Winter in California: turkey white bean pumpkin chili

It’s that time of year when the first snowfall makes everyone lose their minds, as if they’ve never seen snow before. People in Massachusetts had an actual reason to lose their minds when some areas got over a foot of snow at the end of October. My family in Massachusetts was without power for days. Meanwhile, in California, I have yet to wear anything heavier than a light jacket. The temperatures have dropped from 75 to 65. The leaves are still green. It has only rained three times since I moved here. And absurdly, I actually miss the snow.

Some mornings in Michigan were so cold that my car doors would freeze shut. I would carry a cup of hot water down from my third-floor apartment and pour it on my door so I could get in. The tips of my hair, still wet from a shower, would freeze while I wrestled with the door handle. Maybe it’s not the cold and snow that I miss, but the rituals that come with it — layers of clothing, the winding and unwinding of scarves, warming up the car, warming up the house, stomping snow off my boots, hot chocolate.

On the other hand, this time last year, I had to sleep wearing a hoodie and wool socks under flannel sheets and two comforters to keep warm in my drafty Boston apartment.  Showering was almost not worth it because of how cold it was when I got out. Here, I can still leave the screen door open and hear birds, not snow plows.

Even if I don’t get to see snow, it still gets chilly enough at night to be cozy. Instead of wearing my snow boots around in protest, I decided to do something more practical and more delicious — I got out the crock pot.

While I was searching through a bunch of boring white chicken chili recipes, I found this one for Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili on the always-wonderful Skinnytaste. The pumpkin seemed weird, but that was all the more reason for me to try it. The recipe calls for 2 pounds of ground turkey, but I could only find 1.35-pound packages, so I just went with it and bought two. How much would it matter?

Turns out, it matters A LOT. Because I’m dumb and lazy, I thought it would be a good idea to try and cook all the turkey at once, even though none of my pans are anywhere near large enough. The recipe told me it would only take five minutes to cook the turkey, but it took me a good twenty minutes to make sure there was no pink left. I was sure I was overcooking the turkey, but between overcooked turkey and food poisoning, I think the choice is obvious.

When I went to put the turkey into the crock pot, I could see I’d way overdone it — the turkey could have filled the crock pot by itself. I scooped a good third of it out, and left it to sit pointlessly in my fridge. As usual, I left out the onions and sautéed the garlic with cumin. While the cumin smelled wonderful, it looked so disgusting I wondered if I was doing it wrong. I quit cooking the garlic after only a few minutes because I got scared, and added it to the crock pot. Then I added the pumpkin, canned beans, chicken broth, and spices.

(By the way, I figured out that I’m drawn to recipes with a lot of canned ingredients, and here’s why you should be too: it’s cheap as hell, and really easy. I try to buy things that are low sodium, but sometimes sodium is a fall I’m willing to take because buying tomatoes pre-diced and beans that have already been soaked is just boss.)

Does this look wrong to you? It looked wrong to me. It looked way less brothy than the picture. This was supposed to be a soup, not a stew; something you eat with a spoon and crackers, not a fork. I started adding broth haphazardly until it looked sort of okay. Last of all, I added two bay leaves. Why did no one tell me that bay leaves are the secret ingredient (besides bacon, of course) to any soup that’s worth eating? Once I opened the container, I realized that the scent of bay leaves is what I associate with my mother’s chicken and dumplings soup, and why I love it so much.

Next was my favorite step about using the crock pot — turning it on and walking the fuck away. If you are lazy and don’t have a crock pot, you need to get one immediately. I had to run errands while the chili cooked, and opening and shutting the door made the entire first floor hallway smell delicious. I like to think the neighbors walked around saying things like, “Someone in apartment 20 really knows what they’re doing!” [Don’t get any ideas. 20 is not my real apartment number.]

When the soup was done, I garnished with cilantro. You could easily leave it off, but I think it added a lot of flavor. The pumpkin was surprisingly not weird — it gave the soup texture and color and a sneaky bit of vegetable. Next time, I’d probably triple the spices — the soup smelled much better than it tasted. Maybe it was because I messed up cooking it, but the turkey was sort of tasteless. It could just be that there was so much of it — it was a turkey chili with some beans and a little broth. Next time, I’ll cook the garlic and cumin with the turkey, and actually only use two pounds. I’ll cook it on low for eight hours, instead of on high for four, so the turkey has time to get tastier and so more of my neighbors will smell it cooking and think I’m awesome.

Jill Kolongowski is a freelance writer and editor living in San Francisco. When she’s not cooking, running, or reading, she blogs at Follow her on Twitter at @jillkolongowski.

7 Responses to “Winter in California: turkey white bean pumpkin chili”
  1. carol says:

    Is it soup yet? I could almost smell it from Michigan. Looking forward to trying this recipe because we had a dozen pumpkins to get rid of and I am looking for ways to cook with it. I think I might try this recipe with leftover thanksgiving turkey. ( if there is any!)

    I saw a recipe for pumpkin pancakes! We are having fresh pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving! Maybe that is why your nickname is “punkun” !

  2. Saundra says:

    I don’t think you messed up cooking it–ground turkey on its own is pretty tasteless. I only use it when I know I’m going to be adding a lot of flavor. Still, sounds delicious!

  3. Amy says:

    I’m with you on the overcooking turkey. I love cooking complicated things, but give me a simple piece of chicken (or ground turkey) and all of a sudden I’m a kid without training wheels for the first time. Am I overcooking it? It can’t be done yet, right? Probably I’m going to give everyone food poisoning, right?

    • Jill Kolongowski says:

      I’m both terrified of undercooking and paranoid about burning things. It’s a problem. Thanks for reading, miss Amy!

  4. Bridget says:

    I made a white bean chicken chili the other week, but got stuck at work/class while the meat cooked…for 11 hours. The recipe called for 3-5. So I know exactly what you mean about adding broth until it looks edible. Adventures in cooking!!

    • Jill Kolongowski says:

      I actually live in fear of doing that, so I always end up just cooking it on high for a shorter period of time and having a really late dinner, rather than leaving the crock pot on low all day. The likelihood of burning my house down just seems way too high :)

  5. Angela says:

    Tip from Rick — before cooking any meat, always add salt and pepper. For some reason that man can make anything have flavor. Look forward to seeing you in a few days darling!

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