This is not a fancy dish by any means, but it is one of the oldest comfort foods from my childhood. My mother began making a ground beef version of this flavorful chili when I was about 6. It’s easy to estimate my age at the time because we moved around a lot, and I can recall where we lived when certain memories were made. My mom was newly remarried and we had moved out west from upstate New York for my stepfather’s job as a truck driver. I loved my stepdad, but he was gone a lot, so it was frequently just my mom and me taking up space in a single-wide mobile home in rural southern Colorado, where Mexican flavors reign supreme.
You could barely see our little box of a house from the main road, which ran a straight line through the tiny town of about 350 people. There was a long, dusty driveway leading from the school bus stop, over some railroad tracks and past the big white propane tank that provided us fuel for heating and cooking. Occasionally, during deer season, I’d see a carcass hung up from a tree near our house, and that meant my new daddy had a good hunting trip and venison would soon be on the menu. Most days after school, our sweet little dog, Ginger, would meet me halfway on my walk from the bus, and on the days that I’d catch a whiff of my mom’s green chili when I opened the door—well, that’s a very happy memory.
A short time after, many things changed in my world. For the second time in my young life, my parents split. We moved again and the relationship with my mom began a sad but steady decline. I shuttled back and forth between parents (and states) until high school graduation, and then made the decision to move away on my own. Visits with my mother became few and far between, and eventually when I visited as an adult and requested the green chili, I learned that her recipe had shifted from the familiar ground beef to cubed pork. It was tasty, but I longed for the texture of the tender ground meat.
What I really wanted was a taste of happy childhood. Isn’t that what comfort food is?
The first time I made my own green chili, about 15 years ago, I used a flavorful pork sausage I had discovered at Whole Foods. The sausage was made in-house and was utterly addictive with its mild, smoky green chiles and spicy habanero peppers, and I found it a happy medium to provide the soft meat texture I loved about the first version of green chili I ever had and the rich, savory flavor of pork. When my local Whole Foods stopped making it, I was beyond disappointed. I figured I’d have to settle for plain ground pork going forward.
But recently, necessity being the mother of invention and all, I learned how to make my own spicy sausage and baby, I’m back!
I’m still in the learning stages of sausage production, but my imagination has run pretty wild, considering all the unique flavor possibilities before me. I have delved into a few other flavor combinations already, but I know it won’t be long before this one comes up in rotation again. It’s because the green chili burritos I made from the sausage was just that delicious—even better than any of the versions I made before. Link back to the homemade pork sausage post for the particulars on this sausage, or choose a store-bought sausage that has green chile flavors if you want a shortcut. Heck, maybe your Whole Foods still sells that sausage, and you’ll be in business.
The chili itself is the star of these burritos; the rest is just a tortilla rolled around seasoned beans and cheese. Accompanying the sausage were onions, garlic, flour and masa flour (for thickening), canned green chiles, fresh jalapeno (if you love the heat, as we do), a few simple seasonings, and broth (I used both veggie and chicken). Putting the chili together is easy, and then it settles in for a long, low simmer. If you have an extra day, let it sit in the fridge overnight because the flavors mingle even more for better flavor.
If you like, you can serve the finished chili just as it is—either by the steaming bowlful with a handful of shredded cheese or by ladling it over a burrito—but if it thins out more than you prefer during the cooking, whip up a bit of corn starch slurry and stream it in over medium heat. When it’s thickened and glossy, it’s ready to go.
At our house, we enjoyed this at dinner, lazily draped over bean and cheese burritos. And we enjoyed it again for a weekend breakfast, stuffing our tortillas with black beans, scrambled eggs and cheese, plus a scatter of fresh chopped tomatoes.
Green Chili Burritos
This dish speaks the language of my childhood, with comforting chili made from ground pork and all that beautiful, melty cheese.
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. EVOO
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. dried green chile flakes (mine were from Flatiron Pepper Co., available online)
- 1.5 lbs. green chile pork sausage (store-bought, or my recipe which is included below)
- 1 whole fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped (keep some of the seeds if you like it hot)
- 2 or 3 Tbsp. additional EVOO to provide fat for roux
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 Tbsp. masa flour (Maseca)
- 2 small cans (4 oz.) fire roasted diced green chiles
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin (from toasted seeds if possible)
- 4 cups low-sodium veggie or chicken broth (I used 2 cups of each)
- Corn starch slurry with equal parts corn starch and ice water (About 1/3 cup total)
- 2 cans refried beans, warmed with oil and onions (for serving burritos)
- Large flour tortillas (for burritos)
- 8 oz. block cheddar, colby jack or pepperjack cheese, shredded
- Fresh tomatoes, chopped (optional)
- Saute onions and garlic in olive oil, season with salt and pepper.
- Add sausage, a bit at a time, to brown it without overcrowding the pan.
- Add jalapeno and drizzle with olive oil to provide fat for the roux. Stir in ground cumin.
- Sprinkle flour and masa all over the meat mixture and toss to coat, adding more oil if needed to make it sticky and evenly coated.
- Add veg or chicken broth, half at a time, stirring each to blend and thicken.
- Cover the pot, reduce heat and cook at a low simmer for a couple of hours. Aim to keep it below the boiling point so that the thickening doesn’t cook off. If the chili seems “thin” after its simmer, use the corn starch slurry to thicken it back up. Be sure to let it simmer vigorously for a few minutes to cook off the starchy flavor.
- To serve the chili over burritos, warm the refried beans in a skillet or deep saucepan with some sautéed onions. Add a generous spoonful of the beans onto the center of a large flour tortilla. Add a small handful of shredded cheese and roll it up, placing it seam side-down on an oven-safe plate. Ladle chili over the burrito, sprinkle on more shredded cheese and just a small amount of extra chili. Place in the hot oven or microwave to melt the cheese.
- Pork shoulder cubes (gram weight of pork determines how much seasoning blend to use)
- 1 tsp. Flatiron Pepper Co. hatch green chile blend (for mild, smoky flavor)
- 1 tsp. Flatiron Pepper Co. four pepper blend (includes chiles de arbol, ghost and habanero for lots of heat)
- 2 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane
- 1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper