews and puree until smooth. Note: you want a spicier chili, retain some of the seeds.


Make the chili

  • Heat oil in a 6- to 7- quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. 
  • Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. 
  • Add cumin and salt and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. 
  • Add chicken and stir to coat with onion mixture. 
  • Stir in chile puree, 1/4 cup cilantro, and tomatoes with juice. 
  • Bring to a simmer and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking, until chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes. 
  • Remove from heat and transfer chicken to a bowl.
  • Shred meat using two forks; discard bones and skin.
  • Return chicken to pot and stir in chocolate, beans, remaining 1 cup cashews, and remaining 1/4 cup cilantro.
  • Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until chili is heated through and chocolate is melted.
  • Season to taste.