Lentils replace the customary beans and ground turkey stands in for beef in this spin on the traditional bowl of chili — and it does so with a relatively short list of ingredients and with a familiar flavor profile that even my kids enjoy!
With their own distinct crusts and toppings, various cities and restaurant chains lay claim to the best pizza. Most moms have their own unique twist on meatloaf, and every good baker worth his or her weight in flour has a special interpretation of the classic apple pie.
Likewise, an age-old quest to brew up the best bowl of chili has led to infinite variations. With so many beans, meats, peppers, spices, and vegetables to choose from, the sky is certainly the limit. Some cooks reach for unusual add-ins—from chocolate to beer, coffee and peanut butter—to make their version really shine. Recently, I saw a list of “secret” chili ingredients that included pickle juice and anchovies!
While this recipe contains nothing so outlandish, it’s a unique spin on the traditional recipe. Lentils replace the customary beans and ground turkey stands in for the beef. It’s a hearty, satisfying meal that qualifies as healthy comfort food—at least my family thinks so. Interestingly, my son, who would happily never meet a bean on his dinner plate, eats the lentils without a passing glance.
At first glimpse, the ingredients for this recipe may not seem like pantry staples. But surprisingly, they can all be stored in the pantry or freezer until needed. I always keep a one-pound package of ground turkey in the freezer with this one-pot meal in mind. Bell peppers may even be chopped and frozen to have on hand whenever needed. (Place the cut peppers on a parchment- or wax paper-lined baking sheet, and then transfer to an airtight container or zip-top bag once frozen.) When dinnertime rolls around, there’s no need to chop–the peppers can be added straight from the freezer. I keep this tip in mind when I have peppers in the fridge that threaten to spoil before they are used.
For those who may not have tried them, chipotles peppers are jalapeño peppers that have been dried through a smoking process. This method produces their dark color and distinct smoky flavor. Adobo refers to the flavorful red sauce with which they are mixed. Sold in a can, this pantry superstar can be found in the international aisle of most grocery stores.
Because they are quite spicy, many recipes call for a lone chipotle pepper—or even part of one—along with a little sauce. While leftover chipotles will last for a long time when stored in the refrigerator—and they may be used in place of jalapeños in other recipes–I have included a convenient freezing tip and some other helpful information in the recipe notes section.
Feel free to stir in a few minced garlic cloves and/or adjust the level of spice according to personal preference. If no spice is desired, simply omit the chipotles altogether. (As written, the recipe is similar to medium salsa.) Half ground turkey and half sausage is another tasty option for those who like to tweak. I kept the basic recipe simple by design so that it might be as much of a go-to meal for you as it is for me. But like any chili, the possibilities are endless.
- 1 medium (about 1 1/2 cups) diced yellow onion
- 1 pound ground turkey*
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce**
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 (14-1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes (undrained)
- 1 (14-1/2-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 3/4 cup dried brown lentils
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup***
- Optional garnishes: sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, jalapeño slices, and/or chopped avocado
In a large, lightly oiled pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté the onion until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the ground turkey and brown, crumbling as it cooks.
When the turkey is nearly cooked, add the bell pepper, chipotle pepper, chili powder and salt; cook and stir for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, undrained tomatoes, chicken broth, lentils, and maple syrup.
Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally.
Serve with desired toppings.
- * I typically use ground turkey breast in this recipe, although I occasionally opt for ground thigh meat. Thigh meat adds a little extra flavor, while the breast meat is leaner. Both are delicious, so choose according to personal preference.
- **When working with chili peppers, you may wish to wear plastic or rubber gloves. If your bare hands touch the chili peppers, wash them well with soap and water and avoid touching your eyes. For the indicated 1-1/2 teaspoons of chipotles in adobo, I use about half a chipotle pepper and some of the sauce for a level of spiciness similar to medium salsa. Feel free to increase or decrease the heat according to taste. Also, using just the adobo sauce will lend flavor without much heat, as it does not contain the seeds. Freeze the remaining chipotle peppers individually with some of the sauce in an ice cube tray or in foil cupcake liners. Once frozen, transfer to a zip-top bag for future use.
- *** I have made this chili many times without the maple syrup and it is still delicious if you choose to omit. However, the hint of sweetness pairs well with the spice of the chipotle pepper and rounds out the flavors beautifully. If you do not have any on hand, you could substitute brown sugar or honey.
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