For the Birds

Story and photos by Brandon Matzek

Thanksgiving, the Super Bowl of the culinary world, has become my favorite holiday. The thought of serving a six-course dinner to a party of 18-to-22 may seem daunting, but I thrive on the challenge and love providing an elevated experience to my friends and family.

My favorite part? Side dishes.

Each year, I prepare a wide assortment of gourmet sides that overshadow the holiday’s traditional star attraction, the turkey. With sides like caramelized shallot and Brussels sprout gratin, and stuffed Savoy cabbage with rosemary brown butter (both recipes available on, it’s easy to see why I leave just a tiny spot on my plate for the humble bird.

After the final dish has been cleaned, and my guests have left for the evening, I’m left with a few bites of side dishes and one big pile of carved turkey. It’s not that the turkey tastes bad (last year, I rubbed truffle butter under the skin), it’s just that I’ve always enjoyed side dishes more. And I think my guests do as well.

Post “game day” two years ago, I made this turkey chili in an attempt to use up the tender, shredded turkey sitting in my fridge. Seasoned with a flavorful blend of chili powder, red pepper flake, cumin, oregano and black pepper, this dish is bold and comforting. It’s also quite satisfying on a texture level. Stewed tomatoes, shredded turkey and kidney beans provide a hearty heft with each spoonful.

With just a little advanced prep, this recipe can come together fairly easily. The difference between good soup and great soup usually comes down to two ingredients: stock and salt. Use a high quality chicken stock here (homemade is best). Also, be sure to season well with kosher or sea salt (avoid table salt). Keep tasting and seasoning until flavors in the soup are big and bold. Turkey may not be my favorite on Thanksgiving, but thanks to this soup, I now look forward to the day after the big day each year.

Turkey Chili

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium brown onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 green bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp. chili powder*
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
70 oz. canned stewed tomatoes with juices (that’s 2 big cans and 1 smaller can)
2 15-oz. cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp. tomato paste
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 cups shredded, cooked turkey meat
1 tsp. sugar, plus more to taste
Toppings: shredded cheese, chopped red onion, sour cream


Cook aromatics and spices. Warm extra virgin olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat. Once the oil starts shimmering, add the chopped onion and green bell pepper. Cook until soft and slightly caramelized, stirring occasionally (about 5 minutes). Add garlic, chili powder, cumin and red pepper flakes, stirring to combine. Cook the spices for a few minutes, stirring often.

Simmer and season. To the pot, add stewed tomatoes with juices, kidney beans, tomato paste, chicken stock, oregano, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and shredded turkey meat. Bring the mixture to a simmer then reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for an hour. Stir in sugar then season to taste with additional sugar and kosher salt.

Serve. To serve, spoon chili into soup bowls and top with shredded cheese, chopped red onion and sour cream.

*I used a blend of various chili powders: 1 tablespoon of mild chili powder, 1 tablespoon of extremely spicy chili powder and 1 tablespoon of ground ancho chili. The resulting flavor and spice level were perfect (for me). Feel free to make adjustments based on your own taste.