Cooking Like A Mexican

Turkey Tinga


Did you know the turkey you eat on thanksgiving is Mexican? Yup, it was a native species of this country back when Spaniards hadn’t come to loot. The Nahuatl name was “huexolotl,” which meant old monster, or great monster, or wrinkly old man … or maybe all three!

Obviously because of the animal’s great looks, size and lush ornamental feathers, from which the small, red and nakey head pops up, with the “booger” -that’s what we call it in Mexico- hanging next to the beak. The Aztecs would relate this bird to the God of the Sun and Life.

Guajolote is what we call it nowadays, and although it has lost its popularity next to beef and pork, it is still used in various Mexican ceremonies and dishes. Way before we even thought about baking it whole it was cooked in the Yucatan peninsula with “black stuffing” a mix of charred chiles, or with mole around Oaxaca during the festivities for the day of the dead, to be offered for those who came from the spirit world to visit their families.

Spanish chroniclers made note of Guajolotes when the conquer started, having plenty of information about this new species that was not really a chicken as they knew but ate anyway. Back in this time, as I have mentioned before, the only domestic animals for human consumption were Guajolotes and Xoloescuincles, the bald dogs. One of those chronicles tells that back in 1519 when Cortez made it to Cozumel (around Cancun) the following:

“…Cortés sent us to another village, where the naturals also ran away and couldn’t take their hacienda. They left behind chickens and other things where Pedro de Alvarado ordered to take up to 40 of them. Cortés reprehended Pedro severely, telling him to not take over those lands and had the naturals brought back to their haciendas, offering gold and beads and jingle bells for the chickens we had eaten…”

In another text, 5 years later:

“…In the houses, we found double-chinned roosters, cooked chickens in the peppers the natives eat, and a corn bread that they call tamales, which made us happy for all the food and admire all the new things we could see…”

In Yucatan, wild and domestic turkeys are abundant, that is why it is called “the land of deer and turkeys,” they were bred greatly because they needed very little water. Most moles were originally made with Guajolote as the protein, and most of them have the “chile” word in them, that is where the Spaniards first tasted turkey.

Mayans also thought very highly of turkeys, incorporating them in rituals and offerings to the Gods. Back in 1980, turkey bones were found in a special pyramid context, people often think of turkeys as something to eat, but they were probably making some sort of special offerings of them, which would go along with the fact that they brought them in from a long distance.

Around 17th-century, when the Pilgrims landed nearby Plymouth, they found the woods were already full of wild turkeys, distant cousins of the birds domesticated in Mesoamerica.

Pilgrim writings refer to turkeys as being ‘fat and sweet,’ the birds were also very easy to hunt.

Turkey is one of the best proteins you can eat, too! It is low cal as compared to beef, pork and chicken, it has over 20 percent of protein, high contents of collagen, and is full of “good fats” which help reduce heart problems.

Turkey also has high levels of iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and amino acids. Additionally, there is plenty of B complex vitamins in turkey, and B12 which prevents anemia, dementia, etcetera.

The recipe I bring to you today is a Mexican classic, which can be made with chicken or turkey, but this time we will use those Thanksgiving leftovers! Tinga is a popular dish made when we gather around a potluck because it’s cheap, easy, feeds a large crowd and most importantly, delicious! It is unclear as to where Tinga originated, but it is one of those recipes people across the country make for pretty much any occasion. When Mexican families gather to eat, sometimes self-service is the way to go: the women in the family each make a dish, and tacos and tostadas are at the table for everyone to assemble freely.


2 cups of shredded turkey meat, cooked.

¼ large onion, sliced thinly.

2 cooked tomatoes, no skin.

2 chipotle peppers (or one, depends on your tolerance to spice)

2 tablespoons of olive oil or any oil you like

Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve:

Tostadas, the necessary.

Sour cream

Sliced lettuce

Avocado to taste


•    In a blender, place tomatoes and chipotles, and blend until smooth. You can add more chipotles if you want more heat.

•    Heat the oil in a pan, and add the onions. Cook until the onions are a little see-through and soft, on middle heat for about four minutes.

•    Add turkey, fry for two minutes and add the sauce after that.

•    Put a lid on the pan, and let it simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.

•    Season with salt and pepper.

•    To serve, place in a large dish and the tostadas, lettuce, avocado, sour cream and limes.

•    Everyone gets to assemble their tostada to their liking!

Bonus: To make fat free tostadas instead of buying them at the store, broil them in the oven for two or three minutes per side, flipping often, to make sure they don’t burn. You can also buy oil-free tostadas, dehydrated at the supermarket.