Sweet and Spicy Turkey Bourbon Fall Chili

I woke up cold this morning. Curled up in a mountain of blankets, I smiled before opening my eyes. It’s finally cooling down here. The days still swell with heat and the sun still feels close and unbearable, but nights and early mornings— there’s a chill in the air. I’ve been waiting for this since we moved to Los Angeles in March. What do I crave? Comfort food and cold weather.


I credit the season with the fact that everyone has been posting photos of chili lately. It’s just that time of year. Fall produce is so hearty and robust—perfect for a rich and comforting pot of chili. People have been posting their favorite recipes, or new ones that a cookbook inspired. I’d been meaning to make a batch of my own for a while when a friend called me to action.

Jaime of @immediatelycookies and Kill ‘em With Butter extended the following challenge: that I make a batch of fall chili that looked decent in a photo. A pretty chili if you will. While I’ve seen plenty of beautiful bowls of chili, I myself know it’s not always as easy as it seems. Slow-cooked anything tends to all turn monochromatic, chili in particular. It’s not always the most visually appealing. But Jaime gave me a preview of what he was working on and that was inspiration enough for me.


I don’t have a classic recipe that I turn to. I find that every time I make chili I’m always trying something new, experimenting with flavors. This time around was no different. I started by heading to the farmer’s market for some fall inspiration and ingredients. I went for what caught my eye. Kabocha squash, which I love for its sweet fleshy interior, vibrant purple yams, deep green leaves of Lacinato kale—all perfect elements for my fall chili.


I decided to use turkey for the protein, in part because I had some, and in part because this time of year turkey I prevalent. I sautéed sweet onions and heirloom carrots with fresh sage and garlic, then deglazed the pan with some of Heritage Distilling’s famous Brown Sugar Bourbon. It was the perfect way to add a touch of sweetness to balance out the heat from the spices.

I relied on a lot of the usual spice suspects; cumin, chili powder, coriander, and cayenne pepper. But I also added in smoked sea salt, fresh ginger, and rub from Caboose Spice & Co.—their Old No. 1 Universal BBQ Blend. The incredible flavor of the finished product far surpassed my expectations. Smoky, sweet, tons of spice.


Using beautiful ingredients certainly aided my mission to maximize my chili’s appearance but I didn’t stop there. I garnished each serving with minced shallots, chopped walnuts, crispy fried sage, and lemon. The raw crunch of the onion, the texture of the walnuts and sage, and a hint of citrus were not just for show, each element further rounded out the flavor—no the experience of the entire dish. This chili must make its way to your dinner table. You won’t regret it. And if you don’t eat meat, swap out the turkey for mushrooms and use a vegetable stock instead.


I’d like to think my mission was successful on all fronts, most importantly in regards to flavor. You notice the heat, then the sweetness of the bourbon that follows and with it nuanced flavors both distinct and yet part of the overall dish.

What is the best chili you’ve ever had? Lave a comment below.


Sweet and Spicy Turkey Bourbon Fall Chili
Serves 6
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  1. 1 Tbsp. Olive oil
  2. 1 Tbsp. butter
  3. 1 small sweet onion, chopped (like Maui or Vidalia)
  4. 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  5. 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  6. 1 Tbsp. sage, minced
  7. 1 lb. ground turkey
  8. ½ tsp. smoked sea salt
  9. Pepper
  10. 2 oz. Heritage Distilling Brown Sugar Bourbon
  11. 1 ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  12. 1 ½ tsp. cumin
  13. 1 ½ tsp. chili powder
  14. 1 Tbsp. Caboose Old No. 1 (or other BBQ rub)
  15. ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  16. ¼ tsp. chili flakes
  17. 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
  18. 2 cups purple yams, chopped (about two small ones)
  19. 2 cups Kabocha squash, chopped
  20. 2 15oz. cans red or kidney beans
  21. 1 28oz. can crushed tomatoes
  22. 3 cups chicken or turkey stock
  23. 5 cups Lacinato kale, torn
  24. Serving Ideas
  25. Minced shallots
  26. Chopped walnuts
  27. Sage leaves sautéed in butter
  28. Lemon wedges
  1. Make the Chili
  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven melt butter and oil over medium heat.
  3. Sautee onions, garlic, carrots, and sage just until tender, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add in turkey salt, pepper, and brown until excess liquid evaporates.
  5. Deglaze the pan with bourbon, scraping up any brown bits with a wooden spoon.
  6. Next add paprika, cumin, chili powder, Caboose Old No. 1, cayenne, chili flakes, and ginger. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add in yams, squash, beans, tomatoes, stock, stir and bring to a boil.
  8. Cover, reduce heat and cook for at least 1 ½ hours. Add kale in for the last 10 minutes.
  9. To Serve
  10. Scoop chili into bowls and top with sage, shallots, walnuts, lemon, and enjoy!
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