Turkey Pumpkin Chili

A couple weeks ago I was settling into one of those rare perfect nights. It just so happened to be a night off from the gym – when I didn’t have any other plans either. It just so happened that I wasn’t planning a new meal for that night – no photo shoot, no blogging needed. It just so happened that I made the executive decision to uncork a bottle of primitivo.

Damn, it feels good to be in charge.

Then I realized. This dinner I was planning on making? One of those rare things I actually make over and over again because I love it so much? A recipe that’s been wildly popular among my real life friends and pretty significant in the history of this blog too? It’s been so long since I first blogged about it that the picture really doesn’t do it justice.

And that’s being nice.

And well, I also learned a new trick with my camera the other day, purely by accident, and I wanted to practice a little more with.

Out came the props and lights after all. On came Jeopardy as Ben settled into to wait while I shot.

As I mentioned last week, I take 99% of my shoots in the evening with artificial light. I’ve made investment in some of the better lights on the market for casual photographers, but I still often have this sense that my pictures appear dark and cool. This is remedied in post-processing, of course, but sometimes the results just aren’t very natural looking. They’re ok, but not exactly what I want.

Well one day I managed to accidentally press some buttons and change my exposure compensation to +0.3. I snapped some pictures, and didn’t realize anything was different except that I seemed to have a little more trouble focusing. Whatever, it’s just one of those days, I thought. But when I went to look at the pictures on my computer, later, I was pleasantly surprised.

Well, hello there, white plates!

You see, what this little feature lets you do is to over- or under-compensate exposure depending on your conditions. If you’re working with a dSLR and you’re not comfortable using the total manual settings yet, don’t worry. I’m not either. This is a tool you can put to use in aperture priority mode. At least, I know this because that’s the mode I shoot in.  (Please don’t tell me you’re shooting in auto. Just please.) If you have a point-and-shoot, you might have this feature too. But unless you have a Nikon D3100, I can’t tell you exactly where to find this button. I know it’s been a while, but do I look like your camera manual?

Increasing the exposure compensation allows me to take brighter pictures, which is especially exciting for me when I want to shoot on my white background. When I painted this particular background, I really wanted to love it, as much as I loved the similar ones I saw on other blogs where the pictures are never less then top-notch. But I actually dreaded using it, because I always found it to appear dull and gray in photos. This is why I’ve been using my dark stained background most of the time – it provides much better contrast.

Changing EV to brighten a white background

f/3.5, ISO 200, EV = 0.0, 0.3, 0.7

Varying EV to brighten

f/3.5, ISO 200, EV = 1.0, 1.7. 2.0

It wasn’t until I started playing with exposure compensation, or EV, that I came to love my white background. In the pictures above, I using the same camera settings (f/3.5, ISO 200) but changing the exposure compensation. The only editing I did with these is to crop the; there were no adjustments made for brightness, color or white balance. The top left picture was taken with EV = 0.0. It is much too dark for my liking. You can see that when I increase EV, the picture becomes brighter, finally becoming over-exposed at EV = 2.0. Also, as EV is increased, the camera decreases shutter speed accordingly. At EV = 0.0, the shutter speed was 1/125, and when EV = 2.0 it was 1/25. That might explain why the last photo is the blurriest. I do not shoot with a  tripod, so the inherent noise from hand-holding the camera is more noticeable. I settled on an EV of 1.3 to take the photo you see featured at the top. It’s not perfect, there is still some work to do perhaps with the placement of my lights and bounce board. It’s still a little dark on the left side, and probably too bright on the right, but I’m happier with it than some of my previous shots using this background. I’ll take it.

A couple notes about this recipe: you should totally make it. It’s our favorite chili, and has been for quite some time. Of course, you’ll notice that it involves my favorite ingredient, but honestly, you can’t totally detect it’s flavor. The pumpkin is there to add a velvety texture, a hint of sweetness, and a boatload of nutrition.

Hello, superfood.

It’s excellent with a piece of my gluten-free pumpkin cornbread. (Ironically, that post is showing a lot of nice bright white. I wish I could remember what I did there!)

I’ve updated the ingredients from the original ever so slightly to reflect what’s in my pantry these days, which involves dry beans instead of canned and tomatoes from a box instead of a can (bye-bye, sodium and BPA.) And accordingly, I’ve recalculated the nutritional information. With these minor changes, it’s still a favorite, perhaps more than ever.

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Turkey Pumpkin Chili

Yield: 6 servings

Pumpkin makes this chili extra velvety and nutritious.


1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
1 lb ground turkey
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small can diced green chili peppers
1 3/4 cups cooked black beans, or 1 can reduced sodium, BPA-free can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
26 oz box low sodium diced tomatoes, such as Pomi brand
1 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree, or 2 cups homemade roasted squash puree


Place a large sauce pan over medium-low heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Saute onions, green pepper, and red pepper for about minutes, until they soften and have released moisture. Add garlic and chipotle pepper and cook 1 minute more, stirring.

Increase heat to medium-high and add ground turkey. Stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the meat, cook for about 8 minutes, or until browned. Drain fat and return to heat.

