Black bean turkey chili sounds like something some lifestyle magazine whipped together to impress the trendy, but it is actually a stew with origins dating to before the Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere 500 years ago.
Don’t believe me? Well, for starters it was the Aztecs and Maya (or their predecessors) who domesticated turkeys. Black beans and tomatoes originated in Central America, chiles from South America. Oh, and the corn? Yep, that’s a New World ingredient, too.
What’s not ancient is the concept of chili as we Americans know it. Chili, to us, is, normally, ground or minced meat with all or some of those wonderful ingredients listed above, simmered into awesomeness and typically topped with green things and cheese.
I’d been tossing around the idea of a pre-1492 stew for a while, when I just decided to go with black bean turkey chili. And for those of you who know me, I take my chili seriously. My normal chili recipe has won untold awards in untold chili cook-offs, dating back a decade or more.
This chili is different. It’s lighter, brighter, with more vegetables and no coffee or molasses. I like it almost as much as my One True Chili to Rule Them All. Almost.
You’ll notice dried field corn in this recipe. I like it a lot, as it’s starchy and wonderful and can cook forever. Unlike my pozole recipe, if you can’t find good dried corn (look in Mexican markets), it is perfectly OK to substitute fresh or frozen sweet corn in this recipe.
You might also notice that I am using teeny black beans; they are black tepary beans, from the Sonoran desert. Just as the corn I use is from the Tohono O’Odham tribe, so are the beans. That said, any black bean that makes you happy will work — even canned beans. And if you hate black beans, put in different beans. Or no beans. It’ll be fine.
I prefer to use ground turkey thighs for my chili, but any ground light meat will work: turkey breast, pheasant or chicken, pork or rabbit would all be good substitutes.
Finally, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t use real dried chiles in my chili. Unlike my other chili recipe, this chili relies only on either guajillo or New Mexican red chiles, which are sometimes sold as California chiles. The point is that they are very red, dried and mild-ish. If you can’t find them, simply use paprika.
Serve with whatever toppings you like, but I prefer melty cheddar or Jack cheese, some chopped onions and cilantro.
Black Bean Turkey Chili
- 2 to 3 tablespoons bacon fat, lard or vegetable oil
- 2 to 3 pounds ground turkey
- 1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 28 to 32 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 quart turkey or chicken stock
- 4 to 6 dried guajillo or New Mexican chiles, stemmed and seeded
- OR 3 tablespoons paprika
- 1 to 2 cups cooked corn kernels (1 cup dry if using)
- 2 to 3 cups cooked black beans, or 2 15-ounce cans
- 1 cup shredded cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
- If you are using dried corn and dried beans, soak them in water overnight. The next day, you can either cook them with the chili, which will increase cook time to about 6 hours, or you can cook the corn and beans separately, which will take about 3 hours; the acid in the chili will drastically slow the cooking of the beans.
- If you are using the dried chiles, about 30 minutes before you plan on starting the chili, put the chiles in a bowl and pour boiling water over them to rehydrate.
- Heat the bacon far or oil in a large pot like a Dutch oven over high heat and, when it's almost smoking, add the ground turkey. Sear the turkey over high heat without touching it for a couple minutes, then stir and repeat that process until the meat is cooked and has some nice brown marks.
- Stir in the onion and green pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chili powder and cumin and cook for 2 minutes more.
- Pour in crushed tomatoes and stock and stir well. If you are using the dried chiles, buzz them into a puree in a blender and add to the chili. If you are using the paprika, add it now. Stir well and add salt to taste.
- If you are using the dried corn and beans and want to cook them in the chili, add them now, along with another quart of water; it'll cook down over time. Simmer the chili until the corn and beans are tender, which will take several hours.
- If you are using fresh or frozen corn and canned beans, thaw the corn and rinse the beans. Let the chili simmer for 30 minutes, and then add the corn and beans and cook another 15 minutes. Serve with the garnishes once everything's nice and tender.