Turkey Chili with Whole Wheat Orzo


Living in Chicago’s bitter cold has most of us not only craving but needing something warm and hearty.  Especially with last Thursday’s subzero temperatures and wind chills between negative 30-40 degrees, Thursday night was the perfect night to sit back with a warm bowl of filling and yummy turkey chili. The ground turkey base makes for a healthier chili while the whole wheat orzo adds both nutrition and texture.
The best part is I came up with this recipe myself. After having a delicious turkey chili the week before, I knew I was looking to replicate the sweet and spicy flavor from scratch. And after perusing the Internet for chili recipes, nothing left me fully satisfied.

The chili I had last week was made by David’s roommate – he bought a can of turkey chili to which he just had to add beans and some seasoning. He wound up using baked beans because he had no other beans in the house. The sweetness of the baked beans worried him while cooking but the end result was so hugely acclaimed by all three of us  that  I decided it was something I would replicate in my chili I would make from scratch.

So in order to bring out that sweetness, I decided I wanted to use beer.


And I knew I wanted a dark beer with a sweet taste. I thought this would highlight the sweetness of the baked beans I would add so  I went to the local liquor store and chose Goose Island Nut Brown Ale.  The label said it had notes of chocolate and honey – it was perfect for my chili.

Looking up the description now from GooseIsland.com, it says “Subtle notes of chocolate, honey and fine tobacco give this world champion ale an enjoyable and satisfying “nutty” finish.” I definitely didn’t notice the tobacco element – Yuck!- who wants their beer to taste like tobacco? Because I wound up drinking the beer while making and eating the chili, I can tell you that I personally did not detect any ‘hints’ of tobacco, thank goodness.


In creating my recipe, I decided to get a little fancy and utilize a cooking term I’ve often read about but have never practiced myself. Because I knew I was adding beer, I decided to deglaze my pan with beer after browning the turkey. The term ‘deglaze’ means adding a liquid to a pan that was just used for sauteing to incorporate the flavor of those drippings in a sauce.

So, I deglazed the turkey fat with beer and added this ‘sauce’ to my chili. In hindsight, I think I would probably skip this step because the turkey ‘fat’ flavor was a little overwhelming in the chili and took awhile to counteract with other flavors . I did drain the turkey but I must have had a ton of extra liquid left in the pan. So much for trying to be fancy!


The rest of the recipe is incredibly easy. Chili is essentially a “dump” recipe where you dump your ingredients into a pot and let them  do their own thing. A little tomato paste, some crushed tomatoes, beans, green chilies, some honey, and of course the beer, and I had myself a chili in the making.

The important part is to keep taste-testing. I was essentially making up the recipe as I went,  in order to see what ingredients were needed after I tasted it. Some oregano, tons of chili powder and a few shakes of: garlic powder, red hot chili flakes, paprika, salt and pepper had me finally tasting a chili I was proud of. Now it just had to incorporate a bit more by simmering for about an hour or hour and a half.


The next thing to do was add my pasta. I had a box of whole wheat orzo in the house that I was waiting to use as a side dish for another dinner but as soon as I made the decision to add pasta to my chili, I knew whole wheat orzo would be perfect for the job. It’s the perfect size and shape – adding a thickness to the chili that I love. You don’t have to use whole wheat but of course, it’s healthier if you do.

I cooked the orzo separately and added it to the chili at the end of its simmering. And since I made a point to use pasta in my recipe,  I’d like to submit this blog post to Presto Pasta Nights, one of my favorite blog events (could you tell?) to be hosted this week by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything. Thanks in advance Haalo!


The end result was pretty tasty and hearty but there are a couple of things I would do differently next time:

1. I wouldn’t deglaze the pan of turkey fat – I would drain it completely and just add the beer separately.

2. I would serve this right away instead of refrigerating overnight. I added my pasta before adding it to a container so the pasta wound up absorbing all the liquid overnight and it became thick and actually less tasty.

3. I would add even more spice! I tried to be conservative because I knew my parents aren’t huge fans of spicy food and I was making it for them but I love spice and definitely didn’t think this was spicy enough. I tasted it the whole way through and kept adding more and more chili powder but it seemed to be absorbed by the other ingredients over time.

Turkey Chili with Whole Wheat Orzo

Make a healthy and hearty chili with ground turkey. I like to add pasta to my chili and this whole wheat orzo makes the perfect addition!


2 Tbs. olive oil
1 lb. ground turkey
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
6 oz. beer of your choice (I used Goose Island Nut Brown Ale)
1 sm. 4-oz. can diced green chilies
1 sm. 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes and juice
1 can 15-oz. chili beans
1 can 15-oz. red beans
1 16-oz. can vegetarian baked beans
4 Tbs. chili powder (or more)
3 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. red chili flakes (optional)
1 Tbs. honey
1 9-oz. pkg. whole wheat orzo


Heat olive oil in saute pan. Chop onion and garlic and add to pan. Brown ground turkey in oil with onions and garlic. When cooked, drain turkey and add (with onions and garlic) to 3-qt. pot. If desired, pour a little bit of beer onto turkey drippings to deglaze and add this sauce to pot.

Pour in tomatoes, tomato paste, two cans of beans, diced green chilies, honey, and half of your beer. Season with oregano, garlic powder, paprika, red chili flakes and chili powder to your taste (see recommended amounts above). Keep tasting to see if it needs more of an ingredient. Let simmer for 60-90 minutes. Before it’s done simmering, cook whole wheat orzo in boiling water. Drain and add to chili in final minutes of cooking. Serve with pita chips and beer. Add more seasoning to each serving if desired.

Note: If making ahead of time, add 2 cans of beans during cooking and save 1 can for later when you warm it back up in a saucepan.


More Chili Recipes:
Slow-Cooked Chili
Turkey Chili
Basic Texas Chili
Cincinnati Chili
Beef and Beer Chili

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  • http://londoneater.com kang at LE

    that is one chunky looking chilli recipe , never knew so many ingredients had to go with it, it must taste good.

  • http://www.theperfectpantry.com Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    I love orzo in my chili, too. It’s a great way to extend the dish and give it substance.

  • http://cookalmostanything.blogspot.com Haalo

    Perfect comfort food!

  • http://thefoodsite.net The Food Site

    I’ve never ate chili before but this sounds good. I may have to try it out one day.

  • http://www.tartelette.blogspot.com Tartelette

    Great idea to use orzo for chili! Not sure I can find it whole wheat around here but I can try!
    Sounds delicious and economical which is the name of the game right now!

  • http://savory.tv Heidi / Savory Tv

    Thank you for sharing, I’m bookmarking this one!

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