For my first Thanksgiving as host, I bought the biggest turkey they had in the store and the hours that followed it made me feel nothing lesser than a surgeon – except that this surgeon knew no scalpel or incisions!
I am a vegetarian. And this is why how I came about taking it upon me to roast “Turkey”.
The day before Thanksgiving:
“…And this way we shall best learn best about each other’s culture and exhibit our culinary aptitude of which we have so boastful about”, concluded Yfrah, after a lengthy discussion about how we self-proclaimed that we were “chefs-without-a-title” and that we know much about food of the country we came from and were so eager to feed each other the dish we knew best to cook.
There were four of us – all from different countries, but none from America, working together for the past 6 months on a computer project at Montebello, LA. All four of us loved cooking.
We sat a cafe in downtown LA the evening before Thanksgiving and thought we will spend the Thanksgiving weekend with a pot-luck. When we listed all that each one would bring, there was nothing American about the feast. And that was when Yfrah convinced us to drop the idea of pot-luck and rather do something American for Thanksgiving.
“Why not take turns and have one of us cook for all, every weekend – a dish that he has never done before?” No one liked the sound of the sentence spoken by Yfrah.
“And what do we do for Thanksgiving? Turkey?”, asked Ronil sarcastically.
“Why not? Sudhir, you sounded most eager to cook something for us? Why don’t you roast a Turkey this weekend?”
“But I am vegetarian, I have never used a mutton mincing knife, leave alone cooking meat….”
“Turkey is a bird. It’s not meat. So you don’t worry go for it!”, Nikolo interrupted.
I stood no chance of exercising my choice or will. I agreed under duress.
As I took the train back home, I was reminded of a hilarious episode from Mr. Bean – of his disastrous attempt at cooking Turkey, which saw him emerge out of the oven with his head shoved right into the “body cavity” of the bird as the guests walked in.
I learned the recipe from the web and kept all ingredients ready that night.
The recipe made me embark on a process that I earlier had known to be “taxidermy”.
Unlike Indian cooking, which is complex and detailed in terms of preparation and cooking and involved a lot of chopping, slicing and accuracy in proportions, the roast Turkey appeared to a child’s play – Stuff, Tie the legs, Roast, Slice and Serve – except that this child had never handled flesh on the kitchen top.
As I put my hand into the cavity to stuff some white onions, garlic and herbs, I felt like an obstetrician delivering a baby except that I was trying to push in than pull out.
At last, I concluded that I had “stuffed it up” enough, and then brushed it with some lemon and butter and sprinkled a pinch of some “Garam” masala – (I had to introduce an Indian-ness lest it may be thought that it was too good and American to have been cooked by an Indian). And into the oven it went. I played with the control knobs and let it cook.
2 hours later:
“4 burgers and large cokes please”, I ordered at Burger King, next block from my home, while Ronil, Yfrah and Nikolo sat with their stomach muscles still aching from the laugher spree they just recovered from.
The burgers arrived and a Fire brigade went past us on the road. The Fire brigade was the uninvited fifth guest for a Turkey to which I had just given a conventional Hindu burial in my oven – by burning it to charred remains. The smoke had set the condominium fire alarm and alerted the Fire station.
I never admitted that I was terrible at using the oven. I have been the conventional bloke who’d cook on cooking-range that had no controls or knobs that told of time, temperature and any pre-sets.
The turkey vanished and took the onions, garlic and lemons with it. I didn’t see it again after it went into the TARDIS.
“Biryani on you Nikolo, next week. Want to see how an Italian does the Biryani!”, challenged I, as we started biting into our burgers.
“I can assure you that whatever I do, the rice grains won’t vanish like the Turkey did. Alas, I am not a magician as you’re Chef Sudhir!” and we laughed heartily.
“I was famished”, said Ronil. “Thats why we’re eating Hamburgers”, added Yfrah, ”eat before it disappears.”