Many people associate turkey just with Christmas, or Thanksgiving in the USA or Canada, but in fact as far as a protein in meat form goes, turkey is actually packed full of nutrients and is an excellent all-round food.
The wild turkey Meleagris gallopavo (something to do with difficulty in catching it I think) is native to North America. The bird was brought into Europe, in the early part of the 16th century, by the Spaniards. The English name “Turkey” arose because of a confusion with Guinea Fowl – which were imported through Turkey, from Africa. Both birds were originally known as “Turks”. Eventually, in the 18th century, it was given its Latin name but the original name stuck.
The Native American Indian used the turkey as a staple of their diet. They introduced it to starving pilgrims, along with their native plants and seeds including corn and squash. The pilgrims were so grateful they celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 where their American Indian friends were guests of honour.
Why is turkey so good for you?
Turkey is first and foremost a lean source of protein – 4 oz. gives you 65% of your daily protein requirement and has about half the amount of saturated fat that red meat does.
We are made of protein and we need it to repair ourselves – a bit like the bionic man – we take animal and vegetable protein, add some amino acids and rearrange the nitrogen from the mix to repair or make parts of our body. Don’t forget we are meat – and still a savoury delicacy in certain parts of the world.
Turkey is very high in methionine, which is an essential amino acid that ensures that any protein that we eat is completely used. This means that we get the maximum benefit from the turkey and is particularly important if we find it difficult to digest food as we get older.
Turkey is very high in the amino acid tryptophan, so it stimulates the B3 vitamin, Niacin, into producing serotonin the neurotransmitter. This has a calming effect, and helps depression (particularly useful after a family festive lunch!) And also helps us sleep well and feel good (afternoon siesta). Niacin is involved in cell health. DNA requires Niacin to be healthy and a deficiency of this B-vitamin – and the other B’s like 6 and 12 – has been linked to DNA damage that can lead to Cancer.
Turkey is very high in Selenium, which is a trace mineral and is fundamental to our general health. It is involved in thyroid hormone metabolism – antioxidant defence systems and our entire immune system health – many studies into this mineral are revealing its positive effect on cancers. As an antioxidant, it encourages DNA to repair cells and damaged cells to self-destruct.
Turkey is richer in calcium than any other meat and has over twice the calcium of chicken or beef. It also contains B6, which is extremely important for blood cell health.
It is also high in phosphorus, which is a fundamental need for bone and teeth formation and the production of red blood cells. Phosphorus is also part of the chemical energy store in each cell and in DNA – so is vital for cell health. One of the things to watch for with phosphorus, however, is that it you eat a great many processed foods you will find that they are far too high in the mineral and can cause an imbalance with other minerals.
So, Turkey is low fat – half the fat of chicken – low in cholesterol, sodium and calories. Finally it is also called a short fibre meat which means that it is very easily digestible for any age group.
How to select the best Turkey
I am a carnivore at heart (apologies vegetarians) and even though I do not eat a lot of red meat, I do eat fish and poultry. However, I was put off for a couple of years from eating Turkey at Christmas or any other time of year following the advert for cigars in 1989. For those who missed it – a flock of turkeys are surveying the darkening skies and flakes of snow begin to fall. They look at each other resignedly and head off into the turkey house where they light up a Hamlet Cigar. It was heart wrenching and I think it was salmon for lunch that year. Just so that you can all feel the emotion here it is….sorry…..
There is usually some debate around the table on Christmas day as to who is getting the white meat and who the dark. Usually you end up with a bit of both but it is the white meat that is the most prized.
I am reliably informed that in the United States, turkeys are often bred by artificial insemination because they have now grown too large to get close enough to mate, which seems very sad considering they are also destined for the table. You would have thought they might have been granted a little fun along the way. A turkey can grow up to 70 lbs. but the average for a male (tom) is 20 lbs. and for a female (hen) around 12 lbs.
