Let me explain. Since 2005, when I kept a potted houseplant alive for an entire summer on the widow’s walk of my college apartment, I’ve thought to myself maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time I’ll trim the root ball, re-pot the ficus, propagate the succulent, sing to the vine until it flowers and fruits. George Eliot famously wrote, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” and I might have been a gardener had I tried harder or paid more attention.
Twelve years later, I struggle with the same lessons. I bought a small pepper plant at Lowe’s for $1.50 and potted it in a plastic container leftover from my home’s previous owner. We struggled all season, that pepper plant and I. I’d forget to water it for days, and its leaves would droop in protest. Its stem broke at least twice—once from wind and then another time from a particularly ornery squirrel—and twice it grew offshoots that craned toward the sky. Finally, after months of hardship, it produced the smallest pepper.
Life! I’d created it, or at least given it a shot. I felt like the tiny god of one room or my grandpa, who was always so proud when I could make change in my head for the bushels of tomatoes he sold well into retirement. I vowed to keep my pepper safe until it matured enough for harvest.
The pepper hung on for months, growing in fits and deepening in color from green to orange to red. Remarkably, it survived long enough to make it into one of my favorite recipes, a hearty turkey chili I’ve been cooking for nearly a decade (yours will probably only take one afternoon). Throwing that pepper into my dutch oven felt like magic or what passes for it on short days like these.
This kind of chili’s the perfect vehicle for all of your container-garden bounty and for the long-suffering cans of beans gathering dust in the back of your cupboard. I serve it with big biscuits because, if you ask me, life is about small victories and, to a lesser extent, food.
Who knows? Maybe this year I’ll grow two.
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb ground turkey
- ¼ cup chili powder
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp oregano
- chili flake, to taste
- 2 cans tomatoes in green chili, w/ juice
- t tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup stock (chicken, turkey, or vegetable)
- 1 can/bottle beer (optional)
- splash of apple cider vinegar
- 1 15.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 15.5 oz can red beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced (taste your jalapeño for spice, and adjust accordingly)
- 2 bay leaves
- In a large dutch oven or pot, heat the oil over low to medium heat and then cook the onions for 8-10 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and carrots and cook for an additional minute.
- Raise the heat to medium and add the ground turkey. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, another 10 minutes.
- Add the spices and chili flake to taste. Add the tomato paste, broth, beer (if using), and simmer the chili, covered, for 35-40 minutes.
- Add the beans, pepper, jalapeño, and salt to taste (I use 2-3 tsp, but I’ll admit to a salty palate) and black pepper and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes.
- Serve with a biscuit of your choice. The version pictured here is our Cheddar + Chive.