White Chicken Chili

I was up in the Northeastern part of Thailand (near Khon Kaen) for work for a few days last week.  It’s incredible how different that part of the country is compared to our sprawling, urban Bangkok.  Going north at the end of the rainy season means a trip there is filled with views of lush green countryside and flooded rice fields.

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I pick up a similar vibe in Northeastern Thailand that I get when I’m home in the Midwest.  People are extraordinarily friendly and there’s none of the same sense of busyness that comes with living in a great big city.  (It is different from the Midwest in the number of curious stares I get.  It seems that a blond girl slurping noodles in a business suit is not all that common in the rural provinces around Khon Kaen.)

For some reason, I always come back from trips to that part of the country with a craving for homey foods.  Last time I was in Khon Kaen I went on a baked oatmeal kick that lasted for weeks.  Maybe it’s that the weather is cooler up there than in Bangkok, or maybe it’s the super spicy food of that region, but I came home last week and wanted one very specific comforting dish – White Chicken Chili.

I’ve had many varieties of White Chicken Chili, but I think the common denominator might be that they are all best served with cheese and sour cream on top.  Inside the soup itself, I loaded it up with chicken, white beans, sweet corn, and a much lighter base than most – using plain Greek yogurt instead of the heavy cream common in a lot of recipes I came across.

Frank and I both took leftovers for lunch when I made this last week, and as I ate it, I wished I had made a double batch.  SO, I made it again last night for a little crafting evening with the girls and to get the proportions just right.

Given the time I put in last week with eating stir-frys and green papaya salads the likes of which were hot enough to make my toes tingle, I used a light hand with the chili in this version, but you can easily amp it up with an extra spicy salsa verde or a few dashes of Tabasco.

Internet at our apartment is still bewitchingly down, although we seem to be making progress.  Never before have I been so thankful for the free wi-fi at our neighborhood coffee shop!

White Chicken Chili
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Soup
Serves: 4
  • 1 lb. (450g) dried navy beans (or 3 cups canned navy beans, rinsed)
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves (about ½ a pound), finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp. salsa verde (see note)
  • 1 cup frozen sweet corn
  • 4 oz. grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 small lime, quartered
Serve with:
  • grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • sour cream
  • salsa
  • fresh cilantro
  1. If using dried navy beans, soak beans overnight in enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Drain beans in a colander and return to kettle with cold water to cover by 2 inches. Cook beans at a bare simmer until tender, about 1 hour, and drain in colander. If using canned navy beans, rinse and drain the beans well and set aside.
  2. In a large heavy-bottom soup pot, heat 2 Tbsp. butter over medium-high heat. When melted, add the chopped chicken and cook until the outside of the chicken pieces are no longer pink (don't overcook the chicken - it will finish in the soup.) Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 2 Tbsp. butter and onion. Cook until the onion becomes soft, about 3 minutes. Add the flour, chili powder, and cumin. Cook, stirring constantly until the flour begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes. Gradually add chicken broth, whisking constantly. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the navy beans, prepared chicken, salsa verde, and sweet corn, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the Monterey Jack cheese and greek yogurt. Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze the juice from the lime wedges directly into the soup and stir to combine.
  5. Serve immediately with cheese, sour cream, salsa, and cilantro on the side.
*Salsa verde is a green salsa made with tomatillos that can be found with other salsas in most grocery stores - both Trader Joe's and Pace make tasty versions.

This soup can be made a day ahead. Stop just before adding the cheese and Greek yogurt and refrigerate. About 30 minutes before serving, bring the soup back to a low simmer, and continue with the recipe.

Simple. Cozy. It’s good to be home.



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