Trimming calories from classic comfort chili calls for layers of heat and flavor

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Updated 1/16/2019 10:14 AM
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  • Top Ted's Turkey Chili with Greek yogurt, grated cheese or sour cream.

    Top Ted's Turkey Chili with Greek yogurt, grated cheese or sour cream. Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

Like many, I try to make healthy menu choices, but I am often disappointed when my "healthy" food doesn't have enough flavor. My friend Ted assured me this was not the case with his turkey chili recipe. Full of vegetables and ground turkey, Ted's Turkey Chili (TTC) has loads of flavor, and a little bit of heat I have grown to expect in chili, but without the calories of my traditional recipe. You will find yourself asking, is this good for me?

Chili is comfort food for me. I remember my father telling stories about how he and his roommate would make a big pot of chili on Sunday and then eat it throughout the week, reinventing it as the week progressed into chili-mac when the chili itself started running low. By the time I was born he had perfected the recipe; ground beef, onions, canned tomatoes, chili beans, and chili powder, that's it. This version has become my go-to chili recipe too, evoking memories of my father every time I make it, but I have started looking for healthier versions.

Every family has their version of chili. Some use stew meat or sausage, while others prefer ground beef, and some include beans, and others don't; the possibilities are endless.

My friends know I am not shy when asking them about their recipes, and it was during one of my first conversations with Ted that he told me about his chili. After hearing how he had worked over 12 years to perfect his version, I knew I had to give it a try. Lucky for me, Ted even made a pot and gave me a generous sample.

Onions, garlic, bell peppers of every color, lots of mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, turkey, jalapenos, chili powder, along with a little of Beef Better than Bouillon, all play an essential role in developing the depth of flavor in Ted's chili.

I was surprised at how "beefy" this chili tasted and wondered why, but then remembered all the buzz about "umami" flavor in food a few years ago. Of course, the Better Than Bouillon "beefed" up the flavor, along with adding salt to enhance the already flavor-packed mixture, but the mushrooms also play a crucial role. According to SpruceEats.com, Umami describes foods with an inherent savoriness. Umami is described as brothy or meaty. You can taste umami in such foods as Parmesan cheese, seaweed, miso, and mushrooms, which contain a high level of the amino acid, glutamate.

The recipe for TTC or Ted's Turkey Chili calls for a colorful pile of vegetables.
The recipe for TTC or Ted's Turkey Chili calls for a colorful pile of vegetables. - Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

This recipe has an entire pound of mushrooms in it adding an undertone of meatiness, but what if you don't like mushrooms? I think it depends what you don't like about mushrooms; most people I know don't like the texture of mushrooms, as opposed to their flavor, so my suggestion is to place your cleaned mushrooms into a food processor and process until the mixture is minced, or the size of cooked ground meat. This way, your mushrooms will blend right into your ground turkey.

A mushroom side note: I made homemade meatballs substituting ground mushrooms for bread crumbs, as my niece has celiac disease and cannot have bread. Everyone remarked how good they tasted and even asked for the recipe. You can imagine their surprise when I shared my secret ingredient, especially the mushroom haters in the group.

Ted's original recipe calls for beef, but his desire to make the recipe healthier led him to substitute ground turkey and make other "tweaks" throughout the many years he has been perfecting the recipe. The recipe has even placed a close second for him in a chili cook-off at work.

If it were up to Ted, he would add more heat to his chili, but the rest of his family prefers a mild version. For those of us like Ted, who like our food a little spicy, Ted suggests making a bottle of Tobasco, or your favorite hot sauce, available on the side to add along with toppings like Greek yogurt or sour cream, and grated cheese.

On the other hand, if your entire family enjoys spicy chili, you can easily adjust the heat by playing with the ratio of trimmed jalapenos, with ribs and seeds removed vs. not. By including more jalapenos with ribs and seeds, your chili will be spicier.

To make your life easier keep some disposable gloves on hand for use when working with jalapenos, or any spicy pepper.

Ted likes to eat the chili right after it has been made, and before the mushrooms have lost too much of their texture but is quick to add leftovers taste just as good. I like to use my chili leftovers in a variety of ways and used it to make nachos (I know, not so healthy) and a breakfast skillet with some leftover roasted potatoes topped with a little chili and my favorite "jammy" egg. If you're not into leftovers, the chili also freezes well. Ted uses 85 percent lean turkey, but I couldn't find 85 percent lean, so I substituted 1 pounds each of regular ground turkey and ground turkey breast and was pleased with the outcome. No one at my house knew it was turkey, which says a lot as I often get push-back when I substitute turkey for ground beef. So, whether you are looking for a healthy alternative to traditional chili, or hearty Superbowl party food, try this recipe. We affectionately call it TTC, for Ted's Turkey Chili, and it is a new favorite at my house.

• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.

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