Okay, Who Burned the Turkey?

Chaos. Every year my mother’s family in New Jersey carefully plans out a Thanksgiving Day menu and every year, without fail, everything falls apart. Today, I came in to find my 21-year old cousin in his pajamas, frying chicken and cursing up a storm. Beside him lay a pan of meatloaf, his entry in the informal cook-off between him and my little brother. (They both always win.) Moments later the smoke alarm rings out, someone’s casserole is burning. A burning smell fills the air. The sound sets the eight cousins under the age of 10 into a tizzy, they swarm around the kitchen like vultures. One pokes a finger into the gravy, another prods a pie. But they are easily lured away by the promise of another opportunity with the new puppy. Two hours later – and half a dozen near-mishaps later – the food is ready to serve 30+ hungry people. Turkey. Biryani. Mashed potatoes. Halwa poori cholay. Green bean casserole. Your typical desi Thanksgiving. Correction. Our typical desi Thanksgiving.Ten years ago, my immediate family didn’t have Thanksgivings like this. Ten years ago, it was just me, my siblings and my mother – alone in a rickety house in North Philadelphia. The menu then was all-American, gleaned from recipes given to us by members of the Mennonite church we attended. Back then, my siblings and I would plead with my mother to “cook American.” If my mother worked on Thanksgiving – as she usually did – the church would stop by with a box of food. Some cookies, cans of peas and corn and a turkey that we gratefully accepted.

No more. Now there’s a new menu, artfully seasoned by the loving hands of my aunts and uncles and eaten alongside cousins whose English still has smatterings of Urdu. Little wonder that Thanksgiving has replaced Christmas and New Year’s Eve as my favorite holiday. This year, we were all especially grateful. One aunt lost her job when the budget in Pennsylvania cut funding from the daycare she worked at. An uncle had to move to Texas, when his company moved operations to Mexico. It was a tough year – for everyone. But it was also a good year, one of new beginnings. The first-grader started school and was learning to read. The three-year old had begun speaking in full sentences. The 17-year old liked her new college. We were together. There was food on the table. Little things – but something to celebrate. And why not be thankful for the little things in life? So when my grandfather and uncles took out the tabla and the harmonium after the meal and began loudly singing hymns in Punjabi – I didn’t shy away like I usually do. I sang along.

Anyway, that’s my crrrazy family in a nutshell for you, mutineers. Hope your Thanksgiving was as chaotic as mine. Anything your family did for Thanksgiving that drives you up the wall? Humbles you? Makes you thankful? And any creative ideas on what to do with all that leftover turkey (or tofurkey)? An article in last week’s New York Times called “The Turkey That Went to India” had some suggestions for all you turkey-eatin’ folks out there (h/t to Ennis). It suggested concocting a turkey curry.

Sandwiches may be delightful, but those happen Thursday night. By Friday, you may have had enough of traditional American food and may be craving something on the opposite end of the spectrum, something with a bit of spice. Something, perhaps, with curry powder and coconut milk: a turkey curry.

Hmm, don’t ever recall my mother making that – but there’s no time like the present. The article goes on to differentiate between ‘curry’ and ‘curry power,’ “A curry can be made with curry powder, a generic term for a blend of what we think of as Indian spices.” Watch the accompanying video for the recipe. (I kinda muffled a groan at the end when he says “you could almost say exotic” of the dish.) And if you have any turkey curry recipes that you think can top that (and I’m fully confident you do), feel free to share.

13 thoughts on “Okay, Who Burned the Turkey?

  1. One year my mom put barbeque sauce all over the turkey. I tell that story every year a few times. It was good.

  2. We always make a turkey curry from our leftovers every Thanksgiving. Eaten with my mother’s amazing biryani (another Thanksgiving fixture at the P household), it’s the best way to carbo/protein-load for Black Friday festivities.

    Damn. I miss Thanksgiving. It’s impossible to find a turkey in India 🙁

  3. As I cut up up the second half of the turkey after our meal was done to be bagged for leftovers, I asked my Khala if she could recite any Nuzrul Islam poetry – I just “discovered” him (embarrassing, I know) – and she pulled out an old boom box, and casette tape of his songs, played them, and sang along. The whole family just kinda listened to her, as they played cards or helped clean the table. That was our desi spin to the meal this year. 🙂

  4. We have a similar Thanksgiving to yours, especially while my grandpa was alive. There was always bhagare baingan on the table, which is actually excellent as a chutney to turkey! Oh we also had chicken instead of turkey cause turkey is so. damn. dry.

    For the last few years, I’ve been doing Thanksgiving with my in-laws, and it is mostly American (though they are also Indian). My parents came down the past two years…and brought bhagare baingain.

  5. Did you know that the Turkish word for ‘turkey‘ (the bird) is ‘hindi‘? At least that’s what it said on the label for a turkey-dish on the dinner buffet at a hotel in Turkey!

  6. We did Indian Thanksgiving for lunch – turkey curry, butter chicken, begun bhaja, sweet potato casserole (ok, that one is American), and daal – all with rice and parathas. Kalakand for dessert. Then did American Thanksgiving for dinner – surprisingly bland after lunchtime. The cranberry sauce helped, though 🙂

    I basically used the same recipe for turkey that I do chicken: took turkey breast cutlets and cut them into small pieces. Marinade it overnight in onion, tomato, ginger, and garlic paste, with turmeric, cumin, coriander, red chili powder, and salt, and lots of lime juice. When it’s ready for cooking, heat up oil and fry cumin and kalo jeera in a pan. Add the turkey and fry it in the oil for about 7-10 minutes. Add water to cover the turkey, bring to a boil, then put the lid on and simmer for half an hour or so.

  7. Our Zen center potluck went a little desi this year, with a main dish of rice, malikiye dal, and hari chatni, and Gujarati-style green beans on the side. Also starring: tofu loaf, homemade spring rolls, bean salad with roasted sweet red bell pepper, potatoes in a Japanese curry sauce, and green salad.

    I didn’t think that people would like the hari chatni (green chutney) but it went faster than anything else. I was told that it went well with spring rolls 🙂

  8. Halwa poori cholay. Halwa poori cholay. Halwa poori cholay. Halwa poori cholay. Halwa poori cholay. Halwa poori cholay. Halwa poori cholay. Halwa poori cholay. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

  9. Strangely, my mom makes turkey and the trimmings (White-people style) better than White people. I think Indian moms are just better cooks!

  10. Gosh… I feel so Plebian… We dont have extended family in the US so a bunch of families get together and we have a themed dinner… this year was “Indian-Mexican Thanksgiving Potluck.” We had chicken mole, tostadas, and… paella (I know not exactly Mexican but still yummy)…

    and… the requisite homemade mango ice cream!