Meals from the Pantry: Mixed Bean Turkey Chilli

When I was thinking about some ideas for things to write about in the new year, I thought about doing a series on making meals from things that were already lying around our kitchens.  Even though I love cooking, I am very weak to the temptation of going out to eat, or ordering in.  Food for pantry and freezer storage is convenient, but requires some planning ahead.  Meat needs to be defrosted, beans need to be soaked, and usually by the time I figure out what I might want to eat it's way too late to start any of that. 

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It's not really a resolution, per se, but in this new year I'd like to make a greater effort to use the food I have already parted with dear money for.  I put great effort into choosing some of it (like the Mayan dry beans a lady at the Farmers' Market saves her own seed to grow and sell each year), and in a few cases painstakingly prepared it for long term storage myself (as is the case of the tomato sauce in the photo to the left).  I was thinking that there are probably more people than just me who feel that way, so here we are!  If I can stick to my blogging schedule (and keep in mind that I'm not known for that) there should be a new recipe out weekly either featuring items that have been hanging in my pantry or freezer for longer than they have needed to.  I hope these posts can give you some inspiration to take a look at what you already have and get cooking!

For the inaugural recipe of the series, I thought I'd write about a chilli recipe that I keep coming back to.  Keep in mind that I use the word "recipe" very loosely here.  Almost all of this involves eyeballing amounts and adjusting flavours according to how it's tasting or smelling.  You can do this in the crock pot, or on the stove.  It doesn't much matter.  Definitely feel free to adjust the ingredients according to what you already have.  Don't have dried tomatoes?  That's fine - throw in fresh, or canned.  This isn't meant to be something you need to go shopping for special ingredients for, but an inspiration to get creative with what's already in your pantry.  I'd love to see what you end up creating!  This recipe is perfect for any of you who might have a bit of turkey left over from your holiday festivities.  Feel free to use whatever meat you have on hand, or no meat.  I have thrown winter squash in this recipe before when cooking for vegetarians to make it a bit more special, and it was so delicious I've made it since as a regular meal in our rotation!  I do have to apologize since I forgot to take an "after" photo, but it ended up looking like basically any other bowl of chilli, so I'm sure you can use your imagination!  If I make it again, I'll take a photo and add it to this post.

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Mixed Bean Turkey Chilli

Yield depends on amounts used.  I usually end up having enough to fill a large pot or crockpot.

  • Roughly two cups mixed dry beans
  • One medium onion
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • Enough oil, butter, or lard to sauté the onion and garlic in
  • Leftover turkey, shredded
  • 2 pints tomato sauce
  • 2 cups chicken stock (or whatever type you have available - even water would be fine, if less flavourful)
  • A few handfuls of dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, canned diced tomatoes or a combination of the above
  • Chilli peppers, dried or fresh
  • Four bay leaves (divided)
  • 2 tbsp chilli powder
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp salt (I have a coffee salt in my pantry that I usually use for this)
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • A few drops of Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 tbsp lime juice (or sub some of the salt for citrus salt - the key here is that it needs some acidity for balance)
  1. Soak the beans the night before you want to make the chilli.  You technically don't have to do this step, but there are a lot of people who claim that this makes the nutrients in them more digestible, and the end product better quality.
  2. Boil the beans in water until they are almost completely cooked.  Add two bay leaves to the water.  You want them to be a bit underdone since you will be finishing them off in the chilli.  When finished remove from heat and strain.  Set aside.
  3. About 10 or 15 minutes before the beans are done, dice and sauté the onion.  Once it becomes translucent, dice and add the garlic.  I like to add at least some of my spices in at this point and sauté them to really intensify the flavour (just not the salt).  If you are not using precooked leftover meat you will want to brown it at this point.  If you aren't using a crockpot you can do this in the bottom of the pot you'll be making your chilli in.  (If that seems like a no-brainer to you it probably is, but no one told me about doing that until I had already graduated high school, so I like to pass the tip along in case there are others like me!)
  4. If transferring the mix to a crockpot at this point, pour a little of the stock over everything to lift up all the tasty brown bits that will be stuck to the bottom of the pan.  That's where the flavour is, so you want to make sure it all ends up in your finished dish!  If you're doing it all in one pot, just dump in all the liquid ingredients, along with the beans.  Dice the tomatoes, and peppers and throw them in there as well.  Make sure you have enough liquid to just cover all the ingredients, bring it all to a boil, and then lower it to a simmer.  
  5. If you didn't add the spices when you were sautéing, add them in now.  The amounts in my ingredient list are definitely up for interpretation.  I usually just pour some into my palm until it looks like a good amount and then add more or less from there.  I tend to go quite heavy on the spices, but I put a more dialled back approach in the ingredient list for this recipe.  Also add the Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, and salt to taste.  
  6. Allow everything to simmer together until the liquid has reduced and the texture has thickened and homogenized.  Taste as you go and adjust the spices if you need to.  Once you are happy with it, you can serve it right away.  Keep in mind that - as is the case with most soups and stews - this is even better on the second day, so if you've made enough for leftovers you're in luck!