Turkey Talk: What to do with those Thanksgiving leftovers

Turkey Talk: What to do with those Thanksgiving leftovers

By Carole Gorney

It’s that time of year again, and everyone is making preparations for the sumptuous family feast at Thanksgiving. Since no one ever wants to run out of food on the holiday, more is usually prepared than the guests can possibly eat. So there is the annual dilemma of what to do with the leftovers. After all, there is a limit to the times you can eat warmed over turkey and gravy or turkey pot pie.

In the case of the turkey, however, it actually might be a good idea to buy with the idea of having ample leftovers. For one thing, it’s cost effective. My dad always bought at least a 20-pound turkey, because he said it had more meat and less waste. His wisdom was confirmed by David Jaindl, owner of the Jaindl Farms in Orefield, who explained that the ratio of meat per pound really is greater with larger turkeys.

With that in mind, consider using cooked turkey in much the same way you would raw poultry. I learned the trick of using cut-up leftover meat in stir fry.  My favorite is sweet and sour turkey:

Sauté a sliced onion, sweet green pepper and large carrot in hot oil in a wok or deep pan.

Add two cups of turkey chunks just to heat through.

Pour in the sauce made with one cup of chicken or turkey stock, 1/2 cup pineapple juice from a 20 oz. can of pineapple chucks in natural juice, 3 tbs. vinegar, 1 tbs.  soy sauce, 1-1/2 tbs.  brown sugar, and 3 tbs. cornstarch.

While heating to thicken the sauce, add one cup of drained pineapple chunks. Serve with rice and crispy fried Chinese noodles.

The same technique works for making turkey enchiladas. Sauté an onion with a fresh chopped green chili and a chopped clove of garlic. Add two cups pulled or finely chopped turkey meat, and sprinkle with 1 t each of cumin and oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.  Brown the meat and spices to bring out their flavors. Add 1/4 cup of canned enchilada sauce from one of two cans.

Next, warm eight small flour tortillas in the microwave (two at a time) on high for 20 seconds to make them easy to handle. Fill the center of each with turkey mixture and fold.

Lay the tortillas in a greased baking dish. Top with the remaining enchilada sauce and cover with grated cheddar cheese. Bake in a 350-degree oven until cheese is melted and slightly browned. You can opt to add corn and/or drained and rinsed black beans to the meat mixture for a heartier version.

I’ve made quick tacos with cooked meat, as well, by heating the leftovers with salsa from a jar, filling the taco shells with the mixture, covering the meat with grated cheese, and heating the shells in the toaster oven just until the cheese melts.

With all these uses, a good tip from Jaindl is to strip the turkey carcass and place the meat in a sealed package within a day or so both for convenience, and to preserve moisture and flavor. Once the carcass is stripped, throw it in a pot of salted water with chopped celery, onions and carrots to make soup stock. The stock can be frozen easily for later use.

Ok, that’s fine for the meat, but what about all the other fixings – mashed potatoes, for example?

Leftovers are great for the topping in Shepherd’s Pie. If the potatoes are too soft, mix with a whipped egg and a tablespoon or so of flour to give them more body. Another easy recipe is for potato pancakes. Take two cups of chilled mashed potatoes, form into patties, dredge in flour or panko bread crumbs and fry. If you want to get fancy, add chopped onions and herbs to the mixture before forming the patties.

My mother used to make something she called “noidles” with her leftover starch.

To two cups of homemade mashed potatoes add one egg, salt and pepper and enough flour to just hold the mixture together.  Let the dough rest 15 minutes. Form into balls a little smaller than golf balls. Drop the noidles into the boiling stock. They are done when they rise to the surface – about three to five minutes. Serve with turkey and gravy.

Smaller versions can be made to add to soup instead of conventional noodles.

Leftover bread stuffing can be made into dumplings in much the same way. Mix two eggs and 6 tbs. flour with two cups of stuffing. Roll into balls and drop into boiling stock. Or make fried stuffing bites to eat as snacks, or as croutons in salad or soup. Form stuffing into small bite-sized pieces, dredge in egg and milk, roll in bread crumbs and fry or bake.

I ran across a recipe for cranberry pesto that called for one cup of cranberry relish, preferably homemade, mixed in a food processor with 1/2 cup of toasted nuts of your choice. To make it a true pesto, I thought why not add a cup of arugula or spinach? The pesto can be used as a dip with crackers, or a spread for sandwiches.

Two cups of cranberry relish can also be easily converted into chutney by adding the leftovers to a cooked mixture of a finely chopped onion, 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, salt, 1 tsp. each of chili or cayenne powder and cinnamon. For a spicier version, add a dash of ground coriander and cardamom.

With all these options available there is no reason to dread Thanksgiving leftovers.  Besides, if all else fails, there’s always the freezer.

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