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Turkey and Dried Fruit, Ideas Borrowed from Peru

Turkey and Dried Fruit Stuffing

Turkey and Dried Fruit Stuffing

Stuffing is always a favorite of mine at meals with turkey. In the US we eat turkey at Thanksgiving. The stores fill with bowling-ball hard, frozen birds and almost everyone eats turkey.

The bird is not nearly as obligatory in Peru, although it increasingly finds its way to the Christmas table.

As Peru leaves behind its history—where the vast majority of the population made their living in the informal economy—and more and more people work for formal businesses, employees get a Christmas turkey as a gift from their work. There is a long history of cooking turkey here, although the birds traditionally were locally grown. These gift-turkeys come frozen like those in the US and are an American style of bird.

Once in the kitchen, however, people use local seasonings and, even more, local ideas of good flavor. For example, last Christmas in Cusco we had turkey that had been seasoned with a solution of pisco (a Peruvian brandy) and salt that was syringed into its flesh. It was basted with a mixture of fresh orange juice, ground panca pepper, and garlic.

The result was superb with the flavor of Peruvian brandy, the savory dark flavor of the panca and garlic combination. Slices of turkey came with an apple puree and finely diced Waldorf salad, as well as a stuffing made of three kinds of meat, dried fruit, and nuts.

The combination of savory and fruit stuck with me. As I thought about Thanksgiving coming up, since I am in the United States at the moment, I wondered about dressings and stuffings made from fruit. It seems that in the US we rely on bread of some sort for the basic stuffing and add other ingredients to it.

There is no doubt the bread cooked in the turkey is wonderful. It absorbs broth along with the myriad of other flavors people add to their stuffing and I love it. This year, though, I want to focus on the fruit and the way it can take on savory flavors. It has tartness and sours that become rich and flavorful when cooked without additional sugars.

I asked friends in Peru for traditional recipes, and looked online to see what I could find. In my search I found many recipes of dried fruit added to an American-style bread or other grain stuffing, as well as the Peruvian-style of dried fruit with a combination of meats. Finally, I found a recipe on Yanuq (“Source of Help” in Quechua) that uses just fruit and nuts.

Fruit and Pecans for Stuffing
Pisco Soaked Fruit and Pecans for Stuffing

It calls for orejones (dried peaches) and brazil nuts. Orejones can be difficult to find in the US and I did not have Brazil nuts on hand. Instead, I decided to follow the spirit of the recipe and use what I could easily get or had in my larder. My stuffing had dried apricots, prunes, tart cherries, and currents, along with pecans and cubes of fresh apples.

The turkey was small, about 14 lbs. For it, I made up a baste of aji panca paste (ground, wet dark red hot peppers) from a jar (Doña Isabel brand), key lime juice, garlic, olive oil and salt.

For that turkey I quartered 36 dried apricot halves, a dozen prunes, a cup of dried tart cherries, and a cup of dried currants (since they were just sitting in a box on my shelf waiting to be used and I love their tartness). I let the fruit soak for a few hours in a cup of Sarcay brand pisco (mosto verde) that I had brought from Peru, although you can get Peruvian pisco in much of the US. The complex flavor of the pisco added a savory and spicy richness to the fruit.

Shortly before stuffing the bird I added a cup of pecan halves that I diced roughly, and a honey crisp apple that I cut into chunks.

I ended up using 3/4 of my mixture to stuff to bird.

When the bird came out of the oven, it was nicely browned and let off a rich scent that combined the lime, garlic, and red ají panca into a flavor like a dark and rich crust of hot bread yet it had a hint of exotic spice.

The fruit had cooked and absorbed juices from the turkey yet it still was tart, though meaty. A hint of the pisco still came through. I loved it. I could have stood there and eaten spoon after spoon of it.

Instead, I made up a gravy with the turkey’s juices that had a hint of the fruit, lots of turkey flavor, and the mild darkness of the panca peppers and lime juice.

You should try this. It sill make for an unforgettable Thanksgiving meal.

Recipes

Dried Fruit Stuffing

(For a 16-17 lb. Turkey)

36 dried apricot halves (quartered)
12 dried and pitted prunes (quartered)
1 cup dried tart cherries
1 cup dried currants
1 honey crisp apple, cored and cubed
1 cup pecan pieces
1 cup pisco

Mix the dried fruit together and add the pisco. Allow the fruit and pisco combination to sit for several hours for the fruit to soften and absorb the alcohol. Add the apple chunks and the pecans. Stuff the turkey.

Lime and Panca Baste

2 Tbs Panca Paste (such as Doña Isabel)
3 Tbs Olive Oil
2 cloves minced garlic (or more to taste)
Juice of 10 key limes
Salt to taste.

Blend the ingredients into a uniform liquid.

Using a food brush paint the surface of the turkey with this mixture, including in its folds and under its wings. Repeat every half hour to forty five minutes until the mixture is gone. At that point, you can baste with the turkey drippings.

Dried Fruit and Ground Meats Stuffing

(This recipe comes without amounts since the person who gave it to me in Peru proudly does not cook with measurements.)

dried plums
prunes
orejones (dried peach halves)
raisins
apples
minced onions
minced garlic
ground beef
ground pork
ground chicken
vegetable oil
salt to taste

Soak the dried fruit in pisco until softened. Heat a fry pan, add oil and then the garlic and onion. Soften. Add the ground meats and stir letting it cook evenly. Add salt to taste.
Once cooked add the softened fruit and set aside to cool. Stuff your turkey.

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