Buying your Turkey
Although I eat poultry I always buy from guaranteed organic and free range sources. I am also keen that any food that we eat is farmed humanely as possible. The fact is we as humans have been carnivores from the outset but there is still a long way to go in many parts of the world as to the level of respect we afford the animals we consume.
As the turkey has become more popular all year round, smaller breeds have been developed that weigh around 5 to 8 lbs. and fresh and frozen turkeys are now available at any time.
If the turkey is fresh the meat should be smooth, creamy and soft. If the turkey is whole make sure there are no bruises or cuts in the skin as this can lead to bacterial infection.
If the turkey is frozen it is more difficult to judge the condition of the bird but make sure that the wrapping is still intact.
We eat turkey all year round and here is a recipe for my turkey fajitas that we serve guests as well as indulging in regularly ourselves.
I had never eaten fajitas before I went to live in Texas nearly 30 years ago. We have loved them ever since and we often have maize tortillas with some baby leaves, avocado and lean protein for supper especially after a day of house renovation! It is a versatile dish and you can eat tortillas at breakfast with some scrambled egg – use as a wrap to take to work or out on picnics with some spicy chicken and salad and I am going to give you one of my regular recipes using turkey fillet – a great lean protein with plenty of nutritional value. It is relatively inexpensive and yet offers a healthy source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins.
I use turkey or salmon, another great protein ,regularly in the recipe and if you make your own guacamole and salsa with avocados, tomatoes and onions you will be providing you and your family a terrific nutritional bonus.
TURKEY FAJITAS for 6 people.
I usually allow three tortillas per person and I use the soft maize tortillas as I find them softer than the wheat. Also if anyone has an intolerance to wheat it can be a useful alternative.
There is nothing worse than a mean fajita. So I use plenty of lean turkey and onions and peppers.
SEASONING. I use this low salt recipe to sprinkle over the vegetables and meat during cooking.
Pimiento 5 teaspoons
Chili Powder 6 teaspoons
Garlic Powder 2 teaspoons
Ground Cumin 4 teaspoons
Salt ¼ teaspoon
Black pepper ¼ teaspoon.
2 whole turkey breasts, sliced into long strips.
2 large Red Peppers sliced lengthways into strips
2 large Green or yellow peppers sliced lengthways into strips
4 large Onions sliced into thick rings
18 soft corn or wheat tortillas.
In a large oven proof dish arrange all the vegetables in layers sprinkling a little of the seasoning onto each lager drizzle a little olive oil over the dish and put into a hot oven around 200 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove and add the strips of turkey so that they do not overlap and put the remaining seasoning over the entire dish. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and put back in the oven until the turkey is cooked thoroughly which is about 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve in the oven dish at the table.
Warm your tortillas and a tip here is to put 6 each in a foil packet and pop in the oven for the last 5 minutes cooking time. Turn the oven off and leave two of the packets in there until you need them. You can also buy microwave containers to heat them in but they can make them sweat – also you can only really heat four or five at a time and they go cold waiting for the others. I find the oven method in foil the best for large quantities.
On the table you will need dishes of guacamole, salsa and Fromage Blanc. By all means use sour cream or Crème Fraiche is you are not worried about the calories. You can also serve grated cheese with the other dressings. I have some recipes for both guacamole and salsa that are in the link below.
For anyone who has not eaten fajitas before, a teaspoon of each sauce is spread over a warm tortilla and then the peppers; onions and turkey mix is placed in the middle. The bottom end of the tortilla is folded towards the middle and the two sides are brought over to form a wrap. The whole thing is eaten with your hands.
I usually have a large bowl of the spinach salad on the table as well as it helps if the food is spicier for some people than normal.
You can substitute lean beef; chicken fresh peeled prawns in the recipe and adjust the cooking times slightly. If you are vegetarian then add your favourite vegetables and roasted these make a delicious alternative.
Hope you have found interesting and you feedback is always welcome .. thanks Sally