Native Cooking

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Turkeys are great birds. They were raised and respected in Mesoamerica by the Mayan and Aztec cultures. Every part of turkey is useful: the meat, feathers and bones. At one time, it was considered as a candidate for the national bird – he was even called “Earth Eagle” – but the more predatory eagle won out. The wild turkey’s diet of acorns and nuts is healthy and nourishing.

While wild turkey is the most desirable and a personal favorite of mine, one can’t just run out and snag one; so we opt to purchase. When on sale, it’s easy to buy one too big, or buy two because of the low prices. (I admit I’ve done this more than once.) Then, I freeze one for midwinter use. On one occasion I purchased one large bird, about 20 pounds, and later realized it would not be enough for my guests; so I bought a large breast and cooked it alongside the whole turkey. Turned out to be a little overkill, but I learned that most people prefer the white meat. I was left with a lot of dark meat and “other” parts.

If the poor thing is not expected to make an appearance at the table, one could get by with two good-sized breasts. I do not stuff the turkey anymore due to too much bad press about health issues. It is easy to make it and bake it on the side, anyway. If you marinate the bird, or put a couple of oranges or apples inside, that will give it more than enough flavors to compensate for no stuffing.

In recent years, ground turkey has become very popular, especially for those who are trying not to eat so much red meat. I use a combination of ground turkey and pork sometimes to make delicious meatballs. Ground turkey can be used in almost every recipe calling for ground beef. It does mix well with ground buffalo, and this is a good marriage: even better than mixing with pork.

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<b>Wild Rice and Ground Turkey</b>

1 pound ground turkey

2 cups cooked wild rice

1 large sweet onion, chopped

2 strips bacon

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dried sage

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 dash mace

1 egg

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cook the bacon; remove to drain but leave a couple of tablespoons of bacon fat to saute the onion. When onion is nicely browned, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Combine all the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add the onion and crumble the bacon into the bowl, and mix some more. Put all into a baking dish or loaf pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes.

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If you have a dehydrator, you may already have it out for processing apples and pumpkins. Consider this a good time to make some turkey or dried pheasant jerky.

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Lurkey Turkey is the one who always hangs around after a big feast; no one knows what to do with him because they’re sick of him by now and want to move on to different flavors.

<b>Lurkey-Turkey Pies</b>

Leftover turkey, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

Mashed potatoes

Stuffing

Gravy

Peas or other vegetable

Using one or more greased baking dishes, layer the turkey in this order: meat on the bottom, then stuffing, then the gravy. Add some vegetables (or omit) for the next layer, then gently spoon the potatoes on top. Sprinkle top with paprika or cheese. Cover with foil and freeze. To reheat, bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.

Check for doneness and adjust cooking time.

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<b>Turkey Chili </b>

2 pounds ground turkey

2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

2 onions, chopped

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon oregano

1 large can (28-oz.) whole or diced tomatoes

1 small can (15-oz.) tomato sauce

2 cans drained kidney beans

2 cans other beans (black, navy, pinto, etc.)

1/4 cup molasses or brown sugar

In a large, heavy (cast-iron) pot, saute the onions and garlic. When done, add the chili powder, salt, cumin, pepper and oregano. Add the rest of ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and let cook for 35 to 40 minutes.

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<b>Notes and Tips</b>

* Right now, just before winter sets in, is a good time to “winterize” your kitchen. Check window seals and clean out cupboards of crumbs and other debris. Make sure the stove has no leaks. Do a little each day so it isn’t such a daunting task. Check herbs and spices for freshness and wipe their containers with ammonia and water to freshen.

<i>I want to thank all of you who have sent in suggestions and ideas to NativeCooking@aol.com. I am always learning things. Please let me know what YOU want to see for recipes in this column.

Dale Carson is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking” (temporarily out of print), “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.”

For ordering information write to Dale Carson, P.O. Box 13, Madison, CT 06443 or e-mail NativeCooking@aol.com.</i>