White Turkey Chili with Garbanzo Beans and Barley

I've been making this white chili for over 15 years. It differs from most white chili because it doesn’t try to taste like a red chili. With just a few simple aromatic and herb flavorings, it produces lots of taste, and has many different textures.

The original recipe came from a Gourmet Magazine "You Asked for It" column in the early 90’s. I transferred it onto a little scrap of paper so I could line up five or six recipes at to cook for a party. Over the years it got crumpled, stained and waterlogged. Even with Epicurious, I can't find this recipe online, so I'm grateful that the little scrap still survives. Like any good chili, it is both very filling and improves with age. The dish is slightly improved on day two, and we often make a batch and a half, or double batch to ensure plenty of leftovers. It also freezes relatively well, but needs an extra shot of pepper and herbs if frozen.

White Chili with Barley and Garbanzo Beans
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup or more)
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds boneless turkey breast, chopped into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 pound ground turkey
1 jalapeno, seeds removed, finely chopped (or more to taste)
1 cup barley
2 cans garbanzo beans, 16 ounces each, drained and rinsed
6 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 tablespoon dried marjoram, or 3 tablespoons fresh
1 teaspoon dried savory
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Serve with green onions, shredded Monterrey Jack cheese and fresh rustic bread
  1. In a large dutch oven or stock pot, soften onion and garlic over medium heat, approximately 5 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle cumin over vegetables and add turkey pieces. Saute turkey over medium high heat for 4-5 minutes until it loses pink color.
  3. Add the ground turkey and saute about 4-5 minutes, until all meats are cooked through. If necessary, drain excess fat, leaving 2-3 tablespoons in pot.
  4. Add jalapeno, barley, beans, stock and herbs. Bring to a boil and simmer 45 minutes.
  5. Combine starch and water in a small bowl. Add to pot and simmer 5 minutes to thicken. Adjust S&P.
Serve piping hot in bowls, topped with scallions and cheese and a chunk of fresh bread.

What Makes This Recipe Work?
  • It's not really chili. Maybe it's in the chili family, but is a standalone, unique entry into the category.
  • It's not spicy or sharp tasting. Though there is jalapeno (quantity to your taste, of course), and a little bit of cumin, again, it departs from traditional chili flavorings.
  • The tiny amount of herbs and the important contribution from a good, preferably homemade, stock is what imparts a unique flavor.
  • The interesting combination of barley and garbanzo beans. There are not a lot of barley based dishes out there, especially ones that are not an ethnic staple of some sort.

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