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I found this brass turtle lemon grater at a local estate sale.

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Unfortunately, the grating holes are too dull to grate, after what I assume is years of use.  But it is still a wonderful decorative item.  It is especially interesting to me because it came from the estate of Suneeta Vaswani.  Suneeta moved to Houston from Mumbai 30 years ago, and has taught Indian cooking classes here for quite some time.  Her cookbook, The Complete Book of Indian Cooking:  350 Recipes from the Regions of India, which I bought yesterday and am looking forward to receiving, has lots of fans.

Speaking of turtles, do you remember those cute little fellas in the plastic dish with the palm tree?


Once upon a time, these were popular pets for children.  Parents liked them because they were low maintenance, and if the turtle happened to die, chances are no one would notice for a while.  Unfortunately, my kids never got to experience the joy of owning a little turtle.  Seems that snuggling up to one of these cuddly cuties is like playing Russian roulette, because you never know if an encounter with one might result in a deadly salmonella infection.  According to the Center for Disease Control, the sale of turtles under 4 inches has been banned in the U.S. since 1975 because of the risk of salmonella.  (I expect to see these on Facebook soon — you know, “Click ‘like’ if you remember these,” just like rotary phones and the Brady Bunch.)

When I first moved to Houston, I was introduced to Turtle Soup at Brennan’s.  I thought it was a joke at first.  Really, Turtle Soup?  But it wasn’t a joke, and it was delicious.  According to one of the chefs at Brennan’s, Turtle Soup is “unquestionably the most popular dish” at the restaurant.  He says they make it in 35-gallon batches “in pots the size of small bathtubs.”  He also says that the restaurant only uses fresh water turtles, such as the snapping turtle.  That’s a relief —  I can’t imagine how many little turtles they’d have to use to make a batch of soup.

Inspired by the turtle grater, I set out to make Brennan’s Turtle Soup, except that I had no idea where to buy turtle meat, and even if I did, I wouldn’t.  The Brennan’s chef said you could substitute ground beef or a combination of ground beef and ground veal in chili grind, but I decided to use crab instead.  The recipe I adapted this from came from the New Orleans Turtle Soup recipe in the Breakfast at Brennan’s cookbook (it is different than the Brennan’s Turtle Soup recipes I found on the internet).  It makes a really nice meal this time of year (it was 35 degrees here in Houston when I took my son to school this morning).  If you want to stretch it — because after all, crab is expensive — you can serve it over white rice.  Don’t forget the drizzle of sherry!

Recipe type: Soup
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • ½ cup diced green pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup corn meal
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 pound lump crab meat
  • Optional for serving:
  • Cooked white rice
  • Sliced lemons
  • Dry sherry
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Chopped green onions
  1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, garlic, parsley, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, paprika, salt, and bay leaves. Cook the mixture until the vegetable are very tender, stirring frequently. Stir in the flour and corn meal, and continue cooking until they have absorbed all of the butter. Slowly whisk the broth into the pot and bring to a boil. Add the crab meat and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.
  2. To serve, place approximately ¼ cup white rice (if using) in individual soup bowls. Drizzle with a teaspoon of sherry (if using). Pass lemons, Tabasco sauce, and green onions at the table for use as desired.

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 Look Mom, no turtles!