IT WOULD BE A VAST UNDERSTATEMENT to say that we at the Wildflower Center have a thing for native plants, and we enjoy them with all of our senses. From beholding bright, colorful blooms with our curious eyes and smelling fragrant flowers with our noses to listening for buzzing birds and bees and touching leaves in all their velvety, thorny, glossy forms, we aim to experience native plants in all ways possible — including with our taste buds.
And what better season than the holidays to get cooking? In preparation for Thanksgiving, a handful of Center staff experimented with incorporating edible natives into classic recipes. From main courses and snacks to bread, drinks and desserts, we’ve gathered a sampling of dishes so you too can nosh on native plants this holiday season and surprise your friends and family with close-to-home twists on usual menu suspects.
Chile Pequin-Citrus Turkey Breast
We’re certainly not all meat-eaters on staff, but as one myself, I couldn’t help but try to work Thanksgiving’s official bird, the turkey, into a native-tinged recipe.
I modified a Martha Stewart recipe and created a tangy-spicy turkey breast marinaded all day in citrus juices; garlic, onion and tomato; and hot peppers from our Taste of Place garden. It turned out tender and juicy and paired perfectly with the prickly pear-cranberry sauce I whipped up to accompany it. Not for the spice-wary.
- 1/4 cup fresh chile pequin (Capsicum annuum)
- Juice of 2 oranges*
- Juice of 2 limes
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled (I might’ve used more.)
- 1 small white onion, chopped
- 1 Roma tomato, blackened over an open flame with tongs
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 2 boneless skinless turkey breast tenderloins (roughly 2 pounds)
*One of these oranges can serve double duty supplying zest for your cranberry sauce.
I began by roasting the chiles in a dry skillet at medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Roasting chiles brings out their flavor and mellows heat, both a good idea with chile pequin, which is often described as having more heat than flavor. You don’t want roast them for too long or at too hot a temperature, lest you punish your household with what I like to call the “pepper spray effect” — a combo of spiciness and air that induces nonstop coughing. Because pequin peppers are round, it’s a cinch to keep them moving: Just shake pan to easily roll them around while heating.
Transfer chiles to a blender or food processor (I used my trusty Ninja, depicted below). Add orange and lime juices, garlic, onion (I did the onion in two batches so as to not overload the Ninja) and salt; blend until smooth.
Transfer 1 cup of the sauce to a small bowl and refrigerate.
Place turkey (trimmed of any fat) in a baking dish (mine was square and glass) and cover with remaining sauce (depicted above). Not sure this is necessary, but I went ahead and stabbed it all over with a sharp knife to help incorporate the marinade.
Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 and up to 12 hours. I went with 12 because, when it comes to heat, I am a glutton for punishment!
Remove the saucy turkey from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. (Why? I’m not sure, but Martha said so, and I guess that’s good enough for me.) I also dumped off a little of the sauce, which had gotten watery on top.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roast oven for about 1 hour (the package directions on the turkey tenderloins said 45 minutes, but everything seems to take longer in my oven, and this was no exception). Regardless of your oven’s heat-retention skills, the desired internal temperature for turkey is 165 degrees Fahrenheit (mine had been cooling off for a moment when I took the pic below). Martha’s recipe called for a bone-in turkey breast, but I say buy whatever turkey you want and just follow the roasting directions on the package. My variation turned out well, so I’d recommend the boneless skinless turkey breast tenderloins if you don’t have a preference otherwise, especially if you’re only cooking for a few people.
Transfer turkey to a cutting board and let stand about 10 minutes before slicing (meat tends to come out juicier if you let it sit for a moment).
Slice it up (across the meat’s natural grain) and serve with the reserved sauce.
I normally go all out when it comes to stuffing (I have my grandmother’s coveted recipe, and it is coveted for a reason, let me tell you!), but I was feeling lazy after all my turkey-marinating efforts (and it happened to be my birthday when I made this, so laziness justified, thank you very much). As such, I grabbed a box of cornbread Stove Top to round out the meal.
Here’s the full shebang, with prickly pear-cranberry sauce to boot:
MAKES A HEARTY MEAL FOR TWO PLUS LUNCH THE NEXT DAY (OR PROBABLY DINNER FOR THREE OR FOUR REASONABLE PEOPLE)
Recipe adapted from MarthaStewart.com.