These three dishes put a Mexican twist on Thanksgiving or any special occasion

I learned from the National Audubon Society that turkeys were likely first domesticated by the Mayans of southern Mexico some 2,000 years ago. Today, turkey isn't on many Mexican menus, and the per capita consumption in the U.S. is more than seven times higher.

Still, a recent Friendsgiving menu took a Mexican turn, melding traditional Thanksgiving ingredients with chile peppers, cilantro, avocados, and tortillas.

We prepared turkey enchilada-stuffed butternut squash, Mexican mashed potatoes (papas con chile), and apple pie taquitos for this meal. I enjoyed it more than any past Thanksgiving feast, and most of my guests did, too. This meal could be made anytime, as it doesn't require the herculean effort or logistical precision of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. If you are looking for something different at your holiday table, give these a try.

Turkey is called pavo in Mexico, and it is most commonly prepared whole, with a mole sauce. The butternut squash dish here uses ground turkey and a homemade red enchilada sauce. You can use the canned version, but I implore you to make your own. It's not hard, and the flavor payout is worth it.

You can even play with the heat levels and use a custom mix of dried chiles. Many large supermarkets carry dried chiles; a Mexican grocer will have a better selection. No, you can't substitute fresh chiles. They don't produce the complex, smokey flavor of their dried counterparts. If you didn't already know, a chipotle is a dried jalapeño, an ancho is a dried poblano, and a dried mirasol is a guajillo. Save the fresh peppers for the potatoes.

I like to use the more flavorful pastured ground turkey. Their natural grass and bug diet lends better taste and nutrition, not to mention better living conditions for the bird. Ground turkey tends to have less fat than its ground beef counterparts, but fat carries flavor and keeps the meat from drying out. Try to find 85% lean and look for a combination of white and dark meat if you want the best-tasting result.

This was the first time I used crushed tortilla chips in a recipe, and I am so happy that I did. I now have a use for the bottom-of-the-bag bits that I've been throwing out. The salty, crunchy topping on the squash could substitute for bread crumbs or croutons in pan-fried chicken, fish, casseroles, soups and salads.

The papas con chile, or potatoes with chile, used a combination of red and green peppers. Fitting, as red, white and green are the colors of the Mexican flag. It made for a pretty dish on the table and the plate. The chiles gave a nice bite to the otherwise rich and, dare I say, bland potatoes.

We used homegrown Empire apples to make the filling for the apple pie taquitos. You want to use old-fashioned apples with a sweet-tart profile that holds up when cooked. A combination of Granny Smith and Pink Lady would be great and are easy to find. Serve them like apple pie - with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at

Red enchilada sauce

2 cups, plus 3 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth, divided

1 cup white or yellow onions, chopped (about two medium ones)

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

7 mild dried chiles (Red New Mexico, aka hatch, ancho or guajillo) with stems and seeds removed

1-2 hot dried chiles (arbol, red serrano or red jalapeño) with stems and seeds removed

1 cup water

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sweet marjoram

¼ cup tomato paste

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Toast chiles in a hot, dry skillet until their aroma is released and they start to change color, about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove to a heat-proof bowl.

Heat 2 cups of broth and water in a small saucepan until steaming. Pour over the chiles to soften, about 20 minutes.

Heat 3 tablespoons of broth over medium heat in same skillet used to toast the chiles. Once very hot, add the onions and sauté for 4 minutes or until tender and starting to brown. Add garlic and cook another minute.

Add onion mixture, rehydrated chiles and their liquid to a blender. Remove the center cap from the lid and cover with a clean, folded kitchen towel. Don't fill more than halfway. Starting on the lowest speed and allowing steam to dissipate, mix until smooth. You may gradually increase the speed if needed, being careful not to let steam build or the contents to spill out of the top. A few visible flecks are OK.

Return blended mixture to the skillet and stir in the spices and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered with lid ajar, for 15-20 minutes. Add the tomato paste and vinegar and continue to cook uncovered another 5 minutes or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add a little more broth if it is too thick.

Makes 3½ cups

Leslie Meredith

Turkey enchilada-stuffed butternut squash

1 medium to large butternut squash, halved vertically and deseeded

1 teaspoon, plus 1 tablespoon neutral oil, divided

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 red onions, diced

4 cloves garlic, pressed

¾ pound ground turkey

2 poblano, diced (may substitute with bell peppers)

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1¼ cups red enchilada sauce

½ cup crushed tortilla chips

Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Sliced avocado, hot sauce, and/or sour cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Rub the cut side of the squash halves with a teaspoon of the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, cut side down, on a lined baking sheet for 35-45 minutes or until fork tender. Allow to cool enough to handle.

While squash cooks, make the filling. Add a tablespoon of the oil to a pan over medium heat. Once shimmering, add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown. Add the turkey, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, and cook until evenly browned. Add garlic, diced peppers and more salt. Cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, before adding black beans and enchilada sauce. Simmer another 10 minutes, cover, and remove from heat.

When squash is ready, turn it over and use a spoon to smash it down and create a narrow well down the centerline. Pour or spoon in the filling and top with crushed tortilla chips. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees and bake for 14-20 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve with avocado slices, hot sauce, and sour cream on the side.

Serves 4

Leslie Meredith

Papas con Chile (Mexican mashed potatoes)

1½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 small onion, diced

1 poblano, red bell, or red Anaheim pepper, diced

1 serrano, jalapeño, or red Fresno pepper, diced

¾ cup shredded pepper jack cheese

¼ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons milk, up to ½ cup

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

Add potatoes to stock pot and cover with 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until fork tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and return to the pot.

Heat ½ a tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Once foaming, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peppers and cook 4-5 minutes or until soft. Add mixture to cooked potatoes and stir in cheese, sour cream, 2 tablespoons of the milk and remaining butter (cut into small pieces). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mash by hand, adding more milk if needed to attain desired consistency. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Serves 4

Leslie Meredith

Apple Pie Taquitos

3 tablespoons, plus ¼ cup butter, divided and more for greasing

1½ teaspoon, plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided

6 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch cubes

1/3 plus ½ cup sugar, divided

¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons water, divided

2 tablespoons cornstarch

8-x-8-inch flour tortillas

½ cup packed brown sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking dish

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter and 1½ teaspoons of cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in apples, 1/3 cup sugar and ¼ cup water. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-6 minutes or until the apples just start to soften.

Whisk cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of water in a small dish. Add to the apples while stirring and continue to cook until the apples are tender but not mushy and filling has thickened. Remove from heat to cool.

Fill tortillas evenly with the cooled filling. Roll up tightly and place seam side down in the baking dish, nestled tightly together.

Bring ½ cup sugar, brown sugar, ½ cup water, ¼ cup butter and salt to a boil in the same saucepan used for the apples. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in vanilla. Cook, stirring continuously, for 3 minutes. Pour sauce over tortillas, sprinkle with remaining cinnamon, and bake for 20 minutes. Cut in half to serve, topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Makes 16

Leslie Meredith

Papas con Chile are Mexican mashed potatoes. Added pepper jack cheese makes them extra creamy. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
Apple Pie Taquitos make a perfect dessert out of fresh apples and cinnamon. Be sure to serve with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
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