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A Tale of Seven Turkeys

Curinder Chadha makes a film about four Thanksgivings--and attends three more.

November 15, 2000|BARBARA HANSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The food stylist for the film was Sylvia Marmolejo, a Mexican American resident of the mid-Wilshire area. Marmolejo contributed her own recipes for a squash and corn dish, flan and arroz con leche to the Latino dinner.

The cast had to eat much of the food, so Marmolejo prepared everything fresh and made it not just palatable but delicious.

"I always insisted on having fresh turkey every time we shot," Chadha says. "I was paranoid. I didn't want anyone to get ill." Also, she found that good food seemed to enhance the performances. By the time filming was completed, cast and crew had consumed 32 turkeys.

"What's Cooking?" was shot in April and May of last year, and post-production concluded just after Thanksgiving. The film made its American debut at this year's Sundance film festival.

Although impressed by the creative possibilities of a Thanksgiving story, Chadha is not overly fond of the food. "Personally, I find the traditional meal very bland," she says. "I just can't understand why they don't have roast potatoes with the turkey. [In England] it is inconceivable that you can roast meat and not have roast potatoes with it."

Her husband differs. "I never can get enough of the food. I love it," says Mayeda Berges.

In London, Chadha has attended expatriate Thanksgiving dinners. "It's the one day Americans feel very homesick," she says.

When her parents would cook turkey at home in England, they would make two--one mildly seasoned for the children, the other spicy with Indian flavors. As a child, Chadha ate the plain turkey. "Now I'm the extreme opposite," she says.

If she were cooking this Thanksgiving, she would prepare turkey tandoori style, marinated overnight with yogurt, garlic and spices. She would add chopped hot green peppers to the stuffing and jazz up the gravy with hot red pepper. If mashed potatoes were a must, she would season them with garlic as well as butter and top them with crisp fried slivers of onion, garlic and green hot pepper.

For a vegetable dish, she would toss parboiled chunks of yam and corn on the cob with oil and ground red peppers, grill them and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice.

There would be an Indian mint chutney but no cranberries. "It's not a common food in England," she explains.

Dessert would be simple. "After all that, you need ice cream to cool you down."

Gurinder Chadha's Tandoori Turkey with Spicy Gravy

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 3 1/2 hours plus 8 hours marinating

Chadha prefers a sage-onion-sausage stuffing to which she adds lots of finely chopped serrano chiles, but you can use any favorite stuffing. Make the ginger-paste by pureeing chopped garlic and ginger root. Look for the spice mixture garam masala at Indian markets.

1 (14-pound) turkey

Juice of 3 lemons

Salt

4 cups plain yogurt

1/4 cup oil

2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste

1 tablespoon ground red chile or cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon paprika

4 teaspoons ground coriander

4 teaspoons dry mustard

2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper

4 teaspoons garam masala

2 tablespoons melted butter

Sliced onions, for garnish

Lemon wedges, for garnish

* Make gashes diagonally across grain of turkey flesh. Rub with lemon juice and salt and set aside.

* Place yogurt in large bowl and whisk in oil, ginger-garlic paste, ground chile, paprika, coriander, mustard, pepper, garam masala and salt to taste. Coat turkey generously with yogurt mixture, making sure all parts are coated. Marinate overnight in refrigerator.

* Stuff turkey as desired. Place in roasting pan and cover loosely with foil. Roast at 325 degrees until meat thermometer inserted in thigh registers 140 degrees, 3 hours. Remove foil, brush with butter and roast uncovered until thermometer reaches 165 degrees, about 20 minutes.

* Remove to platter and serve hot, garnished with onions and lemon wedges. (Make gravy, if desired, using roasting juices, adding ground red chile to taste.)

8 servings. Each serving: 746 calories; 405 mg sodium; 361 mg cholesterol; 32 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 99 grams protein; 1.06 gram fiber.

Zucchini With Corn (Calabacitas con Elote)

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Sylvia Marmolejo prepared this dish for the Latino segment of "What's Cooking?"

4 zucchinis, sliced 1/2-inch thick and halved

1/2 onion, diced

1 large tomato, diced

1 serrano pepper, minced

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons water

Salt, pepper

1 (7-ounce) can corn, drained

* Place zucchinis, onion, tomato, pepper, oil and water in medium saucepan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook over medium-high heat 5 minutes. Stir in corn. Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, 3 to 4 minutes.

6 servings. Each serving: 122 calories; 286 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 3.12 grams fiber.

Cool Mint and Yogurt Chutney

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Gurinder Chadha accompanies her spicy version of Thanksgiving dinner with this Indian chutney.

2 cups plain yogurt

1 onion, diced

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