Warm up with this effortless 3-ingredient chili using cooked turkey, a can of beans, and a jar of salsa. It’s so simple and requires no chopping–especially helpful if you’ve been cooking up a storm for the holidays!
Many of us make sandwiches with our leftover turkey. But let’s be honest, that can get boring especially if you already eat sandwiches on the regular. Enter this chili recipe.
This basic 3-ingredient chili recipe is not only a great way to use up leftover turkey or meat, but it’s also incredibly customizable, too. Add chili powder if you want more heat, optional toppings if you’d like, or try different beans.
You’ll appreciate how fuss-free and versatile this recipe is. After you make it once, you won’t have to look at the recipe again. It’s that easy!
Why This Works
- Requires only 3 main ingredients
- A basic, easy to memorize recipe that you can easily experiment with
- No chopping required
- No special equipment needed
- Filling and nutritious
- Great way to use up leftover turkey or other cooked meat or chicken
- Spiciness can be adjusted with the kind of beans and salsa you’re using or add chili powder for more heat
- Add another layer of flavor with optional toppings
- Can be eaten with a variety of carbs
Ingredients and Nutrition
First raised by Native Americans in Central America and Mexico, the turkey is a large bird that’s nutritious and consumed worldwide.
For many Americans, turkey is an iconic symbol of Thanksgiving and is enjoyed alongside various side dishes featuring seasonal flavors.
Two thick slices of turkey contain 24 grams of protein. For reference, most adults need about 0.8-1.0 grams of protein or more, depending on activity level and medical conditions. Older adults, in particular, need more protein to maintain muscle mass, bone health, and strength.
In addition, turkey is a great source of vitamins B3 (niacin), B6, and B12, selenium, phosphorus, and zinc.
If you don’t have turkey on hand, use cooked chicken or ground meat. You can also increase the bean or add other beans.
Vitamin B3 supports the digestive system, nervous system, and skin health. It also plays a key role in turning food into energy.
Vitamin B6 is involved in brain development and keeping the immune system and nervous systems healthy.
Vitamin B12 plays an important part in red blood cell production, DNA formation, cell metabolism, and nerve function.
Another nutrient found in high amounts in turkey is selenium. It plays an essential role in DNA synthesis, reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, and protection from infection.
Turkey is also an excellent source of phosphorus, a mineral that’s a vital component of bones, teeth, DNA, and cell membrane structure. Additionally, phosphorus has a major function in metabolism, heart rhythm, muscle contraction, and the transmission of nerve signals.
Lastly, turkey is loaded with zinc, a mineral needed for many bodily reactions and for supporting the immune system.
Canned beans in general are especially filling and have an impressive nutritional profile that includes plant protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
What’s more, canned beans are shelf-stable and easy to mix with a myriad of dishes. They’re cheap and healthy and check off all the boxes in my book!
I’m using kidney beans in this recipe, but you can use any kind of canned beans you want such as the following listed.
- White kidney beans
- Black beans
- Pink beans
- Pinto beans
- Cannellini beans
- Great Northern beans
- Navy beans
- Chili beans. Do not rinse these beans or you’ll wash away all their spicy flavor!
A 3.5-ounce (100 grams) serving of kidney beans contains the following nutrients :
- 9 grams of protein
- 6 grams of fiber. For reference, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories of food consumed .
- Copper – A mineral involved in making energy, blood vessels, connective tissues, and maintaining the immune and nervous systems.
- Folate (AKA folic acid or vitamin B9)- An important nutrient especially during pregnancy.
- Iron – An essential mineral that helps transport oxygen throughout the body.
- Manganese – A trace element involved in metabolism, bone formation, immune response, and reproduction.
- Molybdenum – A trace element that supports processing of proteins and breaking down toxic substances that enter the body.
- Potassium – A vital mineral electrolyte that supports total body functioning, helps regulate body fluid and muscle contraction and supports nerve signaling. Potassium has also been shown to help reduce blood pressure.
