-by La Huerita
ong ago in Mexico when I was just learning the ins and outs of cooking while being a PT (permanent traveler) I discovered that yes it IS possible to cook a Thanksgiving dinner (for two) in a foreign country with nothing but a two-burner stovetop and access to basic ingredients.
The result wasn’t especially pretty, but it tasted good and we were proud of it. Especially since we were the only gringos in town (at least in our circle of acquaintances) who were able to enjoy a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal that year, as ovens were in very short supply – and so were turkeys and American-style hams and most other ingredients for a traditional American Thanksgiving meal.
The brag factor for my fete accompli was enormous. When word got around we became the envy of our set. In my imagination we were greeted with standing ovations and shouts of approval when we appeared in local establishments for a drink or two. I dare say ballads were written about it and sung in all the most popular watering holes… 😉
This was in Cabo San Lucas, MX around 1990ish (give or take a year or two) when there were still only a couple of paved roads in town and horses, burros and the occasional cow were wont to amble down Marina Blvd at all hours of the day and night.
There were only a couple of flights in and out each week at that time so tourism was slow. I’d guess that there were no more than 100 full time gringo residents, and the full-ownership and timeshare sales reps among us spent their working hours trying to recruit each other to take a tour of their respective establishments just for the practice.
But I digress. Getting back to dinner…
I had managed to lay hands on a small turkey breast and a can of whole berry cranberry sauce (¡Ay, caramba!) at the brand new Supermercado Arámburo in downtown Cabo, the first “American” style supermarket in town (it had air conditioning!), and with those two main ingredients I was on my way.
I purchased some day-old bolillos at the corner panadería (bolillos, while delicious the day they’re made, turn hard as a rock by day three) for stuffing, a couple of sweet potatoes and some of those cellophane packets of herbs and spices and carried my treasures home as though they were pure gold.
Oh, and I also purchased a Tres Leches cake for dessert.
To “roast” the turkey breast I made some sage and garlic butter and used it to brown the bird in the one skillet I had at my disposal. Once it was nicely browned I transferred it to a pot (it barely fit) and added about an inch of chicken broth I had saved from a former meal, plus a bay leaf and salt and pepper. Pretty basic, yeah? I covered the pot, turned the burner to low and essentially braised the thing, occasionally adding a bit more broth as needed, keeping my fingers crossed as to how long I needed to cook it.
While that was cooking, I cut the day-old bolillos into small cubes (enough for about 2 1/2 cups), sauteed them until they were browned and crispy in the same skillet I used to brown the turkey, then removed them from the pan and set them aside. Next I chopped a small yellow onion, minced a couple of garlic cloves, thinly sliced two ribs of celery and tossed the whole bunch into the same skillet over medium high heat, having added more sage/garlic butter to the pan (maybe a tablespoon or so). Once they were soft and translucent (roughly 5 minutes) I added about a cup of broth, brought it to a boil, quickly stirred in the bread cubes then covered the pan, removed it from the heat and let it sit for about 5 minutes. I then fluffed it up and put it all in a bowl, which I covered with aluminum foil to keep it warm. It turned out very much like the Stove Top stuffing you buy in a box and it wasn’t half bad.
While the stuffing was doing its thing, I peeled the sweet potatoes, diced them into 1/2 inch cubes and seasoned them with salt and pepper to taste. Because we were in Mexico, I also diced up a jalapeno, and because I didn’t want sweet sweet potatoes I added a couple of sliced green onions, too, including some of the green tops. I heated up the trusty skillet with about a tablespoon of oil and when it was hot dumped everything into it, stirred it around, added about a 1/2 cup of broth or water, covered it, turned the heat to low and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the sweet potato was tender and the liquid absorbed.
In the end, we dined like kings on braised turkey, stuffing, gravy (yes, I made gravy, too), savory sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, canned green beans with butter and bacon bits, and the most beautifully moist Tres Leches cake I’ve ever consumed.
It was something of a chore putting it all together but was totally worth it. And we even had enough turkey left over for sandwiches the next day. And the next day. And the next day. 😉
Did I repeat the repast for Christmas a month later? Oh hell no. We bought tamales and corn on the cob from a street vendor for Christmas, and chowed down as happily as if we had good sense. That may have been one of the most enjoyable holiday meals I’ve ever had!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
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