Comfort food comes in many forms. For some of us it's Mom's chicken noodle soup or mashed potatoes. For others it's roast chicken or mac 'n cheese or chocolate layer cake. For me, at this time of year, comfort comes cradled in a bowl. It could be mushroom barley soup, Hatch chile pork stew, or a batch of turkey chile. Last weekend, I opted for the turkey chile.
This turkey chile is a descendant of a lovely red chile stew created by Alice Robertson of Alice Q. Foodie. I had made some changes to Alice's recipe, as we all tend to do with recipes we love to make them our own. Instead of cubed beef and pork I used ground and then segued to lean ground turkey and eliminated the beer (that whole weight loss thing, remember?), also adding the fresh Hatch chiles I buy annually to roast and freeze, or canned chipotles in adobo.
What I was looking for was a subtle smokiness that both add that could compensate for the flavors lost by eliminating the richer meats and the beer. But what was most compelling about Alice's recipe actually was the spice mixture and that I've pretty much kept intact. The cocoa powder and cinnamon give a lush depth to the chile and there's that smokiness again with the New Mexico (or Chimayo) chili powder.
This is a distinctive regional chili I fell in love with many years ago while visiting Santa Fe one November. In fact, one morning I drove over to the little village of Chimayo just outside of Santa Fe in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains where the chili is grown, and was mesmerized by the sweet, smoky scent that permeates the region when the farmers roast the harvested chilis in their clay ovens. I also took a cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking that week. They sell a line of regional food products, including this rare Chimayo chili powder and New Mexico red chili powder, both of which I continue to purchase and recommend.
The tomatoes also make a difference in the chile's flavor and texture, and this time of year using canned tomatoes is preferable to fresh. I like to use the Muir Glen organic fire-roasted tomatoes to get an even bigger bang of flavor. Use both crushed and diced to mix up the textures.
The chile freezes well. This recipe makes about four servings, but you can easily double it and put some away for a rainy night when you don't feel like cooking.
Adapted from Alice Q. Foodie's Red Chile Stew
1 tablespoon medium heat Chimayo or New Mexico red chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 - 4 peeled and seeded roasted Hatch chiles or 2 chipotles in adobo sauce, chopped
3/4 cup water
1, 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1, 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 14-ounce can pinto, black, or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Mix together the chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder, cinnamon, sugar, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat a large pot and add the oil. Then add the onion and garlic, and saute until soft. Add the ground turkey, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Let it brown and then add the spice mixture. Stir to coat until the spices are fully incorporated. Saute for about two minutes.
Add the chopped chiles, tomatoes, and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook uncovered for two hours. Add the beans and simmer for another hour, covered, so the flavors intensify. Stir periodically and add a little more liquid if necessary to keep the consistency as you want it.
Take the pot off the heat and adjust the seasonings to taste. You can serve it now, but it will be even better the next day so, if possible, let cool and refrigerate for a day or two. Remove the fat from the top and discard, then reheat. You can serve the chile with corn tortillas or cornbread, or over chopped lettuce. Top with chopped red onions and sour cream, or shredded cheddar cheese, or crumbled queso fresca. Now you have comfort in a bowl.