- Vitamin K – A nutrient responsible for blood clotting.
Traditionally made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and lime juice, salsa is one of the best ways to boost flavor and nutrition in a meal.
Low calorie and rich in vitamin C, salsa also contains a good amount of lycopene from tomatoes, a type of carotenoid that may reduce risk of cancer and support heart health .
Another benefit of salsa is the anti-inflammatory effects of quercetin–an antioxidant in tomatoes and onions.
Use any kind of salsa you want for this recipe: mild, medium, or hot.
To make this 3-ingredient recipe, first start by shredding the turkey.
Next, drain and rinse the kidney beans or whatever canned beans you are using. If you’re using chili beans, don’t rinse them or you’ll wash out the spicy flavor!
Then add all the ingredients–the shredded turkey, beans, and salsa into the pot.
After you add all the ingredients to the pot, stir to combine and cook on the stove over medium heat, bringing it to a boil. When the chili starts to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
If you’re adding toppings to the chili, get that ready while the chili is cooking. Shred the cheese, chop the green onions or herbs, and prep any other toppings.
Once the chili is cooked, remove it from the heat and serve in bowls along with optional toppings. See FAQ for serving suggestions.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best part thing about chili, in addition to the awesome punch of flavor, is the variety of carbs you can serve this with:
– Grains such as rice and quinoa
– Tortilla chips
– Top a baked potato with a scoop of chili
– Use chili as filling for tacos and quesadillas
Yes, these canned tomatoes will work, too.
Unlike salsa which typically contains onions, there are no onions in Rotel and canned seasoned tomatoes.
You may prefer no onions but if you want some onion flavor in your chili, just add some chopped onions into the mix. Sauté the onions first until they’re almost tender in the pot you’re using to cook the chili. Look out for pre-chopped onions at your local grocery store. Additionally, you can also add onion powder if you don’t have any onions on hand.
If you’re using plain canned chopped tomatoes, try experimenting with the following flavors. Add these flavors to the pot along with the tomatoes, cooked turkey or meat, and beans, and follow the rest of the instructions.
– 1-2 tablespoons of chili powder
A teaspoon of these other flavors:
In addition, you can also start by sautéing 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped bell pepper then proceeding with the rest of the recipe.
As always, taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
If you want to tone down or remove the spice completely, replace the salsa with plain canned chopped tomatoes. By doing this you have complete control over if you want to add chili powder and how much. I recommend starting with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon if you want it mild.
If you’re using leftover turkey or meat that’s been sitting in the fridge for 2-3 days, you can store leftover chili in the fridge for another day. You want to eat cooked meats of any kind within 3-4 days of cooking.
You can also freeze chili. Once the chili has cooled down, freeze it in a large freezer-safe zip-lock bag or container. You can also freeze in smaller bags or containers for easy portion control. Store in the freezer for 1 month. When you’re ready to eat your chili, thaw it in the fridge overnight and reheat it in the microwave or a saucepan over the stove.
3 Ingredient Chili with Leftover Turkey and Variations
- 1 medium pot
- 1 spoon for cooking
- 5 cups leftover cooked turkey, shredded (or any leftover meat or chicken)
- 1 16-ounce can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or any beans you prefer, see note if you're using chili beans)
- 1 16-ounce jar of salsa
- Optional for more heat: 1 teaspoon chili powder
- Optional toppings: sour cream or plain yogurt, shredded cheese, green onions, cilantro, jalapeno, or a squeeze of lime.
- Shred leftover cooked turkey (or any leftover meat or chicken) and add it to the pot.
- Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the pot along with the salsa. Add chili powder for more heat if you'd like or you can wait until the chili is all done cooking, taste, and add chili powder then.
- Stir all the ingredients together and cook on medium heating, bringing to a boil.
- Once the chili mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- When the chili is done cooking, serve it in bowls with optional toppings. Enjoy with rice, quinoa, toast, crackers, cornbread, or on baked potato.
Tried this recipe? What variations or adaptations did you make? Share in the comments.