If you should find yourself in the mood for a bowl of comfort this fall, look no further than my family-favorite Sarah's Turkey Chili. I developed this recipe about two years ago when I was looking for a lighter chili option, and it is now more popular with my men at home than any other chili I make. Warmly spiced and flavorful with just the right touch of heat, this chili is anything but ordinary.

Featuring ground turkey and red kidney beans, this hearty chili packs a double punch of lean protein and nutrition in every spoonful. Even better, a host of aromatics and spices are added throughout the cooking process to create layers of flavor.

Sarah's Turkey Chili features a blend of heat-building aromatics, including onion, garlic, poblano and jalapeno peppers and crushed red chili peppers. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah's Turkey Chili features a blend of heat-building aromatics, including onion, garlic, poblano and jalapeno peppers and crushed red chili peppers. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

In addition to the usual suspects (onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper), this list also includes poblano pepper, crushed red pepper, bay leaves, oregano and thyme. Acid is a wonderful tool to employ when building flavor, and a couple teaspoons of cider vinegar help to pull all the flavors together into one delicious dish.

The spice measurements are for a mildly spicy chili, as both my husband and son are lightweights when it comes to peppery heat. If you’re looking for something beyond a gentle heat, feel free to increase the amount of chili powder or cayenne pepper. But be careful not to confuse the two — cayenne pepper is about eight to 10 times more potent than chili powder and should be added in small doses.

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Ground turkey is cooked with the aromatics to build layers of flavor into the chili. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Ground turkey is cooked with the aromatics to build layers of flavor into the chili. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

If you find that you’ve made your chili too spicy, there are ways to mitigate that problem and temper the heat. My favorite is to add a bit of dairy to the chili as it cooks, like sour cream, cheese or milk, and/or another teaspoon or two of vinegar. Something sweet can also be used, and many people will add a touch of sugar or honey to a dish that is too spicy.

Making chili is a “taste-as-you-go” process. I know this recipe well, but I still stop and taste the chili several times as it cooks to ensure that the end result is balanced and flavorful. A little salt here, a little more chili powder or cumin there… tasting the food along the way is an essential (and marvelous) part of cooking.

A blend of dried herbs and warm spices give Sarah's Turkey Chili terrific depth of flavor with a modest heat profile. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
A blend of dried herbs and warm spices give Sarah's Turkey Chili terrific depth of flavor with a modest heat profile. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

I have tried a wide variety of ground turkey and my go-to brand is Butterball, which is available in packs of four at Costco. Each pack equals 1.7 pounds of turkey, and I use two packs for this recipe. This yields a batch of chili large enough to feed at least eight to 10 people, and the recipe can be easily doubled or halved as needed.

This Turkey Chili is versatile and can be served in myriad ways — as a hearty chili with shredded cheese, sour cream and onion, as a topping for nachos, or even in a taco or atop a hotdog. It can be made several days in advance and also freezes well.

Hearty, warm, easy to make and condiment-friendly, my delicious Turkey Chili is the perfect comfort food for the season. Welcome, fall!

A Dutch oven is the perfect pot for making this big batch of Sarah's Turkey Chili. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
A Dutch oven is the perfect pot for making this big batch of Sarah's Turkey Chili. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Sarah’s Turkey Chili

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Serves: 8 to 10

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium-large yellow onion, medium diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 poblano pepper, small diced

1 jalapeno, finely chopped

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3.5 pounds ground turkey (if using Costco brand, it is 2 packs)

1 (14.5-ounce) can chicken broth

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

¼ cup water

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Directions:

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the garlic, peppers and crushed red pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes, stirring often.

Add the turkey and increase to medium-high heat. Cook until brown and fully cooked, stirring occasionally, about 12 to 14 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the kidney beans, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a low simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more seasoning as desired.

Add the kidney beans and continue to simmer until they are heated through, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately with your favorite garnishes.

To store: Transfer chili to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days or freeze for 3 months (even longer in a deep freeze).

Recipe Time Capsule:

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.