BY ALEJANDRA BORBOLLA
Mexicans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving really, but now, thanks to globalization we do. I have only celebrated it along with Canadian friends who would kindly have me over to share the experience, and all three times it has been amazing. It’s not very different from a Christmas celebration for me, but it felt nice to see how a culture, which I thought lacked the Mexican warmth, would get together and share with their families. The food was delicious, the love of pumpkin – which I will never understand – was overwhelming and the “mal del puerco” tiredness after such a big meal, was comforting.
I have wondered many times if we as Mexicans have adopted other festivities such as Halloween, why haven’t we ever thought of having something like Thanksgiving? I mean, it’s a nice way to share with your family what you are grateful for, right?
Well, for starters we were never pilgrims who got to land. Mexican ancestors were IN their land when Spaniards came and took over. Reason number two is that we weren’t colonized by the English. Thanksgiving is a puritan New England holiday that made its way into the mainstream United States and Canada culture. You might not know, but turkey and pumpkin are more Mexican than you’d expect.
Meleagris gallopavo, commonly known as turkey, was a delicacy in the territory, which now comprehends the United States and Mexico. It was not available for just anyone. Around the 1500s, Europeans took advantage of the recently-domesticated bird and took it to Europe, where it thrived and became part of the staple diet for the aristocrats and the wealthy.
Since the Europeans first thought they had arrived to meet the Indies when they first stepped foot in America, guajolote was believed to have come from Turkey, hence the name we use nowadays. “Guajolote” comes from the náhuatl word huexólotl and it can be roughly translated to “big monstrous bird”. Way back then, calling something monstrous did not have the negative connotation it has today. It was more closely related to not ordinary but divine.
Turkey is very important in traditional Mexican culture today. In the town of Venustiano Carranza, in the state of Chiapas, a turkey is plucked alive when asking for a woman’s hand in marriage. In Milpa Alta, close to Mexico City, it is believed that Nahuales (Nahuales are supposed to be a kind of powerful sorcerer (brujo) who drinks human blood) kills livestock, steals or destroys property, and spreads disease) shape-shift into turkeys.
As for pumpkins, they can be found in most parts of the world, but their true home is in Mexico. Calabaza is a pre-Hispanic crop that dates back more than 7,500 years. The original pumpkins were small, hard and bitter, but their durable exterior was ideal for surviving harsh weather and less generous harvests, which made them an integral part of the ancient Mexican diet. While most parts of the world only use the pulp of the pumpkin, Mexicans have cooked with the entire calabaza for thousands of years. The pepitas were cherished by the Aztecs, and the entire fruit was enjoyed by the Mayans. Pumpkin flesh was cooked into sauces, the hulled seeds were toasted and ground up and the rinds were carved into drinking vessels.
After your Thanksgiving dinner, if it is at all like the ones I have witnessed, you will probably end up with lots of turkey leftovers. Here’s a smart and delicious way to use them up!
Enchiladas de pavo
4 guajillo chiles
4 ancho chiles
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
a pinch of dried Mexican oregano
salt and pepper to taste
12 corn tortillas
2 cups of shredded leftover turkey meat
1 1/2 cups of crumbled queso fresco (can be substituted with panela, feta, or any crumbly cheese)
1/2 cup of chopped white onion
1 cup of vegetable oil for frying
For the topping:
2 cups of precooked and cubed potatoes
2 cups of precooked and cubed carrots
2 cups of thinly sliced onion
1 cup of thinly sliced radishes
To start with the salsa, toast the chiles in a comal or a pan with no oil or grease. You want them to toast nicely without burning to enhance the flavor.
Once the chiles are toasted, soak them in a small pot with hot water, and simmer for about 10 minutes until soft. You want to use only the skin, so remove all seeds and stalks when they’re cool enough to handle.
Strain the chiles (reserve the liquid) and place in the blender with the garlic and a little less than half a cup of the liquid from the chiles and puree until smooth. You might need more water. You want your salsa as smooth as possible. Season with salt, pepper and oregano.
To make the potato and carrot topping, fry them until crispy with a little bit of oil and set on the side. Season with salt and pepper.
Turn your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 Celsius to keep your enchiladas warm after assembling.
In a big skillet, add 2 tablespoons of oil, or just enough to freely coat the bottom and add more when necessary. This will avoid breaking them.
FROM HERE, THINGS WILL GET MESSY. I’M SORRY, BUT IT’S WORTH IT.
Soak the tortillas quickly in the salsa and then fry on both sides for only a couple of seconds. This will spray lots of hot oil everywhere but there’s nothing to be afraid of. You can use tongs.
Place the tortillas in the oven as you go to keep them warm until you finish frying so they won’t break when assembling.
Stuff each tortilla with leftover turkey, roll and place on the plate where they will be served.
Layer the enchiladas, lettuce, potato and carrots and springy cheese on top, and enjoy!
You can always find me at [email protected] for questions, requests and of course to send me the pics of the recipes you try!