spicy turkey skillet

Recipe time! It’s not often that I cook without a recipe or at least use one as a general guideline. I can do some things with fair confidence, but for me the interest of cooking is in creating or re-creating something that someone else already mastered so that I can enjoy it at home. The advantage of making things like bolognese and cacio e pepe and buttermilk-roasted chicken is that I learn how to cook—I pick up on the principles and I can apply them to whatever I need to whip up when time or money or supplies are coming up short.

I hesitate to even call this a recipe, and I’m certainly not going to type out the quantities. You’ll have to think of it as a no-recipe recipe, like Sam Sifton does every Wednesday in his newsletter for the New York Times Cooking section. I throw this one together every now and then and while the general makeup remains the same, I think I sub in different spices because I keep forgetting what I did last time. So, let it now be committed to writing so that a) I can remember for next time and b) you can begin your own riff.

Warm up some olive oil in a big skillet, and chop up a small onion and a couple fat cloves of garlic. I don’t fuss much here. I loathe chopping and the tears and agony that come along with chopping alliums in particular (I usually use the food processor but there was a dishes-in-the-sink-AND-the-dishwasher issue last night) and anyway they reduce so much it doesn’t really matter. Case in point: in the leftovers today I noticed several bigger chunks of garlic. They went down like a dream, and I was none the wiser. So don’t worry about chopping too small. Who cares. If you’re like me, you’re going to eat it anyway. Bang them in the pan and scatter some salt and pepper on top, letting them brown nicely and soften for a few minutes. Pop a small sweet potato into the microwave to steam, or maybe use up some leftovers from a roasted sweet or whatever. We’re all about flexibility here. I like sweet potato in this, myself. When the onions and garlic have softened, add a pound of good ground turkey (I like to get mine from a local butcher) and break it up with a wooden spoon, adding more salt, and mashing more until it is evenly distributed throughout the pan. As it browns, add as much as you please of cumin (quite a bit of this, I think), dried or fresh oregano, chili powder (I like the Mexican variety), paprika, cayenne, ground black pepper, and maybe some garlic powder if you want to really pump it up (I always do). Stir all that together and let it meld. When the turkey is cooked through, add a can of drained black beans and the sweet potato cut into chunks (if you’re using it). Keep everything going until the turkey has darkened under the influence of the chili powder into a deep brown. Adjust spices to taste, and when you’re pleased, dish it up with some shredded cheese, sour cream or Greek yogurt, scallions, and an avocado. Maybe a warm corn tortilla on the side? Cilantro? Maybe you throw some frozen corn in with the beans? Whatever you like. It’s all about you.

When I make this, I’m usually in a pinch and not feeling inspired, and I never have all the trimmings on hand. But it’s unfailingly comforting and delicious, and dare I say even healthy (low in carbs if you skip the sweet potato, but they’re very good complex carbs; quite low-fat if you buy lean turkey). It simply makes me happy. My partner likes it with rice. I like it all on its own with extra cheese melted onto every savory bite (though it had not yet done so in the photo below).

A pound of turkey plus the can of beans and a single sweet potato gets me about three meals because I’m a big boy. I think with rice or other add-ins it would stretch to four, but no one will know if you eat a good half of it yourself, standing over the stove with just the oven range light on and a glass of something for company. That’s a good evening.

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