Southwestern Turkey Chili

By Ann Fulton

Reinvent leftover turkey with this soul-warming chili that’s packed with filling protein, colorful veggies, and flavorful spices. No turkey? Use chicken instead.
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Reinvent leftover turkey with this soul-warming chili that’s packed with filling protein, colorful veggies, and flavorful spices. No turkey? Use chicken instead.


I love a tomatoey chili, but I don’t miss the tomatoes in this flavorful soup!

When chili is made with shredded chicken or turkey, white beans, and broth–and no tomatoes–it is often referred to as “white chili,” or sometimes “blonde chili,” because its color is lighter than the deep red shade of traditional chili. 

This chili meets some of the characteristics of white chili but strays in others. Leftover turkey or chicken makes quick work of the wholesome meal, and broth lends a slightly soupier outcome than the typical thick chili.

That said, a small amount of cornmeal or masa harina (also sold as corn flour), supplies a bit of thickening power and a hint of complementary corn flavor.

Given the Tex-Mex flavor profile, black beans felt like the right choice in the bean department, although the chili would absolutely taste delicious with any white beans, or even red kidney beans, that may be lurking in your cupboard.  

Additionally, cream and/or sour cream is often added to traditional white chili, adding richness and further lightening the color. You could certainly stir some in, but this chili is plenty flavorful without that addition and offers an alternative to Aunt Peggy’s Chili and similar recipes with a ground beef (or ground turkey) and tomato base. 

Just like the classic chili, you can top this Southwestern spin with all your favorite toppings, from shredded cheese and chopped avocado to fresh cilantro and crumbled tortilla chips. A side of cornbread or a crusty roll, perhaps a simple salad or assorted raw veggies will round out the meal nicely.  

However you characterize this chili or decide to vary it, I’m optimistic that it will be as well liked in your home as it is in ours!

Lots of fresh veggies and lean proteins in this wholesome turkey chili!

An array of colorful vegetables and lean proteins combine with flavorful spices for a wholesome meal that truly satisfies.

Lots of fresh veggies in this soul-warming chili!

The veggies may be chopped in advance and refrigerated until ready to cook the chili. And as with most chili recipes, this recipe may be fully cooked in advance, as the flavor improves over time.

Reinvent leftover turkey with this soul-warming chili that’s packed with filling protein, colorful veggies, and flavorful spices. No turkey? Use chicken instead.

After the veggies are softened, I add the spices. Cooking them briefly before adding the broth allows them to “bloom.” Blooming toasts the spices and infuses the oil, which in turn, better distributes the flavor throughout the chili.

Homemade stock adds depth of flavor, but I use store-bought broth more times than not.

After Thanksgiving, I usually make homemade stock with the turkey carcass (freeze it if you don’t have the energy to do it right away), but store-bought chicken broth works great too.

Leftover turkey or chicken may be used for this chili. Rotisserie chickens and smoked turkey breasts offer easy, ready-made options.

Leftover turkey or chicken may be used for this chili. A rotisserie chicken or smoked turkey breast offers an easy, ready-made option. Costco sells a nice smoked turkey breast, and for locals, The Turkey Lady at Lancaster Central Market does as well. 

Reinvent leftover turkey with this soul-warming chili that’s packed with filling protein, colorful veggies, and flavorful spices. No turkey? Use chicken instead.

If you like, round out the meal with cornbread or a crusty roll. This photo shows a pumpkin cornbread I’ve been working on. If you’d like the recipe, leave a comment or send me an email. 

Reinvent leftover turkey with this soul-warming chili that’s packed with filling protein, colorful veggies, and flavorful spices. No turkey? Use chicken instead.

Wholesome comfort food at its best! As with traditional chili, toppings allow diners to customize their bowl to taste. I love cheese, crumbled tortilla chips, and often chopped avocado and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro or sliced scallions.

