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Did you know that turkey was part of the Aztec diet and is native to America? The Aztec word for turkey, huexoloti, has evolved to become “guajolote” in Mexico today, usually referring to a wild turkey (“pavo” is the more common, farm-raised turkey, bred for eating). It is still usual to serve a fresh-killed guajolote for a special occasion.

I was introduced to this tradition when I first visited Tenango de Valle, Mexico, more than ten years ago. My visit coincided with the 80th birthday of my host and the family, although poor, spared no expense in preparing a feast for both their visitor from San Pancho (affectionate Mexican term for “San Francisco”) and the octogenarian. Corn was taken to the molino or mill so as to prepare masa for the tortillas, made, or course, by hand. Mole and wild turkey, frijole de olla (beans stewed for 24 hours or more in a big clay pot, which imparts a subtle but perceptible flavor to the beans) and bottles of tequila populated the table. It was my first time sharing a meal in this kind of intimate setting in Mexico, and it made an impression that was to change the course of my life, although I had no idea of this at the time. I marveled not only at the busyness of the preparations, which began days before and were shared by the various <em>comadres,</em> women who made up the extended family of the host; but also as every child old enough to toddle shook both of our hands as they came in to eat, taking turns at a table that could, at best accommodate 12 but from which well over 40 people would be served that night. This was the moment when the seeds were planted, not only for making Tenango de Valle my second home (I have since built Casa de La Tia, scheduled to open September 2016, a casa de huespedes or guest house, similar to what we would call here a bed and breakfast), but also my immersion in Mexican cuisine, both as a chef and writer, and eventually my book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes.

The following, along with the mole recipe (below) is adapted from that book, co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl.
The Spanish Jesuits were the first ones to bring turkey to Europe, and they referred to it as gallina de las Indias (hen from the Indians). As appreciation of turkey grew among European royalty and nobles, it became as a symbol of good taste, and the custom of serving turkey for Christmas gained popularity as it was considered a feast suitable for kings and even popes. The first recipes for turkey appeared in a cookbook published in 1570, written by Bartolomeo Scappi, private chef to Pope Pius V.

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Why not celebrate the rich culinary history of the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table by surrounding it with other dishes in a similar vein. Here is a menu with an interesting “twist”, you could almost call it “Thanksgiving a la Mexicana”. I prefer serving the mole on the side, so the uninitiated can ease their was into the Mexican specialty dish. And although in Mexico, turkey is often served with Mole Poblano, the best known of the moles, at least in this country; I have paired it with the seasonal flavor of pumpkin.

The word mole comes from the Nahuatl molli, which means concoction. This thick sauce is typically made from various chiles with any number of other ingredients, depending upon type (red, green, yellow, black, de Oaxaca, Poblano, etc.) and the particular family recipe. These can include almonds or other nuts, bread, tortillas ground up into something resembling breadcrumbs, raisins, plantains, chocolate, cloves, cinnamon, pepper (sweet and/or black), cumin ,and other ingredients. There are over 300 moles prepared in the various towns of Puebla alone, each with its special variation. It is considered the quintessential fiesta dish and typically served at weddings, quinzeañeras, baptisms and other important rites in central and southern Mexico. Recipes are closely held family secrets and passed down through the generations. It not unusual for the  (grandmothers) to hide their mole recipes from the younger women, especially their daughters-in-law.

Turkey with Adriana’s Pumpkin Mole
with fruit or vegetable stuffing (see recipes, below)
Whipped Chiptole Lime Yams
Handmade Corn Tortillas
Vegetable of your choice
Pumpkin Pie with Agave Tequila Ice Cream

Recipe for Pumpkin Mole / Mole de Calabaza
(serves 25, you can freeze unused mole for future use)
8 puya chiles
4 mulato chiles
1 cup boiling water
¼ lb toasted pumpkin seeds, hulled
7 prunes, pitted
2 large tomatoes
1 bar of Mexican chocolate
1 bolillo or ¼ French baguette, stale
2 tortillas, stale
3 cups cooked pumpkin or pumpkin puree
½ tbsp cinnamon, ground
1/8 tbsp cloves, ground
½ piloncillo
1½ cup chicken stock
1 tbsp salt
½ onion
3 garlic cloves
Hydrate chiles in boiling water for ½ hour. In a blender, mix all ingredients except onion and garlic. Add 3 tbsp of oil to a large sauce pan with chopped onion and garlic. Cook for 4 minutes, or until onion browns a little. Then add mixture from blender and cook over medium-low heat for 1 hour covered, but stirring constantly to avoid burning or sticking. Place in the oven for another 1½ hours at 350°. Add ½ cup of hot chicken stock every half hour during the entire cooking process, stirring as you do so. Adjust salt to taste and serve over turkey.

Fruit Stuffing
2 apples, cut peeled and sliced
2 apricots, cut and sliced
2 pears, cut peeled and sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 rosemary sprig
1 cup bread croutons
¼ lb butter, cold and cut in small pieces

Vegetable Stuffing
3 large carrots, peeled and roughly cut
2 cups butternut squash,
1 parsnip, peeled and julienned
1 rosemary sprig
3 garlic cloves
½ onion
¼ lb butter, cold and cut in small pieces
1 cup bread croutons
Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients well. Note- you SHOULD take care if you decide to here stuff a raw bird, cook per instructions here. If you decide to prepare your stuffing as a separate dish and not put it into the cavity of the turkey, you will want to have some hot chicken broth on hand to add to the stuffing as you are preparing it, as the juices of the turkey are not mixing with the stuffing as it cooks (which they will do if you have placed stuffing inside your turkey).

NOTE: all recipes and book contents are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission from the authors.

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