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Chili powder (Recipe: turkey and white bean chili) {gluten-free}

Turkey chili

Thank heaven for Texas.

Food historians can't agree on whether cowboys or Indians invented chili powder, or who first manufactured it for the marketplace, but they do agree about one thing: that chili powder as we know it -- a blend of ground chile peppers and other spices -- has its origins in Texas.

In 1890 or so, a man named D.C. Pendry, who ran a Mexican grocery supply company in Ft. Worth, began selling his special chili powder to local restaurants. At about the same time, William Gebhardt was serving up chili flavored with his own blend of chili powder in his café in New Braunfels. He started marketing the blend in 1894 under the brand name Gebhardt's Eagle Brand Chili Powder.

One of the two got to market first. Nobody knows which one, really.

Every chili cook has his or her own chili powder blend, often a closely guarded family secret, but for those of us who didn't grow up in Texas, there are great commercial chili powders on the market. Like Mr. Pendry's and Mr. Gebhardt's, no two blends are the same.

Chili powder

First, though, let's clear up the chile-chili confusion.

Chile-with-an-e is pure ground pepper. Chili-with-an-i refers to the blend of spices, and also to the stew cooked with it.

To add to the confusion, in Europe and Asia you'll see alternate spellings of chilli, or chillie. Both of those refer to the pure pepper, what we call chile-with-an-e.

I have many varieties of chile peppers in my pantry, but I also keep three or four commercially blended chili powders on hand. The mild one gets the least workout; I save that for the times when I'm cooking for a crowd of people I don't know very well. The super-hot I save for my husband Ted and me, and a few hardy heat-loving friends.

Most frequently I reach for one of two medium-hot chili powders.

The Spice House's medium chili contains sweet ancho chile pepper, cumin, garlic, powdered Mexican oregano, cayenne pepper and paprika. From Penzey's I buy a relatively new product, Chili 3000. Dubbed "The Now Chili", it sounds like something from outer space, but the ingredients let you know the influences are closer to the American Southwest: ancho chile powder, garlic, cumin, onion, cilantro, paprika, cayenne pepper, lemon peel, Mexican oregano, black pepper, citric acid, natural smoke flavor, jalapeño pepper.

Neither blend contains salt, but wait... lemon peel? Well, yes, it's chili powder, and anything goes. And yes, if you're so inclined, you can blend your own, with guidance from a real Texan.

Remember that, like all ground spices, the potency of chili powder degrades quickly. Buy in small quantities unless you are a confirmed chili-head, and store away from heat or in the freezer.

And be sure to say Thank You, Texas, whenever you use it.

Turkey chili

Turkey and white bean chili

Serves 8; can be frozen.


2 Tbsp olive oil
1-1/4 lbs ground turkey (I use 93% fat free)
1 medium onion, diced
3 tbsp cumin
4 tbsp medium-hot chili powder (I used Penzeys Chili 3000)
2 cans Ro*Tel
1 32-oz box canned chopped tomatoes (I use POMI)
1 4 oz can fire-roasted green chiles
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 lb cooked or canned white navy beans

Shredded Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream, chopped avocado, chopped red onion (all optional, for garnish)


In a Dutch oven or heavy non-reactive pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the turkey and cook, stirring frequently, until almost brown. Add the onion, and continue cooking until the onion is translucent. Add cumin and chili powder, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add Ro*Tel, tomatoes, green chiles, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans, and continue cooking for 15 minutes, stirring every now and then to make sure the chili doesn't stick. If it does, add a few teaspoons of water.

Taste and adjust the seasoning, as needed, with salt and pepper. Serve hot, topped with garnishes of your choice, or refrigerate/freeze.

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Turkey taco salad
South End Deep Root Chili
Floribean chicken chili
Football season chili
Mary's clean the freezer chili

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.


Do you know what difference dried versus fresh chiles gives? I've got some fresh which have dried up and I haven't noticed a huge difference but perhaps in quantity there would be.

I never realized that chili powder was a blend of spices, kind of like the mysterious curry powder. Texas should take more credit for this invention! The recipe looks great - I just made a white bean chili with chicken the other night.

Some Texans add a squirt of lime juice to finish off their chili, so I reckon lemon peel isn't that much of a stretch. The best thing about chili powder is that anything goes!

Hooray for Texas! Except I do have to fess up - I currently have NO chili powder blends in my pantry. None. And I'm a born-and-raised Texan. It's not that I'm opposed to chili powder, I just tend to use a hot chile powder when I make taco seasoning blends (or a crock-pot chili) and for my chili I use whole dried chiles. I'm convinced the extra effort to use them yields a fuller, more complex flavor. That Penzey's chili powder sounds intriguing though - I think I need to seek that out!

That's so interesting Lydia to think this combination originated in Texas.A very heart=healthy chili as well!!

This sounds delicious. I have been interested to see all the spellings of chile that pop up from various parts of the world!

To add to my confusion -- I have some Asian cookbooks that call for chili powder... given the Texas origin I wonder if they really mean ground cayenne or other plain chile powder.

I have a turkey and white bean chili recipe that I make once per year. I never intend to make it only once a year but somehow it always works out that way - usually in October/November.

Thanks for the history on chili powder. Interesting!

Yum - I like that blend too - wish we had Penzey's here.

Sasa, you could use fresh or dried chile peppers in this dish, but in order to substitute for the chili powder, you'd need to add other herbs and spices, too. Fresh and dried chile peppers are different in intensity, but not as much different in heat value.

TW, I think there's a real art to blending chili powder -- like BBQ sauce or, yes, curry powder. I don't know enough to get the nuances but I'd love to experiment with it a bit more.

Lisa, some day you'll have to teach me some real Texan cooking!

Alta, it's true, I guess, that no two cooks -- even no two Texans -- use chile and chili powder in exactly the same way!

Val, chili is endlessly fascinating to me.

Kalyn, same here, and sometimes I have to read the recipe a few times to figure out whether they mean chile pepper or chili powder.

Julia, it's almost always the case that in Asian cookbooks, "chili" means "chile pepper."

Nicki, do you use leftover Thanksgiving turkey in your chili? If not, definitely try to make it at other times of the year. It's so delicious.

Natashya, I imagine that either Penzeys or The Spice House would ship to Canada. Both have great chili powders to choose from. But yes, having a Penzeys locally would be great.

many thanks for the history lesson and the recipe. I must be your only reader that thought chili started and ended with the mccormick packet HAHA

Note to self: Do not visit Lydia's blog when you are on a clear liquid diet to prep for your first colonoscopy! You are making my stomach rumble even more! Thanks for the info on chile vs. chili powder. Did not know that chili powder was a blend of spices.

I will try to spell them right. Really, I will.

Interesting that Texas invented it. The best blend I ever had was from a farmer at the open air market in Los Alamos, NM.

Thank goodness for chili powder is all I can say! I haven't found the perfect one yet and am still searching. Your chili looks delicious!

Milton, you are not the only one. I'm always glad to learn about the ingredients in my pantry and to be able to share what I learn with you.

Janice, been there, done that! I think I could spend a lifetime tasting and testing chili powders; each blend is different, not just in heat level but also in complexity.

Mae, don't tell anyone, but I think New Mexico chiles (and chili powders) are the best, too.

Pam, the search is such fun! I hope I never find just one that fits all needs. I always have a few different ones in the pantry.

Yes, Chile is what you make Chili out of :)
I grew up with Gebheart's brand Chili powder in our family's kitchen. It is a very good Chili Powder. I can't find it where I shop now.

I knew chili powder was a blend but I don't think I knew there was such thing as chile-with-an-e. I just thought that was a country!

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