Thanksgiving leftovers can bring a whole new taste sensation

November 24, 2023

By now, we are all recovered from the annual rituals associated with Thanksgiving. Perhaps you spent the day watching football, or maybe visited with friends or family. No matter what else happened yesterday, you most likely enjoyed a meal with turkey as the main course surrounded by a variety of side dishes and desserts. My favorite part of the day happens long after the main feast: turkey sandwiches.

Sometimes, the only ingredients are bread, turkey and mayonnaise, while other times, I want to add more, like the sandwich in the photo that includes cranberry sauce, slices of brie and a few lettuce leaves. This particular combination was full of great textures and flavors – slightly sweet-tart from the berries, creamy from the cheese and hearty from the thick slice of turkey.

I’ve seen all sorts of variations on this approach, different cheese selections, crispy bacon, thin slices of turkey, gravy instead of mayo. Clearly the folks at Capriotti’s appreciate the idea that more is better, with their trademarked sub called The Bobbie. Shredded roast turkey is layered with cranberry sauce and stuffing to give you the entire Thanksgiving meal on a roll.

Once the enthusiasm for a repeat turkey dinner or another sandwich has faded, even though there’s still plenty of perfectly good turkey meat in the refrigerator, it’s time to devise some turkey disguises. Chili is an easy way to convert that nondescript turkey flavor into something with a little more interest. I’ve included recipes for a white chili and a more traditional red version, both of which work well with chunks of cooked turkey and a side of homemade cornbread.

Whether you make the chili with tomatoes or keep the dish white, sautéing the meat with the onion and seasonings before adding any liquid helps improve the flavor.  This is a good strategy for any dish incorporating cooked turkey or chicken – make sure there’s enough interest in the sauce or accompaniments to overcome a potentially bland outcome.

There are any number of ways to repurpose your leftover turkey, including a variation on pulled pork, using shredded turkey simmered in your favorite barbecue sauce and served with a side of crisp cole slaw. To assemble a Buffalo turkey pizza, toss chunks of cooked turkey in a mixture of melted butter and hot sauce, scatter the pieces on a pizza crust spread with tomato sauce, top with crumbled bleu cheese and bake until melted. Make a light pasta sauce by marinating chopped turkey in Italian salad dressing, then sautéing the pieces in olive oil along with minced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and a splash of white wine.

While I’ve given you a few ideas about transforming leftover turkey into different dishes, my advice about leftover Thanksgiving desserts is quite simple: Savor them slowly, but don’t let them get stale.

White Turkey Chili

1 chopped onion
1 T olive oil
2 minced garlic cloves
1 minced jalapeño pepper
2 t cumin
1 t oregano
pinch ground cloves
1/8 t cayenne
1 4-oz can chopped green chilies
2 cups diced cooked turkey
2 17-oz cans white beans
3 C turkey stock
salt & pepper, to taste

In a soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent.  Add the garlic and spices, and cook for a few minutes over low heat. Stir in the chopped turkey and mix thoroughly to coat with spices; cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the beans and stir, then pour in the stock, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, then uncover and cook until the liquid thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve garnished with jalapeño slices, shredded cheese and sour cream.

Red Turkey Chili

1 t olive oil
1 chopped onion
2 stalks chopped celery
1 chopped red bell pepper
2 chopped garlic cloves
2 C chopped cooked turkey
1 1/2 T chili powder
1 t cumin
17-oz can diced tomatoes
17-oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 C broth

Add the oil and chopped onions to a Dutch oven or soup pot. Sauté over low heat until the onions are golden. Stir in celery, peppers and garlic; continue to sauté for another 5 minutes. Add turkey, chili powder and cumin; cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, beans and broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve garnished with shredded cheese and sour cream.

Herbed Corn Bread

2 T butter
1 C buttermilk
1 egg
1 C cornmeal
1/2 C flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1 t chopped sage or thyme

Preheat oven to 450 F.  Place the butter in an 8-inch-square pan and put the pan in the oven while it preheats. Remove the pan once the butter has melted and swirl it to coat the inside of the pan. Pour remaining butter into a mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk and egg to the mixing bowl; whisk to combine. Add dry ingredients and blend with a few swift strokes; do not overbeat. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes; allow to cool for 5 minutes. To serve, run a knife along the inside of the pan, then invert the pan over a plate to release the cornbread.

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