Fowl Play

We frequently buy ground turkey from Misty Knoll Farms (purchased at the coop).  Although we buy it on our own volition, a few days after purchase, we often find ourselves saying, “We have to eat that turkey in the fridge.”  We never say that about filet mignon, seafood, or cheese; yet for some reason, we regard fresh ground turkey as some sort of automatic-leftover that we have to eat out of principle.  We buy it because we like it, but I guess it’s hard to get excited about this austere meat. 

If you’ve ever felt this way, the following recipe might help.

The fixin’s

First, I make some tzatziki by modifying this recipe a bit:

  • 2 (8 ounce) containers plain yogurt (You’ll get the best results with Greek-style.  It’s sold at the coop and I’ve seen it at Hannaford.  We use the brand Fage).
  • 2 cucumbers – peeled, seeded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • salt and pepper to taste

Add everything, except the yogurt, to a blender/food-processor and mix.  Then fold the chopped/mixed contents into the yogurt with a spoon in a bowl.  Or, if you don’t feel like breaking out the appliances, grate the cucumber, press the garlic, and chop the dill separately; then mix into the yogurt with everything else.  If it’s too thin/runny for your liking, I’ve seen recipes that suggest thickening the yogurt by pouring into a cheesecloth and letting some water drain or squeezing the water from the cucumber after grating, but that seems like a lot of work for a dip, no?  If possible, make this on a Sunday for use during the week.  It’s better the next day.  Let it cool for at least an hour before serving.   

Cucumbers get peeled and seeded.

Breath mints of Spain. ;)


Next, make the meatballs:

  • ~1 lb ground Turkey
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3-4 tablespoons chopped flat parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, pressed
  • salt/adobo to taste (I used ~1.5 teaspoons)

Thoroughly mix all ingredients above (excluding the tzatziki, of course) in a large bowl, and form small meatballs (~1.5″ diameter).  Pan fry the meatballs in ~ 0.25″ of olive oil heated to Med-Hi.  Brown the meatballs and use tongs to flip them in the oil while cooking. 

Get some nice pita bread (we like Joseph’s brand), chop some fresh tomato, add some hummus if you’d like, assemble and enjoy.  I was too lazy to make the hummus from scratch, so I bought some Cedar’s brand from the grocery store (hey, it was a weeknight).

 Parsely chopped coarsely.

Mix it all together.

fowl balls

Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe


Cati and I had two bites of our turkey-meatball pitas and we both immediately collapsed onto the carpet into a deep slumber from the all the tryptophan (Trp).  I kid…to make a point.  Every Thanksgiving we hear people talk of the L-tryptophan (like it could be D-tryptophan…pfft) in turkey making us drowsy.   Is there that much Trp in turkey to make us sleepy?  My inner skeptic stirs; I smell a factoid.  The USDA has a nice National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.  Check it out here; your tax dollars have already paid for it (note: applies to U.S. readers only).  A little searching will show you that although turkey has more than double the Trp of beef, it only has 33% more than chicken, about the same as pork, and 40% LESS THAN cheddar cheese. 

So, three bites of turkey has the same amount of Trp as four bites of chicken.  I’ve never seen people conked-out in the KFC parking lot, have you?  Imagine what a bacon cheddar-burger would do; induce a coma?  Yeah, it’s bunk, and here are some links that agree.  Below, find the amino acid composition (g/100g) of beef, chicken, turkey, pork, and cheddar cheese from the aforementioned database (tryptophan levels in red).  Feel free to bust this table out at your next turkey dinner when the inevitable Trp discussion begins; that should nip it in the bud. 

Chemists like tables, periodically. 

In God we trust; everyone else, bring data.  Right?

So where did this all this Trp-makes-you-drowsy business come from?  According to the “snopes” link, Trp was sold over the counter as a sleep aid in the 80’s.  But I did a little literature searching, and it doesn’t even seem particularly effective at that.   

Here’s an abstract from a review article on this subject from the Tufts University School of Medicine and Sleep Research (source):

Over the past 20 yr, 40 controlled studies have been described concerning the effects of L-tryptophan on human sleepiness and/or sleep. The weight of evidence indicates that L-tryptophan in doses of 1 g or more produces an increase in rated subjective sleepiness and a decrease in sleep latency (time to sleep). There are less firm data suggesting that L-tryptophan may have additional effects such as decrease in total wakefulness and/or increase in sleep time. Best results (in terms of positive effects on sleep or sleepiness) have been found in subjects with mild insomnia, or in normal subjects reporting a longer-than-average sleep latency. Mixed or negative results occur in entirely normal subjects—who are not appropriate subjects since there is “no room for improvement”. Mixed results are also reported in severe insomniacs and in patients with serious medical or psychiatric illness.” 

I especially like the part about “mixed or negative results” in normal subjects and “mixed results” for severe insomniacs.  Say what?  That means the Trp only leads to measurably increased sleepiness for special group of midrange-insomniacs.  This 1986 article confirms Trp’s efficacy for only “younger situational insomniacs” at doses of 1-15g (That would be 1.15 – 17.25 lbs of turkey for a single dose.)   Plus, according to some articles, Trp only enables sleep on an empty stomach. 

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy nodding off on Turkey-day as much as the next guy.  I just can’t blame the Trp (or T, for all you succinct biochemists).  I think it’s more likely due to the 2 pounds of food I ate precluding me from doing anything that requires movement for a few hours.  That, and the glass or two of wine.  Also, a several-hour meal with my Costanza-esque parents would exhaust anyone.  ;)  I’m kidding, Ma.

An aside: here’s a fascinating 1999 article, where researchers report that L-tryptophan (6g/day) has a beneficial effect on subjects who suffer from premenstrual dysphoria (aka: PMS).  I’ve been using chocolate and flowers to treat the condition with “mixed or negative results”.  Maybe I should consider cheddar cheese.  [stroking chin]

2 Responses to “Fowl Play”

  1. Gina says:

    Would you classify that meal has a tukey gyro? This could be your opportunity to buy Cati a giant wheel of cheddar in order to “treat the condition” with the tryptophan and give her the chance to bite right into it! I know that would make me happy.

  2. Lydia says:

    Are you insinuating that your parents are LOUD? WHATEVER MAKES YOU SAY THAT? ALEX, DID YOU HEAR ME?
    Interesting article. Just read in the paper that it is not the turkey but everything else–mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and so on that makes us sleepy. Plus the overeating.