One of the reasons I started this blog was to track my own cooking. I have trouble keeping track of the things I cook, because my cooking is a mix of whimsy and urgency. I read a lot of food media, both out here in the blogosphere and in hard copy, and so do many of my friends, so much of what I cook is inspired by recipes and write-ups I’ve encountered on social media or in my own reading, and sometimes a combination of influences leads me down strange, mashed-up roads. And urgency, oh, urgency is a real thing because I have a farmers market problem. During the growing season, I love to wander the farmers market to see what interesting things are dying to hop in my bag. And the market generally obliges: there are always the vegetables everyone expects, but there are also usually some really unexpected things, whether it’s a mint that tastes like pineapple, striped purple beans that the farmer claims are the best beans ever, apples so dark they look almost black… They all end up in my fridge, begging to be cooked. This past Saturday, there was a slice of squash as long as my forearm calling my name.
The farmer didn’t have any whole squash, and I sadly forgot the variety, but it looks like the slice comes from some sort of cheese pumpkin, the kind that are sometimes called Cinderella pumpkins. They have rich flavor and a nice, firm orange flesh that doesn’t fall apart immediately when cooked. So for a week now, this squash has been sitting in its vacuum bag in the fridge, whispering to me: “cook me, coooook me, coooooooooooook me.” But I couldn’t think of what to do with it, until the onslaught of Thanksgiving food articles caught up to me. It’s seasonal, yes, but turkey is also a great foil to hard squashes, the dark meat’s slight gaminess playing well off the barely sweet squash. And since this time of year fresh turkey is so easy to come by, I decided to run with it.
Everything else about the recipe is whimsical happenstance. A conversation about tamales led me to tacos. (A Texan childhood will do that to you: eventually everything comes back to tacos.) A baggie of powdered New Mexico chile that I felt guilty about neglecting gave me my flavor base, and it all spun out from there. All I know is that by the time I was at the grocery store, I was already envisioning pungent New Mexico chile sidling up to the turkey, draping itself over the squash, and ending up wrapped in a charred corn tortilla fresh out of the skillet. I couldn’t wait. And when I found a small hunk of Iberico cheese sitting in an odds and ends basket in the cheese cooler, that sealed the deal. Iberico is a lot like Manchego, a buttery Spanish cheese with a firm grating texture, and I knew I wanted that little hint of creaminess to cap off the dish.
This is a quick dish to throw together, 30 minutes start to finish if you’re fast with a knife. While the pumpkin’s simmering there’s even time to wash up the dishes, if that’s your style. For a complete meal you could certainly serve it with some rice and beans, or a green salad with a tart dressing. Or you could do what I did and eat the first one standing at the stove, leaning over the steaming skillet to catch any drips. It was perfect.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 turkey thigh (about 1 pound), boned, skinned, and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 med white or yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp New Mexico chile powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried mint
1/2 cup water
4 cups pumpkin, cut into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp lemon juice
salt to taste
Corn or flour tortillas, shredded cheese, and hot sauce to serve
Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is almost smoking. Add the turkey pieces, separate them, and let them sear for 2-3 minutes without stirring. Sprinkle with a heavy pinch of salt, stir to turn the pieces, then let sear undisturbed for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the onions and saute over medium-high until onions are translucent, then add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add spices and water, and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Add the pumpkin and stir to coat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until the pumpkin is tender, about ten minutes. Remove the cover and, if necessary, increase heat to boil off excess liquid. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Adjust salt and other seasonings to taste.
Serve with a sprinkle of shredded cheese and hot sauce, if desired.
Can’t find turkey thighs? Chicken thighs will work fine. You could also use leftover cooked turkey or chicken, for that matter: start by sauteing the onions and add the cooked meat along with the pumpkin.
New Mexico chile can be hard to find outside of the Mountain West. Feel free to sub ancho, plus a pinch of cayenne. Or for that matter, you could just swap the whole spice mix for 2 Tbsp of a chile powder of your choice.
Any kind of hard winter squash will work here. Seriously, any.