Does chili have beans in it? This is an age old recipe question, whose answer I don’t really care about. I don’t have a sweeping tradition of great southern cooking to fall back on, so to me chili is a much more open ended concept than how some people describe it. I say, put whatever you want in your chili. So long as it has protein and tomatoes, it’s all good. Now don’t get me wrong, all beef, traditional chili is delicious. But that is not what we’re playing with today, no, today we have a turkey lentil chili that I promise is every bit as comforting and satisfying as traditional beef. ‘Impossible’ you say? Behold the power of the mighty lentil!
I love lentils. Lentils in almost any recipe can be intriguing and tasty. They rival rice and pasta as a starchy, complementary vehicle for the other ingredients on their way to your gullet. But unlike pasta and rice, lentils have extensive nutritional value (high in fiber, protein, and antioxidants) and more importantly, taste wonderful. Lentils are not just a textured additive to soak up sauce, they add a unique flavor to any dish.
I could keep on gushing about how much I love lentils but things might get a little weird for y’all so let’s say that I am a fan and you should give them a try as a component in any stew-type dishes you make. Even as a pasta sauce. All that said, lentils add a natural sweetness to anything they’re in so the biggest key with this dish is making sure that the rest of the components carry enough heat and enough acid to balance the thing out. I like my chili spicy and that is truly the best way to eat a lentil based chili, smothered in hot sauce and pickled jalapeno peppers.
Now why turkey instead of beef? Turkey is a more equal partner to the lentils than beef would be; beef is fattier and saltier, characteristics that your lentils will absorb. Basically, you can make this dish with beef but the whole thing will taste like beef, vs. the recipe here which is nicely balanced between the veggies, turkey, and lentils. As far as the veggies go, I stuck with a classic combo of onion, carrot, and peppers, but you can really use whatever suits your fancy, from zucchini, to chunks of eggplants, to bok choy, to broccoli. As I said there are no rules, just remember to be generous with your spices. There is no more painfully boring dish than bland chili, and boring sucks. We don’t want suckage, we want flavor.