Picking a Proper Pepper

We've had a spell of cooler weather here in North Texas. I say spell, because it will be short lived. I am confident in my statement due to the fact that this is Texas after all and tomorrow it may snow, freeze, and/or ice over, and next Tuesday is will read 108 on my porch temperature gauge. So tacky to tease me, Texas.

But, the 50 degree mornings make for delightful snuggle time with my comfiest sweatshirt and fancy mug-o-coffee. A slight change in pace from 87 degrees before the sun comes up. Although the days are still somewhat stifling, it is now late October, football season is in full swing, and my slow cooker – my most favorite kitchen gadget for the fall season – has found a permanent spot on the kitchen island.

I am all about this comfortable cooler weather. I die for this time of year. As much as I love Christmas and Thanksgiving, and all that festivities that go with it, fall has to be my favorite. I think my love for this time of year really comes down to the simple fact that it brings me back to my fondest childhood memories. And chili.

My daddy makes a killer chili. Killer. His slow-cooker chili, Cowboys football, and a 12-year-old me with her very own sleeve of saltine crackers – sitting happy, and practically in his lap for Sunday in its entirety. Whether I'm 12 or 28, I'll still sit in his lap with those crackers and a bowl of his chili. Any day.

In Texas we have a certain way we make our chili. Defining what makes true "Texas chili" is no simple task. Everyone has a different version. The term "chili" comes from the Spanish chile con carne, which translates as "peppers with meat." And that is often at heart what I (or my daddy) make, with the addition of some spices and aromatics.

Time for a chili lesson: First and foremost, there are no beans or tomatoes in Texas chili. None. Not to say you can't ever add beans or tomatoes to your pot, but then it would no longer be "Texas chili." It would be what Texans call a "bowl o' red."

So what is Texas chili? Besides meat, the important component to Texas chili is the chilies. There are no requirements, per say, on the types of chilies you choose – just make sure they are in there and giving off some heat. Of course there are the select dried versions: anchos, pasilla, costeñas, guajillos, chipotle, and chiles de arbol.  Not to forget the more familiar (and some of my favorite) fresh chile varieties: poblano, New Mexico hatch, and jalapeño. The list go on depending on what is available in your particular market.

There is a simple toasting technique that I learned growing up for adding rich flavor to the peppers before adding them into your Texas chili. Start by preheating a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the dry peppers to the pan and cook peppers three to four minutes, turning occasionally, until toasted. Remove from heat and allow pan to cool briefly. Return skillet to stove and add about an inch of water. Bring water to boiling over high heat and add peppers. Remove skillet from heat, cover with lid, and allow to stand 20 minutes until peppers are softened. Once the peppers have softened, drain them, reserving about 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid. Remove stems from peppers and discard. Using a food processor or countertop blender, blend peppers until smooth adding reserved soaking liquid as needed to make a smooth puree.  Use as directed in recipe for Texas Red Chili. This chili puree is useful in other dishes, too! Try adding teaspoon of the pepper puree to your favorite guacamole or vegetable soup recipe, or you can also mix a teaspoon or two of the puree with a quarter cup of olive oil and brushing it over steaks or chicken breasts before grilling.

Now, my daddy makes a "bowl o' Red" just in time for the Cowboys kickoff every Sunday. But my Texas chili is somewhat different, and over the years this dietitian brain of mine has gotten the best of me to make it easier on not only my heart, but on my waistline, too. I think most of it is due to the fact that I can no way mimic the chili I grew up on. I try, many times I've been on the phone as I was preparing ingredients, but the end result is never the same. Just like my mom's eggs and potatoes. Two ingredients and I can never get it right. So, I leave the chili (and the eggs and potatoes) for eating when I go home. It leaves me something to look forward to when I visit. My parents don't even have to ask- I'll always accept.

True Texas chili or not, I've found a way to make a delicious chili healthier, but still with all the flavor of my daddy's original. I stick with similar seasonings, the dark beer for depth of flavor, and always, always add a couple varieties of peppers. My daddy uses the chili puree I described above, but my busy schedule doesn't always allow for the time it takes to make this puree. So, my go-to chili includes fresh peppers over the dried. I have mixed up my version in other ways too: with white meat over the beef, and added tomatoes for another layer of flavor.

So it's not quite "true Texas," but it is a chili that I can call my own. You can serve this chili alone with corn bread (or saltines!). Or, one of my favorite ways is to serve this chili over a small baked potato with all the fixings.

Slow-Cooker Beer Barrel Turkey Chili

Recipe by Amber Massey, RD, LD

Cooking Spray
8 ounces ground turkey breast
4 ounces turkey or chicken sausage, casings removed
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, (don't discard liquid)
1 (12-ounce) bottle dark beer (such as Shiner Bock)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
2 poblano peppers, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
1/4 cup (4-ounces) chipotle chile sauce
3 tablespoons chili powder (chipotle chile powder for extra heat)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 (6-ounce) baking potatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Optional toppings: Fat-free sour cream, shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, chopped cilantro, chopped green onions


  1. Lightly spray slow cooker with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a large skillet (or, if you have a cast iron slow cooker, use that), cook the ground turkey and sausage for 3 minutes, or until no longer pink on the outside, stirring frequently. Transfer to the slow cooker.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, beer, onion, peppers, chipotle sauce and all remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Cook, covered, on low setting for 7 1/2 to 8 hours, or on high for 4 hours.
  4. One hour before chili is ready, preheat your oven to 400°. Place baking potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet (for easy clean-up). Pierce skin with a fork multiple times and brush each potato with olive oil and season with salt. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until skin is crispy and potatoes are soft when gently squeezed in the middle.
  5. To serve, plate one baked potato, cut in half. Serve with about 1 1/2 cups chili over top. Add additional toppings as desired.
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Amber Massey
Amber Massey, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian in Dallas, Texas. Read her blog and recipes at Chocolate-Broccoli.com and follow her on Twitter.