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Chili powder (Recipe: "turkey taco" salad) {gluten-free}

Updated from the archives, a summer favorite, with new photo, links and recipe.


Some like it hot.

I like it really hot.

I like it hot enough to make my scalp tingle, my sinuses drip, and my eyes water. (Do I need to mention that I'm talking about food now, not the weather?) I wasn't always like this, but a trip to New Orleans years ago started me down the pepper path, and there was no turning back.

Sometimes, though, unadulterated heat isn't the goal. When I want a more complex depth of flavor in Mexican and Southwestern dishes, I often reach for chili powder.

Are you confused by the whole chili/chile thing? Many people are, and product packaging doesn't really help, with the willy-nilly and often interchangeable use of chile, chili, chillie and chilli.

Chili-with-an-I powder is made from chile-with-an-E peppers, blended with a variety of other spices including cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, garlic, and paprika.

Chili powder

Each vendor (or should I say blender?) combines these basic spices in different proportions. Penzeys uses ancho chile as the base; ancho is a dried poblano pepper, not very hot, flavorful and smoky when dried. Cumin adds additional "smoke", cayenne adds a bit of heat, and oregano keeps the blend in balance. Alton Brown makes his chili powder extra-smoky by using smoked paprika.

It's easy enough to make your own chili powder, and you can adjust the heat to my taste by upping the cayenne. Chili powder will keep in an airtight container on the spice rack for three months, or in the freezer for a year without an unacceptable loss of pungency.

Once you've got chili powder in your pantry, it's a hop, skip and jump to your own barbecue sauce, enchiladas, and tacos. And remember, chili-with-an-I powder is an essential ingredient in chili-with-an-I meat and bean stew, too.


"Turkey taco" salad

Quick and oh-so-easy, this recipe originated as the filling for tacos and burritos. You can crisp some tortillas on a dry griddle, and slice them to make a crunchy topping for the salad, too. Serves 4; can be doubled or tripled.


2 tsp olive oil
1 lb ground turkey breast
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 dried habañero chile pepper (handle with care!)
2-3 tsp chili powder (mild or hot, to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes (I use Pomi brand)
1 cup chicken stock (optional)
4 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 large tomatoes, diced
1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar or jack cheese


In a high-sided frying pan or sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the turkey, and stir to break up. Cook until turkey is no longer pink. Add onion, and cook 3-4 minutes, until onion is translucent.

While the onion is cooking, place the habañero inside a ziploc bag. Close the bag, and smash the pepper with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. Pour the chile pepper into the pot (try not to touch the pepper), and add the chili powder, cumin and oregano. Stir to combine, and cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1 cup of water or chicken stock. Stir, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add more water if necessary, a few Tbsp at a time, to keep the sauce from getting too thick before the turkey is cooked through.

To assemble the salad, fill a bowl with shredded lettuce. Top with turkey filling, tomatoes and cheese. If you wish, add sliced fried tortilla strips.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Clean-the-freezer chili
Black bean soup
South End Deep Root Chili
White chili
Roasted halibut tacos with mango salsa
Ethiopian chicken in red pepper sauce (doro wat)

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Me too! pass some of that over, please?

Chilli - with a double L and I - is what we use in India - the green and red ones. The dried red ones are used to make the chilli powder that we use in Indian cooking. Mmm. I have a few boxes of those tucked away!

Like Arundathi just mentioned in India there is a nice variety of chilli powders. I often buy when I am in Dubai. The ones I find here not hot enough or aromatic enough. The taco recipe Lydia is really fantastic! Perfect for a quick lunch!

I'm happy to know of another fellow chili lover! hi 5! Great photo too ... I gotta look for some really hot chili powder ;)

Joao never liked spicy food. That has changed and I'm glad for it. Time to get myself some chili powder, Lydia!

This bland eater has reached step one, two and even three to spice heaven thanks to your spice tutoring. I will try this recipe minus the habanero (I'm still a little chicken). Lydia, thanks for showing me the way.

I LOVE chili powder. I put it on everything. I love to put it on baked, roasted or fried potatoes. Mmmm. Chili-y.

That salad would also be good with little chunks of turkey thigh made the same way.

I only started liking food with chili a few years ago. Made me wonder what I ever did without this ingredient. This is definitely a "hot" item in the pantry!

