A Turkish Roast-Turkey
by Kate Heyhoe
Kate's Virtual Journey: A Progressive Feast
8th Stop: Istanbul, Turkey
In November, Americans overseas share one thing in common: a longing for Thanksgiving. Or rather, a longing for a true Thanksgiving dinner. Turkeys, cranberries, and pumpkin can be hard to come by in the far corners of the globe, but fortunately, my latest trek brings me to a most unusual—but scrumptious —Thanksgiving feast....
Sonia opens the oven door and the aroma of roasted, stuffed turkey makes me feel just like I'm home at Thanksgiving. But I'm not. A glance out the window at the Bosphorus reminds me that I'm in a land with traditions and heritage far older than the first Thanksgiving.
Ironically, I am being hosted to a turkey dinner in Turkey—a country whose name was given to our favorite Thanksgiving bird. The English so-named them turkeys because of Turkish traders, who picked up the plucky birds in Spain. Spain, as you recall, did quite a number on the Indians of the Americas, and in their conquests, also captured some of our native birds. Wars being wars, the Spanish later didn't trade directly with Britain, so the Turkish traders brought goods from Spain to the English and back to the Near East, thereby introducing our beloved turkey fowl to both England and Turkey.
But the scrawny, 6-pound turkeys in Turkey don't much resemble the overgrown, heavy breasted beasts Americans have come to produce. So, using her connections at the American consulate, Sonia has managed to procure a real American turkey—or at least part of one: a whole turkey breast.
Though Sonia has never been to America, let alone to a Thanksgiving dinner, her American husband, Jeremy, has described it to her. This year, she's making their first Thanksgiving dinner together. Being an accomplished Turkish cook herself, Sonia puts her own cultural stamp on the meal, in large part I suspect because you can't really get cranberries here and she's never tasted our traditional dishes, so she works with what she can get and the foods she knows.
"Jeremy has been great at telling me about the wondrous feast of Thanksgiving, but he's not much help otherwise," she cheerfully laments. "A kitchen is as foreign to him as a spaceship. I found a few recipes in English-language magazines, but in the end, I've made up my own. I hope you don't mind."
How could I mind! Looking at the ingredients spread across her counter (the kitchen does resemble the typical Thanksgiving one, strewn with spices, pots, pans, and vegetable trimmings), I feel confident that whatever we end up eating will be more than just fine. The day before, we took a tour of Istanbul's famous Spice Bazaar, where Sonia picked up cinnamon, cloves, allspice, walnuts, pistachios, dried cherries, pumpkin and pomegranates for tonight's meal. While we may be missing cranberries, many of these common Turkish ingredients are also authentic Thanksgiving elements. I'm intrigued to see what Sonia plans to do with them.
"Normally, being in Istanbul, we'd celebrate a holiday with fish and the ubiquitous eggplant," explains Jeremy, "but the thought of fish on Thanksgiving just seemed...well, just too foreign for me." Istanbul's pristinely fresh fish is certainly a gourmet's delight, but I understand what Jeremy means. You just can't mess too much with tradition.
"Time to eat!" Sonia proclaims and we all sit down at a table so laden with serving platters, bowls, and small dishes that I can barely see the beautiful embroidered tablecloth below. "Well," I comment, "even without tasting the food, I can attest that you've mastered the first rule of the Thanksgiving supper: making more food than any human could possibly eat! Well done!"
The menu is incredible: Roast Turkey Breast; Turkish Pilaf Stuffing; Circassian Walnut Gravy; Spinach, Pine Nut, and Pomegranate Salad; pumpkin glazed with portakal (Turkish orange-blossom honey), and rich, nutty baklava.
I am amazed how much the meal resembles the traditional Thanksgiving feast. Pumpkin may not seem Turkish, but on the contrary, pumpkins are grown and greatly enjoyed in Turkey along with other winter and summer squashes. The pilaf stuffing is certainly as authentic as any American rice dressing—with crunchy nuts, sweet spices, and raisins. The turkey breast is roasted simply, with a minimum of seasoning, so that it compliments the savory stuffing, and Sonia's version of turkey gravy is a delightful adaptation of the famous Turkish dish, Circassian Walnut Sauce.
But the height of the meal is Sonia's innovative "Faux Cranberry Relish." "I don't know these red cranberries, she explains, but Jeremy says they are very tart, like pomegranates. So I mixed chopped dried cherries with our pomegranate molasses, some honey, and this is what I came up with. Is it OK?"
Jeremy and I swoon in agreement, our mouths too stuffed to utter words. Sonia may never have made a Thanksgiving dinner before, but in this one elegant meal, she has managed to put an innovative "Whirling Dervish" spin on tradition, with exciting dishes that I guarantee will grace my own Thanksgiving table for years to come—wherever I may be.
I hope you enjoy these Thanksgiving recipes, and Happy Thanksgiving from all of us...
Turkish Thanksgiving Recipes:
- Turkish Roast-Turkey
- Turkish Pilaf
- Circassian Walnut
- Quick, Rich Turkey
- Spinach, Pine Nut, and
...with Pomegranate Dressing
Holiday Special: Thanksgiving Recipes
Other Turkish recipes: The Sultan's Kitchen Cookbook
Global Destinations: Turkey
Kate's Virtual Journey: A Progressive Feast
11/13/99 Egypt: Eating Like an Egyptian
11/20/99 Turkey: A Turkish-Roast Turkey
11/27/99 Detour: Holiday Gift Ideas
About Kate's Virtual World
Tour: A Progressive Feast
From September 1999 to January 2000, this progressive banquet begins with Appetizers in Asia, continues with multiple courses across India, the Middle East, and North Africa, and around Christmas, crosses over to Europe for Desserts in Deutschland. Recipes, country backgrounds, local attractions, and special travel tips make each stop vivid and exciting, as if you were right there, experiencing the journey yourself. These world tour specialties and authentic recipes will inspire you to create your own unique and festive holiday tables, fit for kings and queens. No passport needed, just a fork, a stove and a hearty appetite!
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created 1999. Modified November 2006.