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Chili powder (Recipe: turkey tacos)

First published in August 2006, this updated ingredient post features new photos and links. We love this spicy turkey filling in tacos, on salads, or as the topping for a rice bowl with a dollop of guacamole and a big plop of sour cream. 

Super easy turkey tacos.

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 is 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. Each vendor (or should I say blender?) combines these basic spices in different proportions. My favorite Penzeys chili powder 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 tacos (The Perfect Pantry)

Turkey tacos

From the pantry, you'll need: olive oil, ground turkey, onion, chili powder, cumin, dried oregano, canned chopped tomatoes, tortillas, shredded or grated cheese.

Serves 4; can be doubled or tripled.


2 tsp olive oil
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 dried habanero 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 (we like Pomi brand)

8 burrito-size flour tortillas
2 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 habanero 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. 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 tablespoons at a time, to keep the sauce from getting too thick before the turkey is cooked through.

To assemble the tacos, heat a large frying pan or griddle. Lightly toast each tortilla on both sides in the dry pan.

Place a tortilla on a serving plate. Add two tablespoons of turkey filling in a line down the center, and top with shredded lettuce, tomato and cheese. Roll up and eat!

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More Tex-Mex dishes to make, and eat, with tortillas:
Chicken tortilla casserole
Mexican tortilla and lime soup
Basic breakfast burritos
Shrimp and avocado quesadillas
Bacon guacamole

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Turkey chebureki, from Natasha's Kitchen
Pumpkin turkey chili, from Just a Taste
Ground turkey green chile soft tacos with black bean cilantro salsa, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Turkey quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas, from Culinary Cory
Mexican lasagna in the Crock Pot, from Weelicious

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.


I find I am liking spicy flavors hotter and hotter the last few years; not sure how that happened. Love the sound of this. I could eat this for dinner pretty much any time of year!

Kalyn, I like it hotter and hotter, also. And one of my favorite things about this dish is that it takes just a small amount of this flavorful turkey to make it, and the rest is lots of lettuce and tomato.

Oh yum--I really like the idea of rolling up and eating a spicy taco today.
Thanks, Lydia!

Sounds like something my kids would love Lydia - they like spicy food too!

Kirsten, I can't think of any day when that wouldn't appeal to me.

Jeanette, you are so lucky to have kids who like spicy food. It was always an uphill battle with mine.

I instantly know it is time to make a pot of Chili after reading this! yum!

I love this recipe. I dry my habaneros, thai chili, cayenne peppers, and even fresno's, jalapenos and other. I use the dehydrator and then when dry, I grind them down. Label the jars as to what they are and have ground up chili for use at any time. Thanks for the great post.

Carol, this weather is putting me in the mood for chili, too.

Gloria, do you grow your own peppers? what fun!

You are funny but I cannot eat food that hot or I don't taste the food. So fix mine separately when I come visit! Love the flavors though and the tacos look great! The kinda meal my men go nuts for!

Jamie, I never used to be able to eat hot food, but over the years my tolerance has increased, and now I surprise myself sometimes with how much hot sauce and how many hot peppers I can manage in one recipe. When you come visit, we will make everything to your taste, I promise.

This taco filling is very tasty. They are the only tacos I make now. The filling would also be good on a bun.

Jeff, yes indeed! I like the filling in a bowl, topped with cheese, and not much else.

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