Oh yummy, I think I might have to make this for lunch and use my first ripe tomatoes out of the garden. Thanks for the recipe!

Hi Lydia,

I met you at BlogHer. Did you know your blog is featured on typepad today? Just thought I'd let you know if you don't already.
Your salad looks good. I would make it for myself because my kids wont eat anything spicy. Wimps.
It was lovely to meet you.

I like it hot!

Congrats on being featured on Typepad.


I'm all about the heat, too! I love the new photos on this, too. I've considered revisiting some of my older posts to re-do the photos...I just keep saying "maybe tomorrow"

Yum! Will have to try this recipe!

Hi Lydia, I have a little surprise for you at my blog :)

I haven't made my own chili powder in a long time. You've inspired me! The best part of making your own is that you get to balance your particular taste preferences. That would mean mine has gotta have some New Mexican green chile powder in it!

I too have my favorite blend and nothing else tastes right to me. I went looking for the just-pepper type powder, found beautiful big bags at a Korean grocery. I bought the size for amateurs, 200 g, and haven't been brave enough to open it yet. Makes it hard to use recipes when there is such a range! And what about cayenne? Does that work as an all purpose chile powder?

Arundathi, any pantry with a stash of chili peppers is my kind of pantry.

Meeta, I often make big batches of this turkey filling and keep some in the freezer. It heats up in minutes and makes a great filling for quesadillas, too.

Noobcook, I didn't eat spicy food until 15 years ago, but now I can't get enough of it.

Patricia, I'm the one who had to catch up in my family; Ted always liked spicy food but could never convince me to try it.

Pauline, I am proud of you!

EB, it's great on potatoes, isn't it?

Mae, you're absolutely right. I'll try that.

Veron, same here. I think my food must have been incredibly bland before I discovered chiles and chili powder.

Jason, I'll happily trade you a batch of turkey taco filling for garden-fresh tomatoes.

Chigiy, thanks so much. And those wimps will turn out to love spicy food when they're older, I'm sure!

Paz, thank you!

Mike, it's really fun to go back and try to improve the photography -- my early photos were very static. Also, I know many current readers might have missed posts like this one, so I like to take the opportunity to freshen the links and post again.

Bea, hope you do -- it's simple and delicious.

Noobcook, thanks -- that's so sweet of you.

Karina, you are so right. A friend bought some green chile powder for me the last time she was in Chimayo, and I really love it.

Susan, cayenne is really more about heat than depth of flavor. Chili powder is a blend of cayenne and other spices, so it can be hot or mild but gives you some smoky overtones, too.

Well very cool that your blog was featured on Typepad! Love the photo of the salad. My favorite thing to have for lunch at school!

I thought of you tonight when I pulled up my chili powder for our dinner sandwiches :)
Hey - congrats on speaking at the Boston Blogher event. You are getting big time lady :) Remember us little people.

I love that this filling is so versatile and can be used in many ways. Sounds delicious!

Now that I discovered how to do Penzey's mail order I'm all set - but thanks for the chili powder recipe... I'm lost without that stuff and I never really knew what was in it!

Kalyn, it's one of my favorite lunches, too. I think I could eat this every day.

Kristen, thanks! So, what did you make for dinner?

Deborah, this makes regular appearances on our dinner-in-a-hurry menus. I love it with scrambled eggs, too.

Katie, I buy chili powder from Penzeys -- both hot and mild.

I love habeneros, I am with you on the scalp-tingling heat. Great meal, all it needs is a cold beer.

I didn't know you like it that hot. I like food items to be hot, but I can't take the heat that stays with you. I mean I like chinese hot mustard because it burns a short while them it's gone. Lingering heat, I dunno. But I have to give you kudos girl for kicking it to hot notches unknown!!! YEAH!

Natashya, a cold beer would be just perfect...

Dawn, I've been building up my heat tolerance for years -- sometimes I just like the heat, other times I hold back on the heat to get to the flavor. Depends on my mood, I guess -- and on who else will eat what I'm cooking. It's always been my policy not to do in my friends with food that's too hot to handle!

I can eat chili any time of the year or day! And the hotter the better as well. Thanks for the recipe.

Kim, you're a girl after my own heart.

Lydia, making big batches is a great idea. i find that there are some recipes that only taste good when made in bigger quantities. Like bolognese and chil con carne. thanks for the tip!

That taco salad looks good!

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