Stir in chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, oregano and salt. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20-30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Nutrition Facts:

Amount Per Serving
Calories 287.0
Total Fat 7.0 g
Saturated Fat 1.9 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.3 g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.2 g
Cholesterol 53.3 mg
Sodium 401.2 mg
Potassium 576.0 mg
Total Carbohydrate 35.4 g
Dietary Fiber 11.9 g
Sugars 3.7 g
Protein 21.9 g

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25 Responses to “Turkey Pumpkin Chili”

  1. 1

    Lauren @ Healthy Food For Living — January 25, 2012 @ 8:07 am Reply

    I LOVE adding pumpkin to chili… too bad my husband detests any and all kinds of squash. More for me, I guess ;).

    I actually prefer photos I’ve taken with my white board background; I think I need to apply another coat of stain to the “natural” side. I really like the color stain you chose – mine is a bit too light and washed out.

    The photos of the chili are gorgeous!

  2. 2

    Jen @ BeantownBaker.com — January 25, 2012 @ 8:17 am Reply

    I make a similar turkey chili and love it too! Love the photography tips about exposure compensation – thanks!

  3. 3

    Lizzy — January 25, 2012 @ 8:31 am Reply

    Love the addition of pumpkin…I made a pumpkin chili last year in mini sugar pumpkin s and I’ve been meaning to make it again. I’m making chili this weekend for a night time baby shower so I’ll try out your recipe. Thanks for the camera tutorial! I love hearing what other people do to set up their pictures! Ps we watch jeopardy every night too!

  4. 4

    Isabelle @ Crumb — January 25, 2012 @ 10:10 am Reply

    I love me a big bowl of chunky chili in the wintertime… it makes everything better. The mix of turkey, corn, black beans and pumpkin sounds like a delicious change from the usual. Must give this a try next time I’ve got a chili craving!

  5. 5

    Nicole, RD — January 25, 2012 @ 11:08 am Reply

    I am so impressed with the photos – wow! I need a lesson…bad 🙁 I don’t think I even know how to mess with the exposure composition. I know you told me, but I don’t think I know what the heck I’m doing!
    The chili looks phenomenal !

  6. 6

    betsy — January 25, 2012 @ 12:11 pm Reply

    Great photos, I would love to know what lights you use. I am having an awful time taking pics at night that I just dont bother anymore!
    Saving this recipe for the SB, possibly!

  7. 7

    Alexis — January 25, 2012 @ 2:27 pm Reply

    Do you think that it would be possible to make this in a slow cooker?

    • 7.1

      Cara — January 25, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

      Absolutely! I’ve done that too. Just brown the meat on the stove top and then combine with the rest of the ingredients in the slow cooker. Cook for 6-8 hours on low.

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  9. 8

    Joanne — January 25, 2012 @ 8:29 pm Reply

    I discovered my exposure adjuster by accident also! On canon’s it’s a little scrolling thing on the top right of the camera. It’s the best thing ever for when I want to keep the ISO constant but want a brighter photo.

  10. 9

    Kate — January 26, 2012 @ 3:53 am Reply

    I’ve been doing a lot of chili lately and this came pretty close to being made this week – but I used my pumpkin with penne instead.

  11. 10

    Shannon — January 26, 2012 @ 12:50 pm Reply

    this is definitely one i need to try, after i restock my pumpkin 🙂

  12. 11

    grace — January 28, 2012 @ 12:14 pm Reply

    i love the black beans and corn in this, cara–they should always be present in chili! i’m not done using pumpkin yet, and this is a fine way to keep it around. 🙂

  13. 12

    Xean — February 1, 2012 @ 5:03 am Reply

    hmm.. a new twist of pumpkins dish! a great combo.. I love it1

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  15. 13

    Winnie — February 1, 2012 @ 10:59 am Reply

    Terrific post photography-wise, and you already know I dig the chili 🙂

  16. 14

    Cindy N. — February 6, 2012 @ 11:54 am Reply

    Just gotta let you know you have added a new dimension to my experimentation with food. Made the Turkey Chili. It was awesome. The flavors blended like fish to water and even had some leftovers for the Super Bowl. I never knew Pumpkin can be so diverse. Keep it up. Also used some Trader Joe’s low fat sour cream to top it off.

    • 14.1

      Cara — February 6, 2012 @ 11:56 am

      Thanks Cindy, I’m so happy you liked it!

  17. 15

    Kate — February 8, 2012 @ 10:58 am Reply

    Cara, these photos look amazing! This chili is a favorite of ours, too. I’ve been switching to dried beans, too, for lower sodium and a better texture but *note to self* cook them first. haha.

  18. 16

    Cynthia — May 13, 2012 @ 11:13 am Reply

    I have probably posted about you chili a gazillion times, but as I sat down today to pull the recipe AGAIN (as I probably make a big batch in my crockpot every month or more and eat it for lunch or dinner all week) I thought I should just let you know how much this meal keeps me on track during busy weeks, can pull me out of a food rut, make me feel proud of all the super foods I am putting into my body and scream omg this is delicious, every time I eat it. So thank you for being a food goodess in my world and for helping me inch closer and closer to my goal weight!

    • 16.1

      Cara — May 14, 2012 @ 8:45 am

      aww, thanks for the love and support – it is much appreciated!

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  21. 17

    Plasticahp — March 27, 2019 @ 8:35 pm Reply

    ???????,??????????! .

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