Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I like the contemporary spirit of Thanksgiving – the notion that we might come together with our families and friends and give thanks to people, gestures, ideas, things that make our lives better, more luminous somehow. Sentimental, I know, but I like the ritual and the everyday magic that accompanies this holiday. It is otherwise too easy to be cynical about Thanksgiving. I also like that more so than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is about a meal. It is about the feast.
We celebrate a historic gesture of hospitality, even though the long-term implications of such hospitality are fraught with contradiction. In the historical lesson that is Thanksgiving, we are taught about multiculturalism and the temporary suspension of boundaries in a way that signifies both a taking away and a giving. And I am reminded that our own personal history of Thanksgiving has its own mosaic.
Once upon a time during the 70s, my mother made turkey curry for Thanksgiving. She claims it was wretched (we believe her) and notably, it never happened again. In our quest to belong to the popular narrative, we scoured the women’s magazines of the 70s and 80s for recipes like sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and casseroles with cans of soup in them. They too were wretched and, thankfully, never happened again either.
These days our Thanksgiving turkey is brined, spiced and augmented by the flavors of new American cooking, in which all kinds of fresh ingredients and influences from many nationalities are possible. After those early failures, we began to have melting pot Thanksgiving, and when it was hosted at my mom’s house, she would astonish overnight guests with the best turkey leftovers in existence. Her version of post-Thanksgiving turkey hash is here by request. With chopped onion, garlic, cumin, and cilantro, her shredded, spicy turkey is a little bit Bengali, a little bit rock-n-roll.
Turkey Hash, also Turkey Jhuri
Unflavored oil, such as canola – about 3-4 tablespoons (or a combination of butter and oil)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 fresh green chili pepper, split in half lengthwise, more or less to taste,
1 medium onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup diced tomato, or ½ cup diced canned tomato, drained
4 cups chopped or shredded cooked turkey
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala, or small equal amounts of ground cinnamon, clove and cardamom, enough to equal ½ teaspoon.
½ tsp. fresh lemon or lime juice
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
A pinch of sugar for balance
Step 1: Prepare the phoron (oil and seed) mixture
Add the oil to a sauté pan with fairly deep sides, heat for a minute, and then add the cumin and fennel seeds. Continue heating the oil until the phoron becomes fragrant (about 2 minutes). Note: You can sauté in a combination of butter and oil if you like.
Step 2: Building a sauce
Add onions, garlic and green chili. Sauté until soft and glossy and then add tomato, cumin and coriander. I add a little salt at this point, seasoning in stages. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the oil, tomato, and spices are beautifully combined.
Step 3: Almost done
Next, add fully cooked, shredded or chopped turkey, cook for a few minutes, add ginger and garam masala and continue to combine flavors. Turn heat to medium/medium-high. Add salt, lime juice and a pinch of sugar if needed. The turkey should have some browned and crispy bits, and be fully coated in all the spices.
The aroma will inspire everyone to give thanks all over again, reminding all that Thanksgiving is better enjoyed when it is a) re-lived and b) a state of being. The dish is done when your guests start demanding to eat it right away. It will go something like this: “Oh, that smells amazing.” “Wow, does that look good.”
Turn off the heat. Add the chopped cilantro and serve. Bask in the praise.
Note: This dish works well with day-after, store-bought rotisserie chicken. It is great served with rice or roti, and with a nod to Indian-Latin fusion cooking, it can be heaped into corn or flour tortillas, accompanied by avocado and fresh chopped tomato.
Dear readers of Bengali descent: We would call this dish turkey jhuri and its texture should be similar to a jhuri, but not as dry.