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Best of the Birds

November 21, 1996

Conventional wisdom says that the Thanksgiving turkey is sacred. You stuff it and roast it, and you don't do anything out of the ordinary with it. But when we put out the call last year for recipes that went beyond the basic bird, readers responded with numerous unusual and delicious turkey recipes that some of us have adopted for our own holiday tables. There's a lot of creative cooking going on here in Southern California.

This year, to go with our collection of new reader side dish recipes (see H2), we decided to reprint some of our favorite reader turkey recipes. Proof that there's more than one way to cook a big bird.

The Banana Wrap

Venice cookbook author Nancy Zaslavsky, coincidentally one of our side dish contributors this year, responded to our search with a recipe from the Yucatan, where turkey is as common as chicken. One of the most delicious ways of cooking turkey there is in a backyard pib or pit, smeared with seasoning paste and wrapped in banana leaves. Of course, a pit is not strictly necessary. We love the red tinge of the bird from the achiote paste and the tender meat that results from the banana-leaf wrap. The recipe is adapted from one Zaslavsky got from her friend Rosario Chavez, who is originally from Espita, Yucatan. Banana leaves, the herb epazote and achiote paste (made of annatto seeds and often sold in small blocks) are available in most Southern California Latino markets.

YUCATAN TURKEY PIBIL

1 cup achiote paste

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 cup lime juice (about 6 limes)

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons oil

1 (10-pound) turkey, giblets removed, thawed if frozen

2 large or 3 small banana leaves, center ribs torn away

Salt, pepper

3 large white onions, sliced

4 large tomatoes, sliced

3 sprigs fresh epazote or 6 sprigs cilantro

1 fresh habanero chile or 6 serrano chiles

Combine achiote paste, salt, lime juice, orange juice and oil in small bowl. Spread mixture over entire turkey. Line Dutch oven or roasting pan with banana leaves (leaves can hang over side), reserving enough to cover top.

Place turkey, breast-side up, over leaves. Spread sliced onions and tomatoes over top of turkey. Scatter epazote over top. Nestle chile on top of turkey. Cover turkey with more banana leaves, tucking them in to seal. Cover pan tightly with lid or foil. Roast at 325 degrees, basting often, until nicely browned and thermometer inserted into deepest part of thigh reads 175 degrees, about 15 minutes per pound.

Remove turkey from oven and let rest, uncovered, 15 to 30 minutes. Remove and discard banana leaves and chile. Place turkey on platter. Puree cooked onions and tomatoes with hand blender in cooking juices to thicken sauce.

Makes 10 servings.

Each serving contains about:

521 calories; 913 mg sodium; 171 mg cholesterol; 28 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 56 grams protein; 0.86 gram fiber.

Proud Picadillo

Reader Julie Miranda of Sylmar sent us this picadillo-stuffed turkey recipe, which comes from "Rice and Beans and Tasty Things: A Cookbook" by Dora Romano. Some of the tasters liked the picadillo so much they completely ignored the turkey.

PICADILLO-STUFFED TURKEY PICADILLO STUFFING

PICADILLO STUFFING

1/4 cup oil

1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup fine-chopped onion

6 pimiento-stuffed green olives

2 tablespoons capers, minced

1 (4-ounce) jar chopped pimentos with liquid

1/2 cup seedless raisins

2 cups applesauce

3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

TURKEY

2 quarts water

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vinegar

1 (12-pound) turkey

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup salt

Butter, softened

12 small cloves garlic, pureed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons ground oregano

1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1/4 cup olive oil

6 1/2 cups Picadillo Stuffing

Oil or melted butter

2 cups giblet stock or water

1 onion, chopped

PICADILLO STUFFING

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown pork lightly and add salt. Remove to separate bowl and set aside.

Discard all but 1 tablespoon browning oil. Reduce heat to medium-low, add onion and saute 5 minutes.

Add olives, capers, pimentos and their liquid and cook 5 minutes.

Add raisins and reserved pork. Cook, uncovered, 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove pan from heat. Add applesauce and eggs. Mix well. Stuffing may be made day ahead. Refrigerate or freeze if not using immediately. Do not stuff turkey until just before roasting.

TURKEY

Combine 1 quart water with 1/2 cup vinegar. Rinse turkey in vinegar mixture, drain well and soak in remaining quart water mixed with lemon juice. Drain well and pat dry.

Loosen skin over turkey breast with fingers, starting at neck opening and moving toward tail. Be careful not to tear skin.

Rub salt into bird cavity, over skin and between skin and flesh. Put softened butter under skin covering breast.

Combine garlic, pepper, oregano, poultry seasoning and olive oil in bowl. Place bird in nonreactive container. Rub skin all over with garlic marinade and dribble with remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

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