Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Copycat Mad Mex chick pea chili

Last week, a group of us went out to celebrate our great friend Natalie's 29th birthday.  The birthday girl chose the place and, boy, did she choose wisely: Mad Mex!

Mad Mex is a local gem when it comes to Mexican food.  There are a few locations in western PA, one of which is nestled in the heart of Pitt's campus.  When I think of Mad Mex, I'm reminded of many nights we spent there during college, sipping on their famous margaritas.  Natalie always seemed to end up there after a pharmacy school exam, and many of us caved under pressure and joined her there, too.  :)  To this day, I have yet to taste a better and fresher strawberry margarita!

The food menu is totally overwhelming, partly because it's massive and partly because everything I've ever ordered has been delish.  Nachos, burritos, quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas... yum!  This particular evening I was craving something warm and satisfying but not too filling since there was dessert to be enjoyed after dinner.  (I brought homemade funfetti cupcakes for the birthday girl's treat!)

I spotted a soup section of the menu that I'd never noticed before and zeroed in on the chickpea and tomatillo chili.  You know how I love chick peas, and this sounded way too unique to pass up! 

A thick green base of pureed tomatillos chock full of plump chick peas and flavored with onions, garlic, and even jalapenos -- more progress on the spice mission!  Topped with tangy sour cream, I was thankful everyone else had already received their orders because I couldn't wait to dig in.  Piping hot and with a wonderful kick, I took my time savoring every spoonful of my big bowl of chili.

As with any really good and special restaurant dish, I found myself longing for my Mad Mex meal days later.  "Ask and you shall receive" is the original quote, but I'd like to submit a more modern version of it for this occasion: "Google and you shall find."  With hardly any effort, I found the full recipe for chick pea and tomatillo chili so I could enjoy it again at home!

While chili and soup seem to be more popular in the fall and winter months, this specific version seems perfect for springtime.  It's filling without being heavy, packs a serious punch in the flavor department, and is even swimsuit-season friendly.

And, wouldn't you know that Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner!  Whip up a big batch of Mad Mex's chick pea and tomatillo chili and invite friends over to celebrate.  Have someone else supply the margaritas and you've got yourself an instant party.  Ole!

Mad Mex's Chick Pea and Tomatillo Chili
(adapted from Mad Mex's recipe)
-serves 4-5

A few notes: The only thing I changed about this was using only one jalapeno rather than two as the original recipe instructed. Feel free to blend the soup to your desired consistency.  I went smoother per the dish I enjoyed at the restaurant, but a chunkier texture would be great, too. 

2 pounds tomatillos, peeled and washed
1 whole jalapeno, de-stemmed
1 medium Spanish onion, roughly chopped
4 whole cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
32 ounces canned chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
Sour cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 475 F.  In an oven-safe pot or saute pan with a lid, place tomatillos, jalapeno(s), onion, garlic, salt and olive oil.  Cover and roast vegetables for 40 minutes.  Remove lid and roast for an additional 20 minutes or until vegetables begin to lightly brown.

Remove and allow to cool slightly.  Pour tomatillo mixture into blender.  Pulse until thick and nearly smooth.  **Be sure to remove lid between pulses to vent hot steam to ensure safe blending!**  (You may need to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your blender.)

Return to pot or pan and add chick peas.  Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.  Season to taste with ground black pepper and salt, if necessary.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish, and enjoy!


  1. I made this today. I accidentally forgot the oil when roasting the veggies but they were still awesome. This tastes so good I could not believe it and it is so easy! Thanks for a great recipe!

  2. I had the chick pea chili from Mad Mex back in 2002 when I lived in Pennsylvania. I since moved away but have never forgotten how good it was. I made this recipe and it did not disappoint. The one suggestion is that I think I would start with at least doubling the recipe to make enough for four people. I get my tomatillos from a local mexican grocery store--they're much cheaper there (about a dollar a pound), making this a pretty economical dish!

    1. So happy you enjoyed it! Thanks for the great tip about checking Mexican grocery stores, too.

  3. My girlfriend and I have now made batches of your recipe 8 times, always to rave reviews. I double the garlic, cilantro, and Jalapenos for extra spice. Can't thank you enough for sharing this. It's now "our" signature dish.

    1. You made my day! Love that you personalized it, too. I might even try the extra jalapeno next time I make it since my tolerance for hot foods is going up :)

  4. this was exactly like mad mex! thank you so much for posting - it was so easy and delicious- going to make chicken enchiladas next time with the sauce