Southwestern Turkey Chili
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings
This soul-warming chili is loaded with protein-rich turkey and beans and colorful veggies like corn and peppers. You can adjust the heat to taste and/or vary the beans based on what you have on hand. A great way to use leftover turkey, but feel free to use chicken if preferred.
  • 2 tablespoons each olive oil and butter (may use all of one or the other if preferred)
  • 1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup, yellow or red)
  • 1 large or two small bell peppers, seeded and diced (about 1½ cups; I like red, yellow, or a mix)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced*
  • 3 garlic cloves minced (or ¾ teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon each dried oregano, ground cumin, and ground coriander
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon kosher salt (depending on broth used; I use 1½ teaspoons when using homemade, salt-free stock)
  • ¼ cup (36g) fine ground cornmeal or masa harina (corn flour)**
  • 1 quart chicken broth or turkey stock
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups (8-9 ounces) frozen corn
  • 4 cups shredded cooked turkey (about 16 ounces cooked)
  • Optional for serving: crumbed tortilla chips, shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, chopped avocado, sliced ripe olives, sour cream, chopped cilantro

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium heat, and sauté the onion, bell pepper, optional jalapeño, and fresh garlic (if using) until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic powder (if using in place of fresh), chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander, salt, and cornmeal and continue to cook for 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Pour in the broth and stir until it comes to a boil and thickens slightly.

Add the beans, corn, and turkey. Bring to a boil again, and then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste and add an extra sprinkle of salt, if needed, and then ladle into bowls and top as desired.


*If you like a mild chili, you may wish to remove the seeds and veins from the jalapeño—or omit altogether. Or use half for a medium-hot meal.

**The cornmeal or corn flour works as a thickener while subtly enhancing the flavor. I recently tested with a medium grind cornmeal, and it was not perceptible. So, if that’s what you have, feel free to use it. In a pinch, it could be omitted, and the chili would still taste great.

Storage: The chili will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least 5 days. It freezes well too.

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A fun nutrition fact from our dietitian Emily:
Have you ever wondered why people say eating turkey on Thanksgiving makes us sleepy? Though this is not entirely true, there is some science to unpack here. Turkey contains an amino acid (or building block of protein) called tryptophan, just like other animal-based proteins such as chicken, beef and dairy. Tryptophan – along with other things – supports production of melatonin and serotonin which impact our mood and sleep cycle.

Plainly, turkey is not the only food to contain tryptophan, and there isn’t enough of it in a serving (or a few) to make us sleepier than if we ate other similar foods. More likely, we tend to be sleepy after a Thanksgiving meal because it tends to be larger than other meals during the year!

For those who are curious…
The reason we don’t list nutritional breakdowns next to each recipe is because the numbers can change significantly depending on brands people buy and how exact the measuring is. In saying that, if you email me separately, I can provide you with my best estimations on the nutrients you would like to know more about in this recipe. I’m happy to help! 

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  1. Mrs E

    Hi Ann,

    Do you think ground Turkey or ground chicken would work well in this?

    Do you like this recipe better than your other Turkey chili’s?

    Thinking of giving this a try for a potluck but wanted your opinion on my 2 questions.

    Thank you so much!

    1. Ann Post author

      I definitely think that would work, Mrs. E. To have the same amount of bulk, I think I’d use 1½ pounds of ground turkey. You could even brown two pounds and add the amount you like, reserving or even freezing the rest for later use. (Since I haven’t done this, I don’t want to leave you short!) I do love my other turkey chili recipe as well. They are both so different, making it hard to choose a favorite. I truly think they would both go over well at your potluck. Hope this helps!

  2. Pat

    We recently hosted family from Utah. They brought with them a chili seasoning mix called Deer Valley Turkey Chili, which contained the dried black beans and spice mixture, including masa harina. Ann, your recipe reads very similar and sounds delicious. We cooked up a big pot of Deer Valley Chili, and like your version there are no added tomatoes. It was delicious with a slightly smokey flavor.
    I’m thrilled to have your recipe and very anxious to try it, especially since we will have leftover turkey!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Ann Post author

      What a fun coincidence, Pat! I hope this recipe brings back good memories of the Deer Valley Chili and your time with family. Happy Thanksgiving to you too!