Heat up your pot! Make Padma Lakshmi's chili 3 ways and get her top chili cheats

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You don't have to be a Top Chef to heat things up in your kitchen. Here, host Padma Lakshmi shares three hearty chili recipes, plus three cheats that make any chili recipe a breeze. 

Padma's chili cheats: 

Make-ahead magic: Canned beans are convenient, but if you'd like to use dried, simply boil the beans the night before and store them in water in the fridge until you're ready to cook.

Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi stopped by to make three delicious chili recipes.Lance Booth / Today

Let a Crock-Pot do the work: Make the whole recipe on the stovetop and then pour your chili into a slow cooker and let it simmer all day. Not only does the house smell great, but the chili has a deeper flavor.

Turn leftovers into a new meal: Make chili nachos — just pour warm chili over chips, then sprinkle cheese on top.

Turkey chili — a great way to warm up this winter.Lance Booth / Today

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Turkey chili

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup packed shredded carrots (about 2.25 oz)
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 serrano or jalapeño chile, finely chopped (including seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound ground turkey breast  
  • 1 14 1/2-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste dissolved in 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 2 tablespoons chipotles in adobo, chopped 
  • 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup non-fat plain yogurt

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. 

Add the cumin seeds, stir for a minute or so. Now add the onions, garlic, chiles and oregano. Cook until the onions are glassy and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Now add carrots and celery and bell peppers.

Increasing the heat to medium high, add the turkey, stirring well and breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go; cook until it's lightly brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato water, chipotles, vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir and cover, cooking for 5 minutes. 

Lower heat to a simmer, then cook, uncovered, maintaining a steady simmer and stirring occasionally until the chili looks moist but no longer soupy, 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

Season to taste with more salt if needed, stir in most of the cilantro, and divide among four big bowls. Top each bowl with a generous dollop of the yogurt (about 1/4 cup) and sprinkle on the remaining cilantro.

Make Padma Lakshmi's white chili. Lance Booth / Today

White chili

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2-3 fresh bay leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup fresh fennel bulb, diced
  • 1/2 cup finely diced carrot
  • 1 pound ground veal or turkey
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 grated Parmesan
  • 2 cups cooked white navy beans or canellini (canned is fine)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives for garnish
  • 1 pound tomatillos
  • 1 cup milk 

Heat oil in a deep skillet. Add fennel seeds and bay leaves. When seeds get a touch dark, add garlic, onion, fennel and carrot. Sauté and stir for 5-7 minutes or until onions are glassy. 

Now crumble ground meat into skillet using your fingers to break up into little bits. Sauté meat and veggies together for 5 minutes more or until meat is almost brown. Now add herbes de Provence, salt and vinegar. Stir. 

Add a 1/2 cup of hot milk and diced tomatillos. Turn down flame to simmer. Cover. 

After about 25-30 minutes, add the chili flakes. Stir in the beans. After beans are heated through, stir in cheese. Garnish with chives.

Lakshmi makes a signature Indian dish on TODAY.Lance Booth / Today

Rajma (vegetarian chili):

Originally from North India, this dish could be called vegetarian chili. You may serve it in a bowl over rice or with warmed tortillas. In North India, flatbreads such as naan or chapati are eaten with curries. In South India, rice is more common as an accompaniment, although we also eat crêpes made of rice flour, called dosai. 

  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 firm, ripe tomatoes cut into 1-inch pieces 
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger root
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 
  • 1 teaspoon Garam Masala 
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 2 cups drained canned kidney beans
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, to taste 
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

In a large saucepan set over moderate heat, warm the oil until hot, add the onions and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. add the garlic, tomatoes, ginger root, cumin seeds, Garam Masala, lemon pepper, and dried red pepper flakes, if desired, and simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the beans and salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes more. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro.