Spicy Chicken Warms Us from Inside Out


LeonNa Gilbert lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she works at the University of Arkansas, and cooks a lot. Don’t ask me how, but she discovered this column years ago on the Bangor Daily News website, where she reads it weekly and often sends me an email note. Leo and I are kind of e-penpals and swop homey news—cooking, pets, gardens, family, work at home and professionally.

Right after Christmas this year she told me she was going to make Mexican Chicken Spaghetti. She wrote, “It has been a very long time since I’ve made it and it’s one of my favorites. A nice comfort food from my childhood; might seem odd, but my mother never made homemade mac and cheese and other standard comfort foods.” For a Yankee, something highly spiced might not seem like a comfort food. But I was curious and so asked her for the recipe.

She sent it right back, and added, “I will sometimes add a little red pepper or chipolte powder or some cumin or all three if I’m in the mood. But you can never add too much chili powder and fresh chili powder is the best.” Well, I don’t know about that “never add too much” business, but Leo said to be brave.

Plenty of us in Maine have learned to love capsicum heat, and plenty more prefer our dinners mild. I happen to love cumin and even a bit of chipoltle from time to time. My main principle is that I don’t want my food to hurt me. The rest of the recipe, though, sounded good and easy, and it occurs to me that after the past couple of weeks of festive cooking, this easy-going recipe might be a welcome break and give us a manageable meal for supper.

Since it calls for cooked chicken, you could plan to use leftover roasted chicken. Roasting a chicken on the weekend for at least one dinner ought to provide another meal plus soup, depending of course on how many you cook for and how hungry they are. Alternatively, you can cook chicken in a slow cooker while you are at work, then assemble the Mexican spaghetti when you get home.

By the way, if you leave out the spaghetti, you’ll find this recipe make a fine chicken stew.

We ate our Mexican chicken stew on a cold night, and the chili powder did its job or warming us from the inside out. I used a whole tablespoon, and no additional hot stuff, and the dish was about as spicy as I can stand. You can, of course, dial back the amount of chili, or chipoltle and red pepper, to taste.

Mexican Chicken Spaghetti
Serves: Six to eight
  • ¾ cup or one medium onion, chopped
  • 1‐2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 2½ cups canned diced tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 or more tablespoons chili powder
  • Chipoltle powder to taste
  • Ground cumin to taste
  • 3 cups cooked chicken, chopped
  • 8 ounces spaghetti
  1. Sauté onions, bell pepper and celery in oil until tender.
  2. Add tomatoes and seasonings and cook for five minutes or longer.
  3. Add the chicken and heat until warmed through.
  4. Cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain, and add the cooked spaghetti to the chicken mixture, mixing well.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.