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Improvising chili 

Turkey chili

There's a line from a John Lennon song that sums up a recent attempt to fix dinner: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

The plan: turkey chili. I had envisioned a low-maintenance evening spending about an hour with some canned white beans and seasoned ground turkey. Inspired by an online recipe that called for a helping of pearl barley, I printed out my marching orders and headed for the store.

And then life happened, right in the supermarket aisles, where conditions for making turkey chili were less than ideal. Ingredients were missing, time was short and the world seemed to be conspiring against me. I allowed a moment for exasperated cursing, and then I took a deep inhale. If I could ride a bike with no hands or stand in mountain pose with my eyes closed and still connect to the earth beneath me, I could certainly improvise turkey chili.

And so this kitchen witch flew home on her broom and set her chili poetry into motion. Rules got broken, spices and aromatics were added, and the original recipe was rewritten.

In this frenzied world of techno wizardry and Blackberry living, it's easy to forget that the recipe often is right where it should be -- within ourselves -- revealing itself when we're busy making other plans.

Improv Turkey Chili

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 fresh chili of choice, seeded, deveined and diced

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

4 teaspoons cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 pound ground turkey (shredded turkey or chicken would work here, too)

1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste

6-8 ounces pearl barley

Chicken stock or water, at least 3 cups

Tomato puree, up to 15 ounces (KOD note: I used nearly one box of Pomi brand strained tomatoes)

1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, finely chopped (optional)

1 sprig fresh rosemary, needles removed from branch and finely chopped

1 15-16 ounce can of garbanzo beans, drained

1 15-16 ounce can pinto beans or cannellini or northern beans, drained

Salt to taste

Shredded sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack

Chopped scallions

Chopped cilantro, parsley

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and add onion, garlic and chili. Cook over low-medium heat and occasionally stir, cooking until soft. Add cocoa powder, cinnamon, cumin and chili powder and stir as a paste forms. Add ground turkey and cook at least five minutes, until turkey is no longer pink. Add salt to season meat.

Add enough barley and then liquid to just cover everything. Bring up to a boil, then partially cover pot and allow to simmer, until barley is tender, about 40 minutes. Add tomato puree as needed, for liquid and extra depth of flavor.

Add chipotle chili and rosemary, then beans and allow to heat at least 15 minutes until warmed through. Season with salt to taste. Serve in bowls, with shredded cheese or other garnish; better the next day reheated.

Makes at least 8 servings.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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