Monday, October 10, 2011

A Fall Version of a Longtime Favorite - Pumpkin Chili

There’s no doubt about it – autumn is in full-swing here in Michigan. The colors are a feast for the eyes. Everywhere you turn fall’s kaleidoscope is around you. While I love the renewal of spring and the hope of warmer days that it brings, nothing beats the remarkable natural beauty – both simple and complex – that ascends on us with the return of each October.
A stroll through the market at this time of year is also a colorful experience. The last of the summer crops are trickling in; tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, cabbage and beets. And then the fall standards take their place along with the rest, including the iconic pumpkin. I think most of us have carved a pumpkin or two in our time, and maybe even roasted up those delicious seeds that stick to the stringy goo on the inside. But when it comes to cooking with pumpkin, I think the majority of us are happy to reach for the familiar orange can of Libby’s pumpkin. While it’s great to use in pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, muffins, and other baked goodies, it works well in many savory dishes, too.
Fall is perfect chili weather. I don’t argue with people about how they make their chili – ground beef, diced beef, ground turkey, with or without beans, how hot, etc. I’ve enjoyed lots of wonderful chili of countless variations all over the country. That’s the wonder of our cooking world!
This particular recipe calls for ground turkey and I think it works well here. If your chili has to be made with beef then please proceed with your favorite cut. Beef has a stronger flavor than ground turkey - I think - so the background of pumpkin is a little more muted in a beef version. Even if you use the turkey, this will not taste like a pumpkin pie with chili seasonings in it (thank goodness!). 
The pumpkin makes for a thicker texture and a note of pumpkin, which we help bring forward with a little cinnamon and allspice. We think it’s wonderful and every bit as warm and satisfying as any other chili we’ve enjoyed.  This chili is best made in a slow cooker, but if you don’t have one you could prepare on top of the stove over very low heat, covered and regular stirring. 

Pumpkin Chili
1 TBSP vegetable oil
1-1   ½ lbs ground turkey
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
½ cup diced green pepper
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ cup diced yellow, orange or red pepper (you can use 1 cup of green pepper if you don’t have the other peppers or care not to use them)
1 - 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 - 15oz can pumpkin (DO NOT USE pumpkin pie filling – just use the plain pumpkin)
2         TBSP chili powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice

Put oil in large skillet and bring up to medium high heat. Add turkey, onion, garlic, peppers, salt and pepper.  As turkey cooks, break apart with spoon to create smaller pieces. Cook until turkey has browned and vegetables have become soft. Transfer contents of skillet to slow cooker. Add diced tomatoes, pumpkin and chili powder and stir gently to combine. . (Note: if you want to make this chili for the next day, stop right here and put the covered slow cooker insert in the fridge until four hours before you want to serve).
Cover slow cooker and set temperature to LOW – allow to cook for three hours. After three hours, add cinnamon and allspice, stir to combine, put cover back on and continue to cook for one hour. If you like, serve in bowls and top with shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream. This is great with corn bread on the side. Enjoy!

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