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Chili belongs in this club

Turkey Bean Chili with Kielbasa.Sheryl Julian for The Boston Globe

Some things just go together, like ham and eggs, tomato soup and grilled cheese, summer peaches and cream, and chili and Super Bowl. But the subject of chili poses a culinary conundrum for us at the Globe’s Winter Soup Club: Is chili a stew or a soup or both?

Let’s think about this. Soups typically have more broth than stews, but both are — for lack of a better word — soupy. Chili, like gumbo and the seafood dish cioppino, all have plenty of liquid and a soupy quality. So we decided that dishes that are a little bit of both, belong in this club of ours.


Whatever way you go about making it, chili’s meaty juices, spicy flavors, and creamy beans give it its wide appeal. Beans, it seems, are not an essential ingredient everywhere. Texas-style bean-less chiles are often quite spicy-hot. All-bean vegetarian pots also depend on an array of intense seasonings. The dish is so universal that even so-so versions can pass muster when capped with really good salad-bar toppings. Temper a too-spicy pot with spoonfuls of grated cheddar, sliced avocado, or sour cream. If the chili isn’t quite zesty enough, sprinkle it with fresh chiles, hot sauce, chopped onion or sliced scallions, or lime juice. Add a little fun and crunch with crushed tortilla chips or saltines.

I have heard many cooks advertise their own recipe as the best ever. It often comes as a bit of humble brag. Realistically, if you’re watching a game, or even a captivating TV series, or just hanging out with friends on a frosty day, and someone offers you a big bowl of hot chili and all those wonderful garnishes to put on top, well, it may well strike you as just about perfect.


Cooks take their chili seriously, especially when it’s a matter of regional preferences. Chili Con Carne, also known as Texas Red, which is the state dish, is made with small pieces of beef you cut up yourself that turn red from the chiles in the pot. Texans disdain beans and debate whether to include tomatoes.

The origins of chili are murky. Now that it’s so popular, many want the credit. According to a 2017 Texas Monthly article, one theory, proposed by Texan Robb Walsh, author of “The Chili Cookbook,” is that Canary Island immigrants who settled in San Antonio in the early 18th century, seasoned their meaty pots with chiles and cumin. That formed the basis of the dish Texans make today.

Cincinnati Chili uses both beans and tomatoes, along with ground beef, spices such as allspice and cloves that you might find in gingerbread, and unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder. Restaurants in the city that specialize in chili offer it like this: 2-way (chili and spaghetti), 3-way (add cheddar), 4-way (add cheddar, raw onions or beans, and cheese), 5-way (add all of these).

Other regions stir coffee, rendered bacon, or beer into the pot and you may also find, as you do in Texas, masa harina (corn flour) mixed with water and stirred into the liquid near the end of cooking to thicken it.

Sign up for the Winter Soup Club newsletter at Globe.com/newsletters.Ryan Huddle

If you make chili with beans, you can use them to thicken the pot. When you drain canned beans, don’t rinse them so some of the thick liquid sticks to the beans. To thicken the cooking juices even more, remove some beans from the pot, mash them, and stir them back into the chili. This is the method I prefer for chili and other soups and stews.


I like chili that isn’t too rich, so I use ground dark-meat turkey and turkey kielbasa, dark kidney beans, and tomatoes. You might think it’s odd to add kielbasa to a pot of chili but I think turkey kielbasa (or smoked turkey sausage, as it’s sometimes labeled) is a terrific modern ingredient. You can also add andouille or any other cooked sausage. Your pot will benefit from their spiciness and texture.

For heat, there’s fresh jalapeno and chili powder; for aromatics, cumin and smoked paprika. I also add a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce. The fermented taste of Worcestershire, with its subtle flavor of anchovies, along with lots of chopped fresh cilantro and lime juice give this chili a lift. Let it all simmer for a while and ladle into bowls with crunchy, hot, creamy adornments.

A pot of chili invites invention, creativity, and improvisation. Grab a pot, turn up the music, and cut loose.


Serves 8


2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste

Pinch of black pepper, or more to taste

2 pounds ground dark-meat turkey

1 jalapeno or another small chile pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped


1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon chile powder, or more to taste

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 package (12 to 14 ounces) smoked turkey kielbasa or smoked turkey sausage, cut on the diagonal into ¼-inch-thick slices

1 cup crushed canned tomatoes

1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, or more to taste

Juice of 1 lime, or more to taste

3 cans (15 ounces each) dark (red) kidney beans, drained but not rinsed

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (or parsley)


1. In a large flameproof casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onion, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring often for 5 minutes, or until the onion starts to soften.

2. Add the ground turkey and jalapeno or other chile pepper. Stir, using the edge of a large kitchen spoon to break up the meat, and cook for 8 minutes, or until the turkey starts to look opaque.

3. Add the smoked paprika, chile powder, and cumin. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the spices are aromatic. Add the sliced kielbasa and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more.

4. Stir the tomatoes into the pan and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock, Worcestershire, lime juice, kidney beans, and half the cilantro or parsley. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and set on the cover askew.

5. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the cooking juices are flavorful. If the liquid seems thin, remove some of the beans from the pot. Mash them on a plate and return to the pot. Keep mashing beans if you want to thicken the liquid more.


6. Taste the chili for seasoning and add more salt, black pepper, chile pepper, Worcestershire, or lime juice, if you like. Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro or parsley.


1 piece (about 8 ounces) sharp cheddar

2 ripe avocados

Juice of ½ lemon

1 medium onion, finely chopped, or 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 package (8 ounces) sour cream

2 sleeves Saltine crackers or 1 bag (about 12 ounces) tortilla chips, crushed in a bowl

2 jalapeno or other small chile pepper, cored and thinly sliced

1 lime, cut into wedges

Liquid hot sauce or sriracha


1. Grate the cheddar on the large holes of a box grater. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Halve the avocados, remove the pit, and use a spoon the same size as the avocado half to scoop out the half; transfer to a small serving plate. Slice thickly and sprinkle with the lemon juice.

3. In small bowls, arrange the onion or scallions, sour cream, saltines or tortilla chips, jalapeno or other chile pepper, and lime wedges. Serve the hot sauce or sriracha in the bottles.

4. Ladle the hot chili into bowls and serve with the garnishes.

Sheryl Julian

Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com.