What to Do with Thanksgiving Leftovers

Turkey-leftover recipes can be the best part of the Thanksgiving holiday.

November 24, 2009

Too many turkey sandwiches could be hard for your family to swallow.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—In our house, I think we almost enjoy the reruns of the Thanksgiving feast more than we do the actual event. It's hard to beat sliced roast turkey on good, chewy whole wheat bread, slathered with real mayo, and trimmed with some fresh lettuce and a generous spread of cranberry sauce (family tastes diverge over whether it should be whole-berry or jellied, so we serve both). Both my kids are mashed-potato-and-gravy fans, so those rarely make it to the next day, but in case you have more remnants than you have ideas for, here are some great Thanksgiving-leftovers recipes for getting everything but the gobble out of your turkey dinner.


• Toss bits of turkey in gravy, heat, and serve wrapped in heated whole wheat flour tortillas. If you have time, put the filled tortillas in a baking pan, pour enchilada sauce over them, add a sprinkling of shredded cheese, and bake till hot and bubbly.

• Dice and serve bits of turkey over mixed greens for a light main-dish salad, or toss them into your favorite pasta salad for a more substantial entrée.

• Use leftover gravy in casseroles instead of canned soup.

• Add it to soup for extra flavor and body.

Mashed potatoes
• If you’re looking for a variation on the standard turkey potpie, fill a glass baking dish about an inch deep with layers of chopped turkey, cooked veggies, and gravy. Spread the leftover mashed potatoes over the top, dot with butter, and bake at 350 degrees F until hot, and—ta-da—you have shepherd's pie.

• For easy potato pancakes, beat one egg and combine it with 2 cups of leftover mashed potatoes. Heat a skillet on medium with a little butter in it, and drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture into it, cooking until brown and crisp on both sides. Serve with syrup for breakfast or with sour cream for a dinner side.

• Plain rice is perfect for rice pudding. Beat one egg in a medium-size saucepan and stir in 1 cup of milk, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Stir in 1 cup cooked leftover rice (a little butter won't hurt) and ½ cup of raisins or other chopped dried fruit (I like golden raisins best). Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Serve warm or chilled.

•  Seasoned rice works well in turkey fried rice, which is a good way to get rid of a lot of Thanksgiving leftovers. Cook 1 cup of chopped celery and onion in oil in a large skillet until translucent; toss in about a cup of leftover cooked veggies, such as green beans, peas, or carrots, and ½ cup of chopped turkey; and stir and cook for a minute more. Then add 3 cups of leftover rice—white, brown, and wild rice all work well—and stir until heated through. Serve with soy sauce.

Make soup!
Soups are the best Thanksgiving leftover recipes; they use nearly everything from your Turkey Day table. Start with your homemade turkey stock, and just about any soup you concoct will be delicious! My family's favorite is turkey-rice soup, made with a brown rice/wild rice blend. Bring about 8 cups of turkey stock to a boil, add a cup of raw rice, and cook for 45 minutes (if you have leftover rice, toss it in and skip the 45 minutes of cooking). Add a generous amount of diced or sliced fresh veggies (we like winter squash), and cook until the veggies are almost done. Add any leftover veggies, cooked grains, gravy, and small bits of meat and cook for a few more minutes, season to taste, and serve.

Freeze some!
Don't think you have to eat turkey and fixings for eight days straight—and you really shouldn't anyway. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that leftovers be eaten within three to four days of cooking, and if you think you or your family may be turkey-ed out by then, freeze anything you haven't eaten, which is much better than letting all those leftovers go to waste. After all, the average American family throws out 122 pounds of food per month, which doesn't seem like a good way to be thankful for all we have. I freeze everything in single-meal or single-portion bags or freezer jars so they will thaw and heat fast when I need them, and I can pull out as much or as little as I need based on who is around for dinner. Every time I'm in a rush and can open the freezer to find the makings of a great, heat-and-eat meal, I am eternally thankful.

• Freeze gravy and cranberry sauce in ice-cube trays and store the cubes in bags or jars.

• Freeze dressing, mashed potatoes, rice, and veggies in single-serving scoops (I use a ½-cup measure) on an oiled cookie sheet, and then store the frozen blobs in bags.

• Single servings of desserts are also great in the freezer. (I've been known to hide the ones I especially like.)

Farm gal, library worker, and all-around spendthrift Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.

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