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It's always nice to have good friends who are great cooks, and I'm fortunate that I can count Sandy Kitkus among mine. She just has a knack for knowing what's good — and then knows just what to do to make a recipe better. Case in point: her white chili.

Most white chili I've had is more like soup, not as thick as chili should be. But Sandy's white chili is different. It's a recipe she's been playing around with for several years. The first time I had it, I knew it was the best I'd ever had. And that was back in the original version days. This time, I think she's got a winner.

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Anne Braly

"It was created after reading several other versions," she says. "I think I took away the best components from the all the different versions of recipes I read."

For instance, she continues, "I found one recipe that said to add half the white beans and mash them, then add the remaining."

That's what makes it thicker than other white chili recipes.

"Another example is that some call for adding sour cream and some call for heavy cream. Let's face it, heavy cream makes everything taste good."

But she likes that little bit of twang that sour cream adds. So what does she do? She adds both.

Like many chilis — red or white — celery is an ingredient. Zitkus suggests adding some of the celery leaves in addition to the chopped-up stalks. The leaves add a good deal more flavor, she notes.

Everyone's taste is different when it comes to chili. Zitkus doubles the amount of green chilies simply because she likes them. "More is better for me," she says. "The chilies are very mild, and if you don't use a lot, the other ingredients can overpower them."

And one last note: "Don't be shy on the cilantro." Zitkus certainly isn't. Her recipe calls for up to one cup of the tangy herb.

Pass around some bread if you like, but really, white chili is a hearty meal in itself.

White Chili

4 boneless chicken breasts (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 cans whole green chilies, chopped (see tip)

3-4 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (see note)

2 teaspoons cumin (add more if you like the taste of cumin in your chili)

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 to 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 to cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

Additional chicken broth, if needed

In large pot, add chicken breasts, and completely cover with water (4-6 cups). Simmer chicken breasts with basil, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme and parsley until completely cooked.

Remove chicken from broth, and let cool. Reserve the seasoned broth for the chili. Once chicken is cooled, chop and set aside.

In a large stock pot, add butter and olive oil, and sauté onion, celery and bell pepper until vegetables are translucent. Add chopped chilies and two cans cannellini beans. When mixture is warm, mash beans with a potato masher.

Add 2-3 cups of the reserved broth, chopped chicken, cumin and 1-2 more cans cannellini beans. Let simmer 30 minutes to an hour. If mixture becomes too thick, add more broth. Add sour cream, heavy cream and fresh cilantro, and stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings, such as salt and cumin. Just before serving, stir in grated Monterey Jack cheese and ladle into serving bowls.

Tip: You will get a better quality if you buy the whole chilies rather than the chopped chilies.

Note: Progresso brand provides a better-quality bean that holds up well as the chili simmers, and you should only need three cans. If you use another brand and find that it is disintegrating as the chili simmers, add a fourth can of beans.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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