Somewhere South with Chef Vivian Howard


Turnovers Filled with Thrice-Cooked Pork Loin, Fruit, and Nuts

This recipe comes from Sara Dueñas Flores of Corpus Christi, Texas and Goldsboro, N.C. The recipe is from her family’s cookbook, “Lo Mejor de Los González II.” Her granddaughter, Lauren Vied Allen, wrote this about turcos on her website, The World in a Pocket: Turcos, turnovers filled with thrice-cooked pork loin, fruit, and nuts, are a South Texas specialty that my grandma, Sara, has been making in her family for over 70 years. Their history is extensive to just be such tiny, tasty pockets.The insides of Turcos are so well cooked and preserved, so they last for months after they are prepared. There have been many years when we arrive for Christmas and find a turco or two from months before (you have to look in Grandma’s hiding place for the pretty ones). They still taste as if they were made that morning.

Note: This recipe makes twice the amount of the filling than the dough, but it can be frozen for later use. Because the meat is cooked three times, boiled, cooked in a pan and then oven-baked, turcos keep for a long time unrefrigerated.


For the tea:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds
  • 4 to 6 small Mexican or Ceylon cinnamon sticks, broken up 
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

For the filling:

  • 2 to 3 pounds pork loin
  • 1 to 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar or 2 crumbled 4-inch piloncillos
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground Mexican or Ceylon cinnamon, or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground allspice,  or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground anise,  or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground cloves,  or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground nutmeg,  or more to taste
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 (27-ounce)  jar mincemeat
  • 2 red apples, cored and diced, or 1 cup applesauce

For the dough:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground Mexican or Ceylon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup cinnamon-anise tea
  • 1 cup milk, for wash


Step 1: Boil 3 cups of water with anise seeds and 4 to 6 small cinnamon sticks, broken up, until the tea turns dark reddish brown. It may take more than 30 minutes. Add water as needed to make sure you end up with about one cup of dark reddish brown tea. Drain seeds and sticks and add sugar to hot tea to dissolve. Let it cool.

Step 2: Cover pork loin with water in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add 1 to 2 cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the meat is falling apart, about 2 hours. Drain and chop into small, minced pieces  or grind in a meat grinder.

Step 3: In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt butter or margarine and add chopped meat over medium-high heat. Stir frequently. Add brown sugar or crumbled piloncillos. Add ground cinnamon, allspice, ground anise, ground cloves and nutmeg. Keep adding until you get the taste you like; it may take another 1 teaspoon each of the spices to make it just right. 

Step 4: Add raisins, chopped pecans, mincemeat, and chopped apples or applesauce, if desired. Reduce heat to low and stir constantly. Cook until the mixture dries out and tastes good, about an hour. The mixture will turn dark brown. Set aside to cool.

Step 5: Mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl; cut in shortening and add tea until it is the consistency of bread dough. You may not use all your tea. Knead. Add extra flour if needed so dough is not sticky. Make into small balls, about 1 ½ inches in diameter, to roll out or press out in a tortilla press between two plastic sheets or wax paper, will be about 4 inches diameter. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each dough circle, fold over and crimp or press edges with a fork. Brush each turco with milk. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Yield: about 6 dozen