For the turkey on Thanksgiving, a sweet and and savory bulgur dressing seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, coriander and Turkish red pepper flakes. Dried apricots, walnuts and grated orange zest made it even more delicious.
I woke up Thursday morning with a broken heart. Ripped in two, so violently that my rib cage hurt and I could scarcely breathe.
It looked like an awful Thanksgiving. Usually it’s a happy day, family all together, the aroma of turkey roasting in the oven, Domino prancing underfoot, cadging bites of celery and potato skins, champagne toasts and utter pigging out on warm pecan cake with toffee sauce.
But not this year. And then, when I had about hit bottom, the telephone rang.
Let me tell you how a bad day became a day for rejoicing and thanks. Oh, and there’s a recipe too.
Domino, napping on the Berber rug last November. Was she dreaming? And of what?
A week ago, on an unexpectedly warm November evening, our beloved 14-year-old springer spaniel melted into the night. One moment Domino was chewing a bone outside the kitchen door, the next she had vanished into the dark. Blind and deaf, she was, we were certain, disoriented and lost.
For three frantic nights and days, we searched for her, tramping through great swathes of second-growth pine forest and brush-filled ditches, whistling and calling her name, though we knew she couldn’t hear us. We spotted rabbits and deer, but not a trace of our brown and white pup.
We hardly slept. B manned the computers, blasting emails to neighbors near and far. Serendipity printed hundreds of fliers with Domino’s picture. She plastered them on every mailbox, lamppost, and stop sign within a mile radius. We pressed hundreds more on dog walkers, runners, construction workers, yard crews, repairmen. We drove endlessly and sometimes aimlessly.
One rough, sunburned man burst into tears when he heard of our loss. "And on Thanksgiving too," he wept.
Our doggie’s picture went up at Starbucks, Whole Foods and the local BP. We scanned cages at the pound, signed up for a “lost dog” robo-call service, posted a notice on Craig’s List. Angus came home for Thanksgiving break and joined the search, looking late into the night. The police spent hours knocking on doors and shining their flashlights into ditches.
A thousand eyes were looking, but where was she?
Unspoken was the race against time. It was getting cold at night, temperatures were dropping into the forties, rain was in the forecast. How long could our 14-year-old girl survive outside? We began to lose heart, if not hope. Somewhere, in a small dark cold place inside, I began to steel myself to an empty house. The worst part was not knowing.
Then a Thanksgiving miracle occurred.
That morning, while I was stuffing the turkey, trying not to cry into the Turkish bulgur, the phone rang. An old friend heard a dog barking underground. B flew down the street, the rest of us waited, not daring to imagine. The phone rang again. It was Domino. A neighbor pulled on his waders and walked, bent double, 50 feet into a culvert to rescue her.
She came home wrapped in a blanket, wet, shivering, eyes glazed, a cut on her forehead, jaws clenched, but alive. There were two days and two nights at an emergency veterinary clinic, bouts of high fever, gallons of IV fluid, painkillers and antibiotics flowing into a suddenly small dog’s leg. Her hair was scissored away and bite marks, possibly from a fox, were discovered on her hind legs. The excellent doctors were sympathetic, but guarded.
Then miraculously, everything turned around. On Saturday she opened her eyes, wolfed down some turkey bits and stood up. Time to come home.
Yesterday our girl wobbled through the door on shaky legs, sniffing her way to the pantry and then to her food bowl. And what did she want? Juicy Thanksgiving turkey of course, with sweet potatoes and Turkish dressing.
Right now, she’s napping on her cushion with a full belly. So let me tell you about that dressing.
For almost my entire life, first in Texas, then in New York, Dallas and “the Southern part of heaven,” our Thanksgiving turkey has been replete with my grandmother Patricia’s traditional oyster dressing. The other ingredients—usually Pepperidge Farm herbed stuffing, plus lots of fresh parsley, onion, scallions, and celery (and my own addition of lemon thyme and fiery chiles pequins)—are merely a backdrop for the main event: the plumpest, briniest oysters available—and plenty of them.
For years, that meant a trip to Polunsky’s Fish Market in San Antonio where succulent Gulf Coast bivalves were sold in quart jars. These days we have to settle for the smaller but still tasty Chesapeake oysters sold by the pint. I usually buy 4 jars and double the number of oysters to make sure they don’t disappear while the turkey is roasting.
But when my brother and I were little, we loathed oyster dressing.
So my grandmother, a most excellent turkey cook, stuffed the other end of the bird—the one known in less politically correct times as “the Pope’s nose”—with a concoction she called “Swedish dressing.” It consisted, quite improbably, of shredded wheat, raisins and pecans mixed with a lot of butter. It was delicious. But naturally my own children couldn’t stand it or any other dressing, with or without oysters.
This year, though, I finally figured out how to make one that everyone adored--and of course, it went into the hollow near the, ahem, Pope's nose.
The secret is whole, peeled bulgur, quite similar to the bulgur I brought back from Istanbul’s Kadikoy market last month. Also known as pearl bulgur, it looks and cooks like the bulgur Selin used in her recipe for Pilaf with Spices and Tomato Sauce. I followed Selin’s method of cooking and steaming the grain, but swapped out most of the other ingredients, adding cinnamon, allspice and cardamom to the spicy Turkish red pepper flakes, stirring in dried Turkish apricots, toasted walnuts and a whisper of grated orange peel.
When the bulgur is cooked, it swells and becomes deliciously chewy. Add the seasonings, dried fruit and nuts and you have a stuffing that is both sweet and savory, especially when roasted inside the turkey—which, by the way, seems to have acquired its own name from the merchants of Constantinople. So there’s a certain symmetry…or maybe the dressing has simply come full circle.
But you don’t have to wait another year to try it. The bulgur stuffing is fantastic in chicken as well, or on its own as a side dish.
Just ask Domino.
I want to thank the hundreds of people who helped us look for Domino. Your support and active involvement kept us going, and in the end, made it possible to find her.
Turkish Bulgur Dressing with Cinnamon, Dried Apricots and Walnuts
Makes 6 to 7 cups
Try to find whole, peeled bulgur or pearl bulgur for this recipe, since its large chewy grains contribute to the pleasure of the dish. I discovered whole bulgur in our local Greek market—it very closely resembles the bulgur I saw in Istanbul.
You can either stuff the turkey as described in the recipe, or warm the dressing for 30 minutes in the oven with a little broth and turkey drippings for flavor. The rest of the year, you can serve it with roast chicken.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cups water
2 cups “whole, peeled” or “pearl” bulgur
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon, or ½ teaspoon cassia cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon Marash biber, or other flaky Turkish red pepper
1 cup walnuts, shelled
1 cup dried Turkish apricots, preferably unsulphured, chopped
1 cup parsley, finely chopped
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a moderate flame. When the oil is hot, add the chopped onion. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onion is wilted and translucent.
2. Add the water, bulgur, salt, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, allspice, cardamom and red pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to its lowest setting and cover. Simmer the bulgur for about 20 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat. Place a clean dishtowel between the pot and the lid, and let the bulgur steam for about 10 minutes. It should be tender, but still chewy.
3. Spread the bulgur on a plate and let it cool to room temperature. Meanwhile toast the walnuts in a cast iron skillet on medium low heat until they have browned slightly. Stir often, and do not let the nuts burn. Pour them into a bowl and let them cool, then chop coarsely.
4. Pour the bulgur into a large bowl and stir in the walnuts, apricots and parsley. Taste for seasonings and set aside.
5. When stuffing a turkey be sure that the bulgur is at room temperature. To stuff the Pope’s nose, you will have to make a pouch for the bulgur by stitching together the loose skin at the rear end of the turkey using a large needle and thread. If there is not enough skin, you have two alternatives: one, you can stuff the main cavity of the turkey with the bulgur—there will be enough for a 15 pound bird—or two, you can heat the bulgur separately after the turkey has been roasted.
6. If you choose option two, place the bulgur in a large roasting dish and add ¼ cup chicken or turkey stock and ½ cup turkey drippings and dark essence from the bottom of the turkey roasting pan. Mix thoroughly and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes in a 350 oven and serve while still warm.