Reading up on on Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, and More by Dianne Jacob (click here to buy a copy on amazon.com – it’s probably the most invaluable book for wannabe culinary writers), I realized that my cooking blogs don’t have pictures. I’m not a photographer, and still haven’t figured out how to use a digital camera in any passable way, but I do have an ancient Samsung flip phone with a camera. So I decided to try my hand at blogging a recipe for vegetable turkey chili with photos from my flip phone. Obviously, these photographs won’t have pros shaking in their feet with intimidation and fear, but they came out surprisingly okay. Let me know what you think.
So, making vegetable turkey chili is great because it’s very healthy – I take a ridiculous amount of time reading the labels on the cans of ingredients to make sure that the stuff I use is low in fat, but also low in sodium – that’s very important when I’m cooking. The other good thing about this recipe I created is that I use only one serving of ground white turkey meat – it’s already healthy, but I only use about 4 oz to stretch for the whole recipe. To make up for that I also use cremini mushrooms or portobello mushrooms – they have a dark, earthy flavor that those white buttons don’t; also, I learned on America’s Test Kitchens, that mushrooms contain umami, a savory flavor that is also found in meat – that’s why mushrooms are used as substitutes for meat in vegetarian dishes.
Anyways, here we go:
I chop the vegetables that will make the sofrito – finely chopped onions, garlic, celery and carrot. I always use sofrito when I make a tomato-based dish like a tomato stew.
I also like corn in my chili, but I realized that the canned corn has a lot of salt, so I cut the corn off the cob myself – it’s worth the extra five minutes of running a sharp knife down the side of a cob.
I like black beans in chili – they give a meatier flavor than the other kinds – I use Bush’s black beans – low sodium, and I rinse off that yucky, inky gravy that comes in the can – it’s disgusting, by the way, it’s like someone held an octopus over the can and then scared the shit out of it….When you rinse your beans, be careful – they’re not dried, so they can break up, and you don’t want mushy beans (unless you do, and if so, then carry on…)
I like the fresh, tart taste of tomatillos – normally I just buy a jar of green salsa, but I saw these in the produce aisle, so I grabbed a few. Most people assume they’re a kind of tomato, but actually they’re related to the gooseberry. You have to peel the papery, leafy covering off the fruit, and then rinse the fruit because they’re kind of sticky. I slice them roughly, like I would a tomato.
One of the main ingredients in chili is tomatoes – I used a generic no-salt added can of diced tomatoes. I also use tomato paste in my recipe – as you can see my tomato paste comes in a tube, like toothpaste. The reason for this is that I don’t like wasting tomato paste and when I only use one tablespoon, I then have to figure out how to store the rest of it – with the tube, you just squeeze out what you need and bung it in the fridge when you’re done.
So, to begin cooking heat fat of some kind in a Dutch oven or a casserole. I use cooking spray, but olive oil is good, too – remember this is supposed to be healthy, so no animal fat, and if you insist on using butter, then cut it with some healthier alternative like the olive oil. When the oil is hot sprinkle in some chili powder – as much as you’d like, according to taste – I use about a palmful. Start stirring, letting the heat bloom the flavors of the chili powder. I also add a tiny, tiny, tiny pinch of cinnamon – there’s a great depth of heat added to the spices.
I use a little bit of turkey meat in the chili – I only use about one serving – 4 oz for the whole thing, which makes it healthier. In my pre-healthy cooking days, I used to load up the chili with meats – bacon bits, chopped ham, chicken, sausage meat and steak, but no longer – now I use 4 oz of lean, ground turkey. Break up the meat and stir, cooking, just until all the pink is gone and the meat’s turned white.
Because I use so little meat, I load up on mushrooms. Mushrooms contain a savory flavor called umami, that is also found in meat. That’s the reason why mushrooms are often used in place of meat in dishes – like a portobella burger, for instance. When choosing mushrooms, used cremini or ‘bella, because those little white button mushrooms don’t do anything – they have almost no flavor. When cooking the mushrooms, I allow for a fond to develop – that’s a dark brown film on the bottom of the pan – the darker the fond, the richer your food will be, though you have to be careful not to burn it, so keep a vigilant eye on it.
So at this point, your chili’s pretty much finished, but I love the taste of cilantro and green onion. I learned that folks either like cilantro or they don’t because it’s genetic – isn’t that a hoot? Some folks complain that it tastes like soap or dirt, but I like the clean flavor of cilantro. So I chop up a good handful of cilantro, and three green onions.
Once you add the green onion and cilantro, you can take off the heat. Again this next step is optional, but I like the richness of dairy in my chili – I used to use sour cream, but again, I’m eating healthy now, so I use no-fat Greek yogurt. Oikos is a great brand – it’s not an exact substitute for sour cream, which has an unctiousness that cannot be duplicated, but it’s still good. Also I used to use Sargento Mexican cheese blend, but I cannot eat that much cheese anymore, so I use parmesan cheese, because you can use so little of it, but the flavor’s so strong, just a small amount packs a punch. Now, I will offend my fellow foodies, because I used the Kraft sawdust parmesan that comes in a green plastic can – I just cannot justify using fresh parmesan from the cheese counter when I’m cooking – so sue me.
And you’re ready to serve. I serve my chili in these huge coffee mugs – like the kind used in Central Perk on Friends – I got them from the now-defunct World Market. They’re a bit like Fiestaware in that they come in a range of funky, bright colors.
And there you have it – my healthy vegetable-turkey chili. I’m not a food photographer and food’s hard to capture – it can look disgusting if it’s not staged right (the last pic in particular is pretty unattractive). But this gives you, dear readers, a brief glimpse at how I roll in my kitchen.
Oh, and enjoy.