~ Our Indian-Spiced Turkey Chili recipe will rock your world – and it just might be the most unique chili recipe you’ve ever tasted! It’s got all the traditional, savory flavors of onions and garlic, simmered with meat and peppers in a rich, tomato-based sauce. But then it takes one deliciously wonderful step further, layering on the Indian-inspired flavors of curry powder and garam masala, turmeric and cinnamon, for an amazing (yet easy!) chili recipe that wins cook-offs … and passes from friend to friend to friend, as everyone asks for the recipe! ~
Don’t you just love recipes that are excitedly passed from one friend to another, each person adding their own unique twists and personal touches along the way?
This turkey chili is exactly that sort of recipe!
Legend has it that this chili recipe has been passed ’round and ’round Scott’s company, with various claims as to how and when and where it all began. I don’t pretend to know the whole story, but what I can tell you is that the fabled chili recipe eventually landed in the hands of Teja, an Indian-born engineer who knew just what to do with it … win the company’s annual chili cook-off, of course!
Scott came home the evening of the cook-off, gushing (and he’s not typically a gushy kind of guy) about how amazing Teja’s Indian chili had been – how everyone had raved as it decisively clinched the coveted gold.
Oh yeah – you know I couldn’t wait to try it for myself! I had to have the recipe!
Plus, as luck would have it, Teja’s big win occurred just a couple days before Scott and I had to choose a chili to enter in our neighborhood’s annual chili cook-off. Scott definitely knows a good thing when he sees one (you know, like how he married me! 😉 ) … and he knew that an amazing Indian-spiced chili just might be our ticket to our own chili cook-off win!
Now, you might remember that various versions of Crazy Pineapple Chili had been repeatedly claiming the neighborhood crown … but we were looking to find a new competitor to shake things up a little. Indian Chili? How unique! Yep – that was exactly what we needed!
Scott begged Teja to jot his recipe down for us. No problem! Teja was delighted to help … except that he had to recreate his version of the recipe more or less from memory, guesstimating all the various ingredients and quantities he’d casually thrown in along the way. He did his best, and we ran with it, even scouring nearby towns to find an Indian market that carried the spices we needed. Teja’s memory must’ve been pretty good … because the concoction Scott and I created from his notes was … amazing!
And yes … we won the neighborhood chili cook-off – the second consecutive win for this scrumptious hand-me-down, pass-it-around recipe – in less than a week!
I couldn’t wait to share this chili with all of you, and to add my own little touches and tweaks and THK-ish upgrades. Over the last year, in the five or six times I’ve made this Indian chili, I’ve worked to simplify it to require fewer steps and ingredients (and so you won’t need to scour for hard-to-find spices), and to make it a bit healthier with less meat (and leaner turkey sausage), plus more nutritious veggies … all without compromising the yummy and really unique Indian flavors that make this chili so special.
But Wait … What Is Indian Chili?
You’re wondering, I know: Indian Chili. Really?? What would that even be like???
Well, imagine so many of the things you love about regular-old turkey chili – savory meat, simmered in a rich, tomato-y base, and combined with the traditional, hearty flavors of garlic and onions, cumin and chipotle and jalapeño. Mmmmmm … sounds so good already!
But that’s where tradition ends … and the crazy-good twists begin. That’s where Indian-inspired flavors from turmeric and curry, garam masala and cinnamon come in. Plus interesting complexity from thyme and basil and a little coriander. It’s a beautiful combination that will make your whole house smell insanely delicious as it burbles away on the stove, the glorious flavors melding together into something entirely unique and wonderful. Oh … and then there’s the zucchini – an altogether unexpected but completely brilliant addition, so perfect alongside more traditional chili vegetables like the red and green peppers and chili beans.
It’s so, so good, you guys! We love it (which you can probably surmise since I’ve made it so many times already!).
As Scott (politely) shovels it in, he tends to say things like, “I’m not even hungry, but I just can’t stop eating this!”
Ok! Inspired? Curious? Ready to give it a shot? Because you really, really should!
Let me give you just a couple of hints before you roll up your sleeves and get started:
Easy, Make-Ahead Tips for Our Indian-Spiced Turkey Chili
At first glance, the ingredient list for this turkey chili recipe might seem dauntingly long. Don’t worry! Most of those ingredients are spices, or else come in cans that simply need to be opened before adding. Truly easy! Once everything is dumped in the pot, it all simmers merrily away, requiring almost nothing from you, other than a few quick stirs as you happen to walk by the stove.
To make the recipe come together even more quickly, I recommend measuring out all your spices earlier in the day or the evening before.
You can also chop the vegetables ahead of time, and stash them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to fire up the stove.
From there … it takes practically no effort at all!
And, like most chili recipes, this turkey chili reheats well – so one big batch can create a couple of dinners for a typical family, plus maybe even a bonus lunch or two. Nice!
Adjusting the Heat and Spiciness
We’ve dialed the heat way back from Teja’s version, although this chili does still have a tiny bit of a kick. Here at THK, we try to make recipes relatively family-friendly, and we’ve got tips and ideas to help you adjust it so it’s perfect for your own family.
We really like the heat level in this chili, and we find that just stirring in some of the sour cream and cheese toppings nicely tames the little bit of spiciness, but if your family prefers things really mild, here are a few things you could try the first time you make this (remembering that you can always add more of the spicy ingredients at the end of cook time if you taste it and find that it’s actually too mild):
- use less jalapeño or none at all, and be absolutely sure you remove all the seeds and membranes (where most of the spicy heat is)
- use less chili powder or only a pinch of chipotle chili pepper
If, on the other hand, you have a family of spice-heads and want to kick the heat up a bit, you could:
- swap in spicy Italian turkey sausage instead of sweet
- add more jalapeños, or leave in the seeds and membranes
- choose original (spicer) Ro-Tel instead of the mild we use here
- use more chili powder or chipotle chili pepper (I’ve also used minced, canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, instead of the chipotle chili pepper, but a little of that goes a long way, so be careful.)
If you live in a house divided, with some spice-wimps and some spice-lovers, I would suggest starting with our flavorful yet not-too-spicy version of this turkey chili, and offering your spice-lovers the chance to stir in a pinch of chipotle chili pepper, chipotles in adobo, or even hot sauce, at the table – so they can customize their own incendiary chili recipe.
Teja’s recipe called for Indian sambar powder, the spice mixture that sent us scouring nearby towns to find an Indian market. I am now the proud owner of a rather large packet of sambar powder, but I wanted to adapt the recipe so that you could more easily make it with commonly available spices anyone could find at the supermarket. If you can find sambar powder – by all means, use it! We’ve got substitution suggestions on the recipe card. But if not, I think the spice blend I concocted will capture the Indian spirit just as well, without a special trip to the spice market or time spent awaiting an Amazon shipment.
All right … I think you’re ready to make what will probably be the most unique turkey chili you’ve ever tasted! (And that’s saying a lot, since I think our Crazy Pineapple Chili is pretty unique!)
So now it’s your turn to try it, and adapt it, and love it, and pass it on! (And maybe even win your own chili cook-off title with it, too!)
For More Turkey Chili Recipes, Try …
- Stovetop Turkey Quinoa Chili from Julie at Table for Two
- Crock-Pot Crazy Pineapple Chili from Two Healthy Kitchens
- Healthy Turkey and Veggie Chili from Sarah at Snixy Kitchen
- Turkey Taco Chili from Cassie at Wholefully
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- 2½ teaspoons curry powder
- 2½ teaspoons garam masala
- 2½ teaspoons dried thyme leaves
- 1½ teaspoons dried basil
- 1½ teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon chipotle chile pepper (powdered, from the spice aisle)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 20 ounces sweet Italian turkey sausage (bulk, or links with casings removed)
- 2 cups chopped red onion (from about 1 medium onion)
- 2 tablespoons finely diced jalapeño (from about 1 medium jalapeño, seeded and cored)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (from about 3 large cloves)
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, divided
- 4 cups ½"-diced zucchini (from about 20 ounces of zucchini – about 2-3 medium)
- 2½ cups chopped green pepper (from about 2 large peppers, seeded and cored)
- 2 cups chopped red pepper (from about 2 medium peppers, seeded and cored)
- 1 16-ounce can red chili beans in medium-spiced chili sauce
- 1 14.5-ounce can fat-free, reduced sodium beef broth
- 1 10-ounce can mild diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained (such as mild Ro-Tel)
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- optional toppings and garnishes: thinly sliced green onions, shredded reduced-fat cheese, reduced-fat sour cream
- Pre-measure all spices (curry powder through chipotle chile pepper), so they're ready to be added together. Set aside about 1 teaspoon of spice mixture, reserving it to be added at the end of cooking. Preheat a large pot over medium heat. Add spices (except 1 reserved teaspoon) all at once and toast for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Immediately add olive oil and stir briefly. Then quickly add sausage, onion, jalapeño, garlic, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Continue cooking until sausage is no longer pink, stirring to crumble sausage and loosen browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add zucchini, green pepper, red pepper, chili beans, broth, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce, and stir to combine. Cover chili and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat as needed to maintain a low simmer.
- During about the last 5 minutes of cooking time, add reserved 1 teaspoon of spices and remaining ½ teaspoon kosher salt, stirring well to thoroughly combine.
- Serve with optional toppings and garnishes, if desired.
Sambar Powder: If you're able to find sambar powder and would like to use it in this turkey chili, try using 2 teaspoons in place of the coriander, cumin and cinnamon. At the end of cooking, taste the chili and adjust slightly if you'd like to bring out any of those flavors more, either by adding a little more sambar powder, or a pinch of the individual spices.
Make-ahead tips: As we mentioned in the post, you can measure out the spices (curry powder through chipotle chile pepper) ahead of time. You can also chop the vegetables earlier in the day or even the night before, and store them, covered, in the refrigerator. In addition, this chili reheats beautifully, and like most chili recipes, its flavors are just as good if not even better after a day or two. So, you can also make the chili completely ahead, gently reheating before serving.