Making Leftovers Lovable

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My friends used to think it strange when I’d invite them over for Thanksgiving . . . in April, when deadlines for food magazine November issues normally came due. But I have to admit to preferring the assignments for creative ways to use leftovers to the grand meal itself. Leftovers have an inherent challenge built into them. “Make me as inspiring as I was yesterday,” they seem to say.  Once you’ve done the reheat and the sandwich, though, then what? Here are three ways I’ve learned over the years to live up to leftovers’ dare:

thanksgiving-leftover-1Think beyond the turkey sandwich. Sure, the turkey-cranberry sandwich is good for a day or two, but try taking entirely new directions too. Toss shredded turkey with chopped artichokes and pasta, or mound it on a baguette with herbs and pickled carrots in a spin on a Vietnamese banh mi. Mashed potatoes and stuffing are delicious formed into “cakes” and fried in a bit of olive oil as a base for sauteed greens, and sweet potatoes can be folded into a farro risotto to add a silken sweetness to the dish.

Go global. It’s easy to get stuck in an all-American rut with leftover turkey, which is too bad. Turkey’s slightly gamey flavor goes well with a variety of cuisines. Try sauteing turkey meat in a chile spice mix for tacos; stirring it into spinach and feta as a stuffing for a Greek pie; or mixing it with white beans and sausage and topping with breadcrumbs for an easy cassoulet.

Make it fresh. If you’re a slave to reheated turkey and potato plates, try keeping your cool. Shredded turkey makes a great addition — or centerpiece — to salads of all kinds (often welcome after the big feast), and cranberries can add zing to salads both sweet and savory. The Asian Turkey Salad below, for instance, incorporates loads of fresh ingredients and bright flavors to give new life to leftover turkey.

The challenge, ultimately, is to make your leftovers as lovable as the original meal itself. If you come up with some new dishes of your own this year, comment below.

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Asian Turkey Salad

This fresh, bright turkey salad with Asian flair is quite a departure from the usual all-American Thanksgiving leftovers. But after the big day, it’s a nice, light respite. This salad would also be great any time of year with shredded chicken.

1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 (1-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger
1 serrano pepper
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce OR gluten-free tamari
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons sesame oil

4 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage
2 cups skinned, boned and shredded turkey
1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, plus additional for garnish
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts
1/4 cup sliced scallion

To prepare dressing, combine vinegar, garlic, ginger, serrano pepper in a blender or food processor and pulse until garlic,  ginger and serrano are minced. Add oil and remaining dressing ingredients and blend until smooth.

To prepare salad, toss cabbage, turkey, bell pepper, 1 cup cilantro and red onion in a large bowl. Mix well with dressing. Divide evenly among 4 plates and garnish with peanuts, scallion and additional cilantro.

Serves 4

  • Kurt Michael Friese

    It’s just missing one thing – chiles!

  • Pamela S. Treadwell

    Delicious! I used leftover rotisserie chicken in place of the turkey. I didn’t have any peanuts so in place of those, I used ramen noodles that I broke into small pieces and sauteed in a little olive oil until lightly toasted. The dressing is to die for!

  • Pamela S. Treadwell

    Forgot to mention that I served it with Kendall Jackson Chardonnay 2007.

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