Bits & Pieces
By Judith Ritschard
There’s an old adage my mamá always said: “Pansa llena, corazón contento,” or full belly, happy heart. It’s a pearl of wisdom that I fully live by, and come to think of it, maybe that’s why I love Thanksgiving so much. It’s like carte blanche to eat all the calories, cook all the food, and let my foodie freak flag fly (say that five times!).
I’m pretty sure I never had a choice in belonging to this gluttonous tribe. Everyone from my parents to my siblings, cousins and beyond just happen to get really excited about good food. In our tribe no one has to look at the calendar to have an excuse for a feast. For us, eating big meals together is exalted the way la familia in Latino culture is exalted. Big meals are like the glue to keeping us connected to friends and family.
Like I was saying, Thanksgiving is an American tradition that I thoroughly enjoy, and one that my family was more than happy to adopt early. My mamá added her own twist with flavors that she was familiar with. She’d use achiote, a thick paste made of garlic and chilies. She’d rub it all over the gargantuan bird before it went in the oven. I recall this rub also had hints of cumin, coriander, oregano, and clove that would tantalize us as it wafted through the house. The bird would come out the same color as tacos al pastor, a bright reddish-orange. It certainly would look out of place in a Norman Rockwell painting, but I’ll tell you what, it was pretty tasty and every year I felt proud that my little Mexican mamá truly delighted in cooking up a turkey for a group of immigrants that looked nothing like those on the Mayflower, but no doubt understood fully why those early settlers had sacrificed so much to make the journey. Furthermore, even though I didn’t realize it then, looking back I think her efforts helped us feel just a little more like we belonged.
Early on, we knew little about what the traditional Thanksgiving menu entailed. Some things were easy enough to figure out because what fool doesn’t know how to mash potatoes? But, when it came to those tart little red cranberries, we were a bit at a loss. We quickly learned that we needed a copious amount of sugar to make them edible. One year my mom added fresh pineapple to her cranberry sauce, an inspiration from the tropics she left behind.
As I grew older I started helping with the Thanksgiving meal, and one year I was determined to make pumpkin pie, something I had tasted at school and just had to share with my family. The pies turned out great and I thought I was some sort of child culinary genius after my dad, who didn’t care much for dessert, went in for seconds. There were some snafus along the way too. Getting the stuffing to not turn out gummy or too dry took us a few years. And the green bean casserole, with all it’s canned ingredients, just turned into a soggy travesty that we nixed for good.
These days I share the pleasures of this holiday with my husband, who for the record is even crazier about, er… I mean committed to the Thanksgiving menu. You may have seen him perusing the meat aisle lately, just waiting for those holiday turkeys to go on sale. Every year I have to remind him to settle down and not overwhelm our deep freezer with too many birds. I’m starting to think he may need some help and check him into Turkeys Anonymous.
Regardless if you come from a family that never had to “figure out” Thanksgiving, or you are newer to this holiday like my family was, I’d like to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. May your bellies be llenos, and your corazones contentos.
Leftover Chipotle Turkey Soup
Here is a Mexican-inspired tortilla soup that I look forward to after the traditional fare.
What makes this soup muy deliciosa is the smokiness that comes from the chipotle en adobo, which is nothing fancy- just a can of smoked jalapeños in a sauce and can be found at every City Market in this valley. You will not need the entire can so save the rest in the fridge for future use in sauces, soups or to brush on quesadillas. A nice touch that will further deepen the flavors is toasted whole cumin ground in a mortar and pestle. Some years we make our own stock using the entire roasted turkey carcass, adding onions and garlic or whatever scraps you have to make a stock more complex. Making your own stock is time consuming, but it does something to this dish that will make any abuela proud. If you do make your own stock, don’t make the mistake I did once and forget to remove bits of rosemary or sage, two herbs that don’t marry well with Mexican flavors.
- 1.5 TBSP oil like avocado or vegetable oil
- 1 yellow or white onion chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- Salt to taste
- 1 14oz. can chopped roasted tomatoes
- 1-3 TBSP of diced chipotle peppers in adobo (found by the jarred salsas)
- 3-4 cups turkey or chicken stock
- 3 cups shredded cooked turkey
- 1 can of kidney or black beans
- 1-2 cups corn kernels
- Chopped cilantro
- Crumbled queso fresco (a fresh crumbly Mexican cheese)
- Fried corn tortilla strips, or broken up tostadas (corn chips get too soggy)
- A squeeze of lime
Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion. Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 3 min. Add garlic and sauté making sure your garlic does not burn or it will turn bitter. Season with salt, dried oregano, and cumin. Add fire-roasted tomatoes and turkey or chicken stock. When simmering, add shredded turkey, bay leaf, beans, corn, minced chipotle peppers or just the adobo sauce if you like it less spicy. Simmer on low for 30 minutes. Don’t forget to serve with toppings.