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California Turkey Chili

California Turkey Chili

Back in the day when I first started living by myself, I learned that homemade chili was the perfect bachelor food: cheap to make, easy to store/reheat and oh so much satisfaction in just a little bowl.  At the time I always made it with the cheapest (and usually most unhealthy) ingredients because I was poor and wasn’t too worried about healthy food choices.  On the plus side, that meant using dried beans and dried chiles from the Mexican store across the street, resulting in a rich and complex chili.

Not much of a pile of beans when dry

Fifteen years of increased fat intake and decreased physical activity later, I looked down and realized my six-pack had turned into a pony keg.  So the last few months of my life have been consumed by diet change and P90X (more on that some other time), but I’m happy to report I’ve lost 12 lbs. and 7% body fat.  Even better, I was pleasantly surprised by how easily many unhealthy recipes could be adapted to healthy versions.  Which leads me to this, the California Turkey Chili.  Instead of chuck roast you use super lean ground turkey and you replace the half block of bacon with smoked turkey wings.

Dried beans are delicious and cheap, but it does become a two day affair.  For those who need to knock this shit out quick, go all the way to the bottom to unlock “Turbo Mode” which takes only 15 mins. prep and 45 mins. to cook.  You might find it surprisingly good.  I usually garnish with chopped yellow onion and sharp cheddar, but if you want to keep it healthy skip the cheese.

* As promised, I’ve updated the post with pics so enjoy!

After a soak in the tub, they've tripled in volume

California Turkey Chili, full version

Servings: A shitload (really, it’s enough to feed half a dozen hungry folks and tastes even better the next day if you dig leftovers)

Using canned beans: You can use canned beans if you don’t have the time to prep dried beans overnight, although dried beans are WAY cheaper, taste better and have much better texture. Not to mention they are much lower in sodium than canned. If using canned, buy one 15oz. can each of black beans, kidney beans and Navy beans (substitute with pinto beans if you can’t find Navy). Drain them well – they can be combined in the same bowl after draining. Finally, giving them a good washing before draining will reduce the sodium significantly.

Using dried beans: The night before cooking, put 3/4 cup of each bean in a large pot (the beans will nearly triple in size!). Fill the pot with water at least an inch above the beans then cover with lid. The next day, pick out and discard any beans that float. Drain the water and add enough new cold water to cover the beans by 2 or 3 inches. Put the pot on high heat and add two dashes of salt. When the water boils turn the heat to medium-low and let simmer uncovered for 1h 15m. The beans will have a solid, starchy bite this way. If you prefer softer beans you can continue cooking the beans: one more half hour for softer beans, a full additional hour for slightly mushy.  Drain well and beans are ready for use in chili!

Dried peppers, toasting

Using whole dried chiles: If you are adventurous enough to go to the Mexican grocery, you can easily get dried guajillo chiles, chiles de California and pasilla chiles (you’ll need one of each). You’ll also need one chipotle in adobo sauce. They come in small cans and can even be found at American grocers in the “ethnic food” aisle. Luckily for me, my whole house is the ethnic food aisle! For an extra spicy chili, add 3 chiles de arbol and two extra chipotles. To process the dried chiles (NOT the chipotle!), heat a skillet on high and add the chiles. Flip them when the chiles are heated through but not burnt (under a minute each side). Turn off heat and add enough water to cover chiles, then cover skillet with a large pot lid (doesn’t have to seal completely). After half an hour drain the water, tear out the stems and tear a small hole in the other end of each chile.

Ready for the grind - cleaned chiles in tomato sauce

Run cold water through each chile so the seeds run out. Combine 1 cup of canned tomato sauce, the dried chiles and the chipotle in a food processor and process until smooth. This is now your delicious chile base!

Using chili powders: If you just want to use chili powders, then just replace the chili process above with:1 tsp. regular chili powder, 1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder, and 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder. All this can be found at an American grocer. If you are worried about the chili being two spicy, do 1/2 tsp. of each chili then taste during the stewing process and add more regular chili and/or chipotle powder to taste.

Remaining ingredients:
20 oz. pack ground turkey (I use super lean 99/1 for health reasons but choose what you like – the more fat, the more flavorful!)
2 smoked turkey wings – meat cut off bone in large chunks and bone reserved
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
4 cups fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup tomato sauce
1 15oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
½ yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground coriander seed
1 tsp. ground cumin seed
2 heaping Tbsp. masa harina (tamale/tortilla flour; can be found at Mexican grocer or in most “ethnic food” aisles at American grocer)

Heat a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot on medium-high and add 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Add turkey and let brown, breaking up into small chunks, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and sauté, stirring for another 5 minutes until onions start to become translucent. Add garlic and bell peppers, sauté another minute, then add 4 cups chicken broth. Turn heat to high and scrape the bottom of the pot thoroughly.

A big ass pot of goodness

Stir in salt, coriander, cumin, beans, diced tomatoes and smoked turkey wing meat and bones. Add your processed chile base now, or if using chili powders only, add the chili powders and cup of tomato sauce. Stir well.

When chili boils, reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer uncovered. After an hour check to make sure the kidney beans are the texture you like, as they take longest to cook. Continue to check every 15 minutes until they are done to your liking, then scoop out 1 cup of the chili liquid and whisk together with the 2 heaping Tbsp. masa harina until well combined. Stir mixture back into the chili to thicken it and simmer another 15 minutes. Taste and season with additional salt, hot sauce and/or cayenne pepper if needed. If using dried beans, you might find you need a good portion more salt as the beans are not pre-salted like canned beans.


California Turkey Chili – “Turbo Mode” Unlocked

This version uses all the ingredients of the above, except you always use canned beans and chili powders only. It is also prepared in a much simpler way, as you’ll see:

Heat large pot on high heat and add 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Cook turkey 3 minutes, breaking into chunks with wooden spoon. Add onions and cook for 3 mins, stirring. Add garlic and bell peppers and cook for 1 minute. Stir in all remaining ingredients except masa harina.

Bring to a boil then turn to medium-low and simmer at least ½ hour, preferably one hour. Scoop out 1 cup of the chili liquid and whisk together with the 2 heaping Tbsp. masa harina until well combined. Stir mixture back into the chili to thicken it, then simmer 5 to 15 minutes. Taste and season with additional salt, hot sauce and/or cayenne pepper if needed.


About Huy-zer

Jack of all trades, master of none. Do not approach unless you're prepared for a blizzard of useless facts and 80's music trivia.


7 thoughts on “California Turkey Chili

  1. What I love most about this chili is that it’s healthy but still full of flavor. It’s rich and hearty with a nice, not overly smokey taste. I like to garnish it with some micro greens or some blue corn chips and extra onions.

    Next time the husband makes this chili, I promise to take better pictures of it and post it. Hey honey, feel like making some chili?

    Posted by 1milagritos | November 3, 2011, 11:03 pm
  2. This looks and sounds amazing ! So tempting for this first wet California Fall weather weekend. Thanks for sharing. It would be awesome if you could detail exactly which supermarket and isle number we could go directly to, in order to expedite our shopping needs.
    It will make a huge difference, and will set your blog apart from all others in cyberspace.

    Yours truly,


    Posted by alexnguyen | November 4, 2011, 8:16 am
  3. Oh man Huy this chili really hit the spot. Thanks so much for bringing it over. I knew we were in for a treat when I looked in the pot and saw 2 giant dinosaur like bones. I wasted no time. As soon as you guys left, I quickly toasted up some bread, squeezed a bit of lemon ( I know, it’s weird.) and dug in. I have to be honest. At first I was not sure if I was going to like all those beans, but they were quite good. Soft and velvety yet still enough bite for texture. The chili was smokey, meaty, really full flavored. Not too tomato-y. Are you sure it’s healthy?? I’d prefer a bit more heat, but I know you were making it for the family. Lauren’s full belly thanks you. DELICIOUS!!

    Btw, did you do it the original way or the quick way?

    Posted by Taylor | November 9, 2011, 8:49 am
    • Glad you liked the Chili, Taylor. And was even more glad to see you up and moving around so quickly on your bad wheel!

      I know, it’s hard to believe the chili is healthy, but the ingredient list don’t lie. The only fats are in the turkey wings (almost nil if you keep yourself from gnawing on the wing meat!), the little bit of olive oil, and the almost non-existent fat from the turkey (I use 99/1 super lean). Since I don’t use canned beans on the long version, there are no sodium concerns either.

      I’m with you on the squeeze of lemon, actually. When I used to make the unhealthy beef version I would always throw in green onions, yellow onions, sharp cheddar and a squeeze of lime. In Texas that’s how they eat it: with lime. They’ll also jump your ass if you try to introduce beans to their chili. For a Niners tailgate this year I made my first pot of Texas Red from a recipe I found on this lovely blog: http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/2009/02/more-precise-texas-chili-recipe.html. All beef and it’s made with cinnamon and Mexican chocolate — kind of a mole style base. It was delish, although I am still partial to a Cali chili with beans.

      To answer your question, I made this batch using the long version. No cutting corners for you and the fam!

      Posted by sonnyspade | November 10, 2011, 12:52 am


  1. Pingback: Be Still, My Bleating Fart « You'll Have What We're Having - November 4, 2011

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