The weatherman is predicting an “arctic blast” for our area this evening and into next week. In south Texas, it’s hard to know exactly what that means–we start getting warnings about protecting our plants and pets anytime the weather dips below 50 degrees. (I fully appreciate the irony of using the verb “dip” to describe temperatures that mark the turn toward spring in many parts of the country.) Still, I have to admit there’s a little part of me that gets excited by the prospect of wintry weather, such as it is here. Probably because I know it won’t last more than a few weeks, at the very most, and it won’t require scraping or shoveling anything.
Also, it provides me with an all-too-rare opportunity to indulge in making winter food. Since I’ve been trying to stick close to the healthy stuff, in an effort to shed those holiday pounds, I headed off to the grocery store yesterday in search of the fixings for Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew. Onions and sweet potatoes are among the foods profiled in 12 Best Foods, and chicken breast is a healthy source of protein whenever you’re watching your weight. Since it tends to be a little dry, chicken breast is the perfect choice for soups and stews. I also use a little bit of turkey bacon in this recipe, just for flavor.
Toward the end of this recipe, I add a little cream to give the broth a silky consistency. If you want to cut back even farther on the fat and calories, you can use evaporated milk (regular, low fat or nonfat) or whatever milk happens to be in your refrigerator. The latter will give you a thinner broth, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I use cream because it’s just a little bit, and a little bit of fat helps you feel full–always a plus, when you’re watching portion sizes.
Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew
1 T. olive oil
1 T. margarine
1 medium onion, chopped
2 strips turkey bacon, cut into small pieces
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium-large sweet potato, cut into small chunks (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into small chunks
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
1 T. dried thyme
1 T. dried parsley
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (if frozen, thawed)
1/2 cup cream
In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the margarine in the olive oil. Add the onions to the pot. Stir to coat the onions and allow them to cook for 8-10 minutes, until they're very soft and maybe starting to brown. Add the bacon and garlic, stir again, and cook for 2 or 3 more minutes. The idea here is not to end up with crispy bacon, but to give the onions a little extra flavor.
While the onions are cooking, put the flour in a large plastic bag with a zipper top; season it with a little salt and lots of pepper. Add the chicken chunks to the bag and shake to coat them thoroughly. (You'll have some leftover loose flour in the bag.) When the onions are soft, dump the chicken and flour into the stock pot, stirring so the flour bonds with the oil. You'll have a very thick mixture of chicken and onions in a floury paste. Let the chicken brown for a minute or two, then stir and let it brown again. All you're doing here is creating flavor--don't worry about browning the chicken evenly or on all sides. Soon enough, it will be bathing in broth.
Pour 1 cup of chicken stock into the pan. It will sizzle and combine with the flour to give you a very thick broth. Stir to scrape up any browned bits that are sticking to the bottom of the pan. (The technical term for what you're doing here is deglazing the pan. That sounds much fancier than "scraping up the brown stuff", doesn't it? But it's exactly the same thing.) Add the sweet potatoes and enough chicken stock to cover everything in the pan, somewhere between 1 and 2 more cups of stock. Stir in the thyme and parsley. Let this mixture come to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer, uncovered, until the sweet potatoes are soft and the chicken stock has reduced in volume slightly, 20 to 30 minutes.
When the sweet potatoes are tender, add the corn and the cream. Stir everything together and heat through, but don't let the stew come to a boil again.
We ate our stew with tortillas, dipping them into the creamy broth. A nice loaf of bread would serve that purpose just as well, as would plain old crackers.