The Surfer’s Turkey Chili

With beef prices skyrocketing and several months of steak straining against our belt, it's time to find a leaner alternative. But it's still winter and the cravings for warming, protein-rich plates like chili have not subsided. The question that looms: How to switch from red meat to foul without sacrificing flavor.

Josiah Citrin, the head chef at Santa Monica's Mélisse and a passionate surfer, has the perfect answer. His tuned-up turkey chili with rich white beans and dried figs combines big flavors with healthier ingredients. Though devised for fine diners, it's a hit with everyday eaters. To wit, the recipe recently won the chili competition at Citrin's block-party in Venice Beach. The chef explains that the key to making this dish right is to be aggressive.

"Don't be afraid to experiment with garnishes," he says. "Currants in this recipe add a nice sweetness, almonds add a little crunch, and Greek yogurt, a little creaminess."

Citrin adds that chopped olives make the dish more substantial, perfect for the Venice Beach bums who refuse to stay out of the water and northerners who can't stand to stay indoors.

Turkey Chili with White Beans and Dried Figs

Ingredients (Serves Eight):

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Sweet onion (peeled and diced)
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano (chopped)
  • 1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 lbs ground turkey (ground duck works well too)
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup dried figs (diced)
  • 3 cups chicken stock or low sodium canned chicken stock
  • 1 cup cooked white beans (recipe below)

    For the Beans:

  • 1 cup dried cannellini beans (soaked in water overnight at room temperature)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cups water
  • ½ each carrot (peeled and cut in 1/3-inch pieces)
  • 1 each celery stalk (cut in half)
  • ½ leek (white part only) ¼ sweet onion (peeled)
  • 2 tbsp sea salt

Preparing the Turkey:

Step One: Heat a large heavy-duty pan over high heat.

Step Two: Add 1 tablespoon oil and the turkey. Cook the turkey until golden brown breaking it up into small pieces with a metal spatula. Season the turkey lightly with sea salt.

Step Three: Drain the oil and fat and reserve at room temperature.

Cooking the Chili:

Step One: Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, add onions and sweat them until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.

Step Two: Add oregano, cumin, and stir. Cook for 1 minute.

Step Three: Add the turkey, bay leaves, chili powder, paprika, and stir well.

Step Four: Add the tomatoes and their juices to the stock, and mix well.

Step Five: Bring to a boil reduce heat to a simmer for 45 minutes, stirring often.

Step Six: Add the cooked beans and figs to chili, simmer for 10 minutes to blend flavors.

Step Seven: Discard bay leaf and season to taste. Serve in a crockpot with garnishes.

Note: Chile can be prepared a day in advance. Reheat over medium low heat.

Cooking the Beans:

Step One: Soak the dried beans overnight. Remove any bean skins that are floating in the water.

Step Two: Strain the beans and put them in a pot and cover them with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and remove any bean skins that are in the pot.

Step Three: Strain the beans and rinse with cold water.

Step Four: Put the beans, water, carrot, leek, onion, celery in a pot and bring to a boil.

Step Five: Reduce the heat to a low simmer for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, season with sea salt and simmer until the beans are cooked through but still hold their form, about 15 more minutes.

Step Six (only if preparing in advance): Store beans in their cooking liquid.