Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Turkey Chipotle Chili

Each Christmas Eve, my grandmother slow cooks a wild venison and fiery chili pepper adaptation of “Chasen's Chili” in her cast iron Dutch oven for our family dinner. Chasen's Southern Pit restaurant was a celebrated hangout in Beverly Hills that served Hollywood legends such as Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Granny clipped this recipe from our local newspaper years ago. This chili is considered to be so good that Elizabeth Taylor had the chili flown to Rome while she was on set filming “Cleopatra." 

Chasen's Chili is one of those long afternoon affairs in which you have to sort out the slow simmering of dried pinto beans and a variety of meat. My grandmother substitutes ground venison for the pork listed in the original recipe. My mother, a Southern Baptist by birth, loosely adheres to Jewish dietary laws. Why? - simply because when my mother read Leviticus, it made sense to restrict these foods from her own diet. I have seen her eat fried catfish, but she insists it's the farm-raised variety. (Note: Farm-raised catfish doesn't have scales either). It is hard to escape fried catfish and hushpuppies in the South, as it is served at many town socials. Nonetheless, Mom convinced Granny to leave the pork out of the chili. So Granny uses venison given to her by her son, the family deer hunter - my uncle Buddy.
After laboring in the kitchen for several hours, Granny produces a delicious chili that she serves over brown rice with all the optional garnishes – chopped white onions, grated cheese, sour cream and crushed saltines. My mother, a self-taught, holistic nutritionist, told my grandmother of the health benefits gained from eating brown rice, so she made the switch from white. I'll admit, this chili is wonderful, but I have never been able to devote the hours to making it. Thank goodness for Grannies!

Although my mother will occasionally make “from scratch” chili in her slow cooker, she has also been known to open a can of Wolf Brand Chili. So, when I went to college, my first crack at chili-making consisted of cans of Wolf Brand Chili, shoepeg corn, and kidney beans cooked together and topped with a torn processed cheese single, diced fresh tomatoes, spinach leaves, and whole-wheat crackers. This was not my mother's Wolf Chili recipe, but my own bowl of well-intended, yet confused food messages - thankfully I never tried to serve this to anyone. I am glad those days are behind me, but I would love to get my picks in some fresh shoepeg corn. My current chili recipe combines the best of these “ways” – whole ingredients, simple preparations and the gratification of a meal prepared and cooked in less than 30 minutes. This recipe suits busy lifestyles well.
Weekday dinners can sometimes be a last minute decision for my husband and I, so I have developed a range of wholesome, yet quick cooking, one-pot meals to call upon. Since my husband is French-Canadian and Italian, he was never privy to this peppery pot until I brought it to the table one wintry evening. Now, as soon as the temperature cools and the leaves begin their colorful transformations, he requests this piquant chili.

This is a fast cooking dish of spicy comfort food that is great for nights with a cold wind. Use whatever lean ground meat you have - venison, buffalo, beef, turkey, etc. You should be able to find small cans of chipotle peppers in adobo in the Mexican food section of your grocer. Chipotles are roasted jalapeno peppers. The sauce, adobo, is made from tomato puree, vinegar, onions, paprika and garlic. Store the remaining peppers within a sealed container in the refrigerator. These will keep for at least one month. Throw them into your recipes that call for a some heat. With the help of a mini chopper, fast work can be made of chopping the onion, garlic and pepper – plus no tears! We like to serve this over tortilla chips and garnish with aged white cheddar and fresh cilantro leaves. Complete this meal with a simple green salad or cruditiés.

1 pound lean ground turkey
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, finely chopped + 1 tablespoon sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (19 ounces) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (28 ounces) can no salt added diced tomatoes

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

To garnish: Tortilla chips, shredded aged white cheddar and fresh cilantro.

In a large pot, use a wide spatula to break apart turkey and brown over medium heat (about 5 minutes). Add in the chopped onion, garlic, pepper and sauce. Stir to combine. Allow the onion mixture to cook while measuring in the paste and seasoning (about 5 minutes). Add the beans and the can of tomatoes, cover and cook for 10 additional minutes.

Serve over tortilla chips. Garnish with cheese and cilantro. 

Serves 6 

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