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Food & Recipes

5 Fun Leftover Turkey Ideas (That Aren’t Sandwiches)

Get creative with your leftover bird.

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In the days after Thanksgiving, you can rest easy knowing you’ve made a giant meal and gathered your guests successfully. You probably also have some leftover turkey to enjoy. While a next-day turkey sandwich is a post-Thanksgiving classic, you might want to change things up a bit this year. The mildness of turkey (some might say blandness, but we’d never insult the bird like that!) means that it pairs beautifully with a multitude of more complex flavors. So, if you have leftover turkey sitting in your fridge and you’re looking for a way to use it up, try one of these five delicious and unexpected preparations. Trust us, you’ll be glad you didn’t let it go to waste.

1. Turkey Rice Porridge or Noodles 

Congee is a traditional Chinese rice porridge that’s perfect for the colder months. Cookbook author Fuchsia Dunlop calls the dish “the ultimate Chinese comfort food,” and since Thanksgiving is all about comfort food, it makes sense to try this one as the weather continues to cool. The popular family-run food blog The Woks of Life has a recipe for Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Congee that’s been in their post-holiday repertoire for decades. The recipe calls for using the turkey carcass and any vegetables from the bottom of your turkey’s roasting pan, so it’s a great example of no-waste cooking. “Most people throw away the turkey carcass after all is said and done,” the blog reads. “[But] smarter people make stock with it. And the smartest people make congee.” If you don’t have your turkey carcass, make a note to save it next year, and try preparing another Thanksgiving leftover recipe from Woks of Life that uses just turkey meat: the Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Lo Mein is a satisfying noodle dish that incorporates shredded leftover bird with some veggies.

2. Turkey Tacos or Nachos

Everything tastes better in a taco, and leftover turkey is no exception. This recipe for Carnitas-style Turkey Tacos starts with simmering the leftover bone-in turkey with orange, onion, and bay leaves for maximum flavor (creating a turkey stock you can use for another dish of your choice later on). After the turkey has simmered and you have your stock set aside (to be used for Turkey Tortilla Soup, perhaps?), crisp the meat in a skillet, then put it in tortillas with red onion, pico de gallo, lime juice, and cilantro. If crispy tacos are more your thing, try Leftover Turkey Taquitos. Just be warned: turkey tacos are seriously addictive, and you might find yourself eating more than you planned.

Keep the Mexican fusion theme going with the Food Network’s Leftover Thanksgiving Nachos. This nachos recipe is easy to make — just put a variety of toppings on tortilla chips and cook in the oven. It calls for leftover Thanksgiving vegetables like Brussels sprouts and roasted squash, so you can use up those leftovers as well.

3. Turkey Curry

Thanksgiving dinner isn’t known for being spicy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t season your leftovers. Curry is a reliable one-pot meal that’s warm and filling. You can put any meat in a curry, leftover turkey included — and this Easy Leftover Turkey Curry recipe delivers Indian-inspired flavor in just 25 minutes. A variety of spices, canned tomatoes, canned coconut milk, and some other ingredients you probably have already are simmered into a thick and creamy bowl of comfort that’s just right served over rice.

Leftover turkey also pairs well with Japanese curry — simply put the turkey, onion, and vegetables of your choosing in a pot, then add water and a Japanese curry brick. Finally, Good Housekeeping has a recipe for delicious Red Thai Turkey Curry that gets an enticingly nuanced taste from the addition of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves (both of which can be bought online or from Asian grocery stores).

4. Turkey Soup

We’re officially in soup season. While chicken-noodle-style soup with turkey is a dependable classic, there are other varieties of hearty leftover bird soup you may not have tried before. Bon Appétit’s Turkey Ramen puts a new spin on a rich Japanese classic that’s usually prepared with pork. Day After Thanksgiving Turkey Pho brings post-holiday flavor to a fragrant Vietnamese rice noodle soup. Turkey Soup With Lime and Chile, from The New York Times, is “a version of Sopa de Lima, the restorative and delicious Mexican soup popular in the Yucatán” — and the sweet and spicy flavors apparently make it unforgettable. You can also try Spicy Turkey Leftover Soup — Korean Style, which is a take on a traditional spicy Korean chicken soup known as Dakgyejang. Lastly, Turkey Peanut Stew is an African-inspired recipe that confirms our belief in savory peanut butter‘s goodness.

5. Turkey Silog

Most savory foods benefit from a runny egg on top. This combo is found in many different cultures — including Silog, a Filipino dish of egg-topped garlic-fried rice. Silog is an easy, homey dish that’s traditionally eaten for breakfast, but tastes great at any time of day (it’s also a great hangover food, if you happened to have one too many glasses of wine the night before). The New York Times has a recipe for Turkey Silog which we’ve adapted below. This is the ideal leftover dish because it’s simple, filling, and fabulously garlicky (you can never have too much garlic). As a bonus, you won’t need to buy extra ingredients to make it. 

Turkey Silog (Garlic Fried Rice With Eggs)

Ingredients (Serves 4):

  • ½ cup canola or other neutral oil, plus more as needed
  • 8 to 12 garlic cloves, to taste, peeled and ends trimmed
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 cups day-old cooked white jasmine rice
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups leftover gravy
  • 1 ½ pounds leftover turkey, sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 4 eggs

Instructions:

  1. Make garlic fried rice: Heat large nonstick pan (preferably 10 inches) over medium-low flame, then add 6 tablespoons oil and garlic cloves. Season cloves with pinch of salt. Cook, turning the cloves occasionally, until they are brown and soft, 12 to 14 minutes.
  2. Remove half the oil and half the garlic cloves from pan and set aside in a small heat-proof bowl. Using rubber spatula or back of a wooden spoon, smash remaining garlic in the pan to an almost rough paste. Before smashed garlic turns golden, crank up the heat, add half the rice, and spread to cover surface of pan. It will pop and sizzle — that’s good. Let sit 30 seconds, then toss and mix rice in pan. Spread rice out, then let sit again for another 30 seconds. Adjust salt and transfer to large plate. Lightly cover plate with foil.
  3. Wipe out pan, add reserved garlic cloves and their oil, and repeat with remaining rice.
  4. Warm gravy in small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until hot.
  5. Meanwhile, reheat turkey: Wipe out pan, return it to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon oil. When oil starts to smoke slightly, gently lay meat in pan and sear until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. (You may need to do this in batches, adding oil as needed.) Transfer to plate and season with salt to taste. Cover with foil and wipe out pan.
  6. Return pan to medium-low heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Break eggs into pan and cook just until egg whites are fully set but yolks are still runny. Season with salt to taste.
  7. To serve, place a few scoops of garlic fried rice on each plate. Layer seared turkey slices on top of the rice. Sauce meat with a few spoonfuls of gravy. Top each serving with fried egg.

Any one of these dishes is a wonderful way to transform your leftover turkey into something new and exciting. Turkey is a blank slate that can be enhanced in endless ways — so don’t be afraid to experiment with new flavors. Maybe you’ll start a new post-Thanksgiving tradition.

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