Houstonian Holiday Recipes

Recipe: Ninfa and Domenic Laurenzo’s Kicked-up Turkey and Salsa Molcajete

Make your Thanksgiving turkey the way Mama Ninfa did.

By Alice Levitt October 30, 2017 Published in the November 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Laurenzo uses his grandmother Ninfa's turkey recipe.

Image: Ray Kuglar

Ninfa Laurenzo, the woman behind the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation and its famous fajitas, may have been a Mexican-American married to an Italian-American, but with a few exceptions, her Thanksgiving feasts were devoted to the same traditional foods as other Texas families.

“There wasn’t a Mexican or Italian influence. It was an American tradition, and she could cook good old American fare as good as anybody,” remembers her grandson, Domenic Laurenzo, owner of Laurenzo’s Restaurant. In her later years, Ninfa still cooked up the family feast, but it fell on Domenic to carve the birds—typically two of them for a crowd of around 40, including 18 grandchildren.

Along with the turkey, Ninfa also served pork loin and, believe it or not, spaghetti and meatballs. “My grandmother’s Sunday gravy was the most famous,” Domenic recalls. “Pork butt, pepperoni, Italian sausage in this amazing Sunday gravy. We’d always have it on Christmas, too.”

But in one touch that did speak to her Mexican heritage, Ninfa didn’t make gravy for her turkey. Instead, she served the bird with jalapeño-heavy salsa molcajete. The name refers to sauce made with a mortar and pestle, but Ninfa’s version is a streamlined grind-it-in-the-blender affair you’ll want to make on regular days, too.

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A Houston touch to the turkey

Image: Ray Kuglar

Recipe: Turkey With Salsa

Serves 20



  • 22–24 lb. turkey
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1 c. minced garlic
  • 1 c. butter
  • 2 c. turkey stock

Salsa molcajete:

  • 1 ½ lb. tomatoes, roasted
  • 1 c. juice from roasted tomatoes
  • 6 large pieces jalapeño, roasted or grilled
  • ¼ c. onion, finely diced
  • 1 ½ T garlic powder
  • 1 T salt
  • ½ c. cilantro, chopped


For turkey:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F and place rack in lowest position.
  2. Pat the turkey dry and season with salt, pepper and 1 cup minced garlic. Generously rub butter under the skin as well as over top. Place turkey, breast side up, on rack in a roasting pan. Cover with an aluminum foil tent. Cook for 15 minutes per pound, likely between 5 ½ and 6 hours.
  3. Add turkey stock to the bottom of the roasting pan. Baste all over every 30 minutes with juices from the bottom of the pan. After 2 ½ hours, remove aluminum foil. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh reads 180°F.
  4. Transfer the turkey to a large serving platter. Let stand for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

For salsa:

  1. Grill the tomatoes and jalapeños on a mesquite grill (with grill pan in place for collecting juices) or roast in the oven, making sure not to leave any raw areas. Do not remove charred skin from tomatoes after grilling.
  2. Process all ingredients except cilantro in a blender using the “pulse” button. Stop when sauce is roughly chopped.
  3. Once done, add chopped cilantro by hand and stir well with a whisk. Serve with turkey.
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