Skip to main content

Thick, Hearty Chili With Optional Ground Turkey

Maria is a master of public health, and a master gardener. She & husband Bo, known online as The Gardener & The Cook are in coastal Alabama.

A piping hot bowl of our chili, ready to eat.

A piping hot bowl of our chili, ready to eat.

On a cold, blustery day, there is nothing better than a steaming bowl of chili. Even on a summer day, if you're in the mood for chili, go for it. We make this recipe with ground turkey. Of course, it can be made with beef instead of turkey, or with no meat at all — it’s a recipe you can make your very own.


  • 1 pound ground turkey or sirloin, as low fat as you can find (or omit the meat)
  • 1 (8-ounce) bag dried red kidney beans
  • 1 large can diced or whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • cumin to taste
  • chili powder to taste
  • 3 teaspoons stevia or sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot or corn starch as a thickening agent, if needed


  1. Cook the beans until they are soft — usually about 45 minutes. Then pour off the liquid, and set the beans aside.
  2. If using meat, brown in a skillet that has been sprayed with a no-calorie spray.
  3. Drain the meat on paper towels to remove all possible grease.
  4. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, ketchup, and stir until blended.
  5. Add seasonings to taste.
  6. Wilt onion in microwave, or sauté on stovetop.
  7. Add wilted onions, beans, and meat (if any) to a stockpot.
  8. Adjust seasonings.
  9. If the liquid is too thin, add your preferred thickening agent.
  10. Let simmer until you are ready to eat, usually 1 to 2 hours.

A Tip to Help Those Beans Be Kind to You

To help prevent beans from making us do embarrassing things, wash dried beans thoroughly. In cold water bring them to a boil, then pour off that water. I pour them into a colander and rinse them again. Then put them back into the cook pot with fresh cold water, and let them cook on medium heat until they are soft. The time needed to be fully cooked will vary depending on your stove.

I grew these red hot chili peppers in my garden a few years ago, and ended up drying and crushing them for use in keeping rabbits off of my flowers.

I grew these red hot chili peppers in my garden a few years ago, and ended up drying and crushing them for use in keeping rabbits off of my flowers.

How Hot Do You Like Your Chili?

We like mild chili at our house, but this recipe can easily be made medium or hot. Bo does prefer it a little hotter than I do, so he often sprinkles a few drops of Texas Pete or Frank's Red Hot Sauce into his own bowl of chili. With only a few minor adjustments, you can make this recipe your very own.

The Story of This Recipe

I always say every recipe has a story. Here's the story behind this old family recipe:

Whenever we make chili, it is truly a joint effort. Okay, the truth is, we both have to have a hand in it, figuratively speaking, of course. This recipe for thick, hearty chili is one that we have tweaked and fine-tuned repeatedly over the years. We have made so many changes and additions, we have lost count.

What we do know is that it has become very popular among family and friends. Most recently I exchanged the sugar for stevia. You may or may not want to do that. We use arrowroot mixed as thickening agent, instead of flour, because it doesn't seem to form lumps as much as flour does, and we all know white flour is bad for our health.

Until the last few years, we almost always made it with ground sirloin, but for a few years now we've been reducing the amount of red meat we consume. So we began making it with ground turkey. You really have to watch the labels though, because some ground turkey has as much or more fat (by calories) than ground beef. Check below to see how to figure the amount of fat by calories in any food.

Previously, we used canned dark red kidney beans. We have changed to using dried kidney beans—we are trying to reduce our use of products in steel cans as much as possible. Also, canned foods tend to have a lot of sodium.

The first time I used the dried beans, I cooked far too many, so I put the extra ones into two freezer bags for the next time we wanted to make chili. We've already made chili again, and it was a time-saver not having to cook the beans next time. Now, I make it a practice to cook a large bag of dried kidney beans, and it yields enough for two freezer bags for later use.

How to Calculate Fat Calories in Your Food

Even the Leanest Beef is Still About 50% Fat by Calories

When the label on a package of ground meat or poultry states that the contents are 96% fat free, they are telling the truth, while simultaneously misleading you. The label refers to the number of ounces in the package; that is, 96% of the ounces do not contain fat—the remaining 4% of the weight is solid fat. Doesn't sound so bad on the surface, right? Think again.

One Gram of Fat Contains Nine Calories

If a hypothetical food label states there are four grams of fat per serving, all you need to do is multiply four (grams) by nine (calories) to learn that there are 36 fat calories in each serving. This still doesn't sound so bad until you remember that the total number of calories in this hypothetical serving is 50. Having 36 out of 50 calories (72%) from fat is not so good.

4 x 9 = 36

36 / 50 = 72%

To find the percentage of fat calories per serving, simply divide the number of fat calories (36 in our hypothetical food) by the number of calories in a serving (50). This tells you that 72% of the calories are from fat. Try to keep all your calories at or below 33% (1/3) fat. Of course, you can splurge occasionally on a high-fat meal or a scrumptious dessert. Just do everything in moderation.

On Food Labels, the Calorie Count Is Usually Rounded

Unfortunately, the FDA and USDA allow food manufacturers to round the number of fat calories, etc. Sometimes they round up, but usually they round down, and of course, this can be misleading. For my hypothetical case above, the 36 fat calories would be rounded to 35.

Don't be overly concerned with counting every little calorie. Just make healthy choices, live a healthy lifestyle, and you can afford to splurge on a fabulous meal or dessert now and then.

© 2022 MariaMontgomery