Man, the clouds roll in and it’s time for chili. Now, you say turkey chili and my mind rolls back twenty years ago to a hot, steamy August Sunday when I was 8 months pregnant. Lord, I was fat. All I wanted to eat during my pregnancy were eggs scrambled soft in butter for breakfast then for all my other meals I wanted any of the following: orange juice with ice, sautéed spinach in garlic and olive oil, sharp cheddar cheese sandwich on whole wheat with mayo or petite filet mignon. That’s all I wanted. It’s no surprise I gained 52 pounds. 52 pounds. Anyway, I had been cooking and baking up a storm and then freezing individual portions so we would have homemade food at the ready when the baby came. Jimmy had been traveling like a mad man and was often gone so I had a little time to prepare. The baby was due the first or second week of September and by cramming in all his trips beforehand he would be home for the birth and then for a few weeks after that. Next on my list of foods to prepare was Turkey Chili. I had been cooking all day when our friends, Jim and Dana, came over to share a few laughs and a bowl of the red stuff. Having known Dana just about all my life, we’ve been best friends since nursery school, I did not feel it was necessary to clean myself up or even bathe. Cooking with onions and garlic you can only imagine how I smelled. Like a cheap diner. They were in the study laughing and eating and calling for me to join them. On my way out of the kitchen I ducked into the bathroom for a quick winkytink. When I finished I stood up and while buttoning my romper I tinkled. Again. All over myself and my clothing. Ohmygosh. I felt faint. What if it WASN’T tinkle? What if my water had broken? It hit me like a thunderbolt, what I had read in every pregnant girl’s bible, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”. It was really quite lovely the way it was put. The book said when your water breaks it smells like “freshly cut hay”. Crazy, huh? I smelled my panties. Ohmygosh. Could that be freshly cut hay? I screamed for Dana through the locked door, “MIISSY! MIISSY!”. She came running. “What? What is it?”, she asked as I dragged her into the bathroom, half naked. “Missy”, I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever really asked anything from you but I am now. Look. I know this sounds ridiculous but I think my water just broke and I need you to smell this and tell me if it smells like freshly cut hay. Missy! Please!”. I thrust the panties in her face. She looked at me long. And she looked at me hard. And then she said, “All right.” As she took a whiff her eyes got big and with an ecstatic smile on her face made her pronouncement, “Oh my goodness, Missy! It smells like freshly cut hay!”. That’s my girl. I was weak with fear. “JIIMMYYY! It’s time! It’s time!”, I called. “What do you mean?”, he asked calmly, sipping his beer and watching a football game, since the baby wasn’t due for another three to four weeks. I quickly explained and started making preparations to leave the house while my words slowly sank in. As first time parents-to-be we were in shock. It was about one or two o’clock in the afternoon when we left for the hospital, Jimmy running to the car and me with a towel shoved up between my legs, I waddled to the car as fast as I could. It was a Sunday. It seems like just yesterday, the memory seared into my heart. I remember what I wore. A pink sleeveless Laura Ashley sundress with tiny flowers on it and hot pink flats. The ride to hospital was absolutely surreal. Like the ride to the church the day you get married. It is life altering. At Holy Cross Hospital the nurses went through what I guessed to be the usual child-birth preparations. There was weigh in… horrible… I had gained so much weight. An IV was started and then came a thousand questions. Here are my favorites. “Have you eaten today?” “Yes.” “When?” “About an hour ago.” “Okay. And what did you have?” ” Uh, a big bowl of chili.” All of the nurses, assistants and techs stopped mid-task. In unison they moaned and cried out Ew! Chili! She had chili. It’ll be everywhere! Oh, Christ!” Apparently many women have bad reactions to some of the anesthetics etc. given to them and barf uncontrollably. But I didn’t. No, I did not. My doctor arrived and after a quick exam made the determination that not only was the baby breach but a dangling breach. One leg pointing north and one pointing south. I would have to have an emergency C-section. The baby would not live without one. I didn’t care long as long as I got my precious bundle of joy. They wheeled me into the operating room where all manner of machines and lights, cords and beeping things were already assembled and ready for me to give the performance of my life. A tall, blue cloth screen was set up on my chest to block my view of the surgery. Jimmy was right there with me. All along he said he wasn’t going in, that that just wasn’t for him, that he had NO desire to cut the umbilical cord or anything else for that matter. Jimmy does not do blood and guts. He doesn’t even do splinters. He’s a candy-ass. I felt nothing but somehow I knew my team was “down there” cutting and snipping away. All of a sudden my doctor said “I’ve got ‘im. Jim, would you like to cut the cord?” Y’all, the umbilical cord is really nasty looking. Blue and red and thick and white. Nasty. I knew my man would be white as a sheet at the sight of that and ready to faint. But that man ponied right up and cut right through that thing. Just as calm and cool as if it was the fourth child. They whisked the baby off to some sort of holding table and I could see by straining my head to one side that they were working frantically. Something seemed to be going wrong. And there was no sound. I remember looking at Jimmy giving him the look that said, “Please! Please! Tell me it’s okay! What’s wrong? What is it?” And then I heard it. That newborn “Wah! Wah!”! I was thrilled. A boy. A beautiful baby boy! They placed him on my chest wearing a little Carolina blue (how did they know?!) knit hat. My first words to my precious angel were something to the effect of, “Hey, Buddy. Well, don’t you just look like you held up the 7-11? Hmm?”. It was the hat. He looked like a little robber. He was so perfect. He blinked at me. He recognized my voice. And he was mine. I was the luckiest girl in the world!
This chili is super good. I have a special ingredient that just makes it rock. Chipotle peppers in adobo. They’re sold in all supermarkets in the Hispanic, (AKA “taco”) section in small cans. And like all dishes with tomato involved, this chili is better the next day and also freezes well. It can be pretty low in fat using turkey rather than beef. I wouldn’t say the chipotles are screaming hot but they’re considerably spicy and that’s from someone who likes really spicy, hot food. So hold back a little bit and taste as you go along. You can always add more but if you add too much…well, good luck getting it out!
Smoky Turkey Chili
- 2 20-ounce packages ground turkey. I use Jennie-O ground turkey.
- 1 large onion chopped
- 3 cubanelle peppers or two green bell peppers, chopped
- 7-8 finely chopped fresh garlic cloves
- 2-3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 7-ounce can chipotle peppers in adobo
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, I use San Marzano
- 3 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large pot spray insides with nonstick spray.
- Heat pot to medium high and add ground turkey. Do not break up the pieces. You want the turkey to brown and stay chunky so don’t mix the turkey yet.
- After 4-5 minutes gently turn the meat over to brown the other side.
- When the turkey has cooked through, add the onion, chopped peppers and garlic. Lower heat to medium and stir to combine.
- Empty chipotle peppers and sauce into a blender or food processor. Using the empty chipotle can, pour 2 cans of water into the blender and puree. Be very careful not to get the mixture on your fingers and please don’t touch your eyes. This stuff is hot and you’ll cry for days. Well, maybe not days but for a while anyway.
- To the pot add 1/4 of the chipotle mixture. You can eyeball it.
- Add the whole tomatoes with juices and break up the tomatoes with your mixing spoon.
- Add kidney beans and tomato paste. Break up the tomato paste, mixing well.
- Taste for any salt or pepper needed and add any chipotle mixture needed, again tasting as you go. Any unused chipotle may be frozen for other use.
- Add water if you want it thinner. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cornmeal if you’d like the chili thicker.
- Simmer on low for 30-45 minutes or until flavors have melded.
- Serve with homemade